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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gevulde Speculaas

Three nights from now, Holland will be celebrating Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas. About a week before December 5th, children all over the country will place one of their shoes, filled with hay, a carrot or a handwritten letter, by whatever heating system the house possesses: a fireplace, gas furnace or central heating system. Why? Because at night, Saint Nicholas is supposedly roaming the roofs on his white horse Amerigo and has his helpers, Black Petes, go down the chimney to retrieve the gifts for the horse or the letter addressed to him. The letter usually contains the customary requests for presents and the assurance that the writer of the epistle had been an obedient, kind and pleasant child all year long. In exchange for Amerigo's goodies and the letter, Black Pete usually leaves a small piece of candy or fruit.

Courtesy of Sint.nl
On December 5th, the family gathers in the living room after dinner, children sing Sinterklaas songs at the chimney and at one particular time of the evening, there is knocking on the door. Knock-knock-knock! Any child that has been a pain in the neck to his parents all year and has a minute bit of a conscience will now be, if not fully in tears, at least in some type of panic. The person knocking on the door is ofcourse Sinterklaas. He is here to deliver presents to the kids that have been good all year. If you're lucky, the old saint is so busy that, upon opening the door, all you find is a big bag of wrapped gifts. But if you have vengative parents or a miffed neighbor, you will find the actual saint standing there with his helpers. At this point, any kid worth his weight will regret all the mischief from the last year: after all, Saint Nicholas has a big book that has every thought, action or word recorded and there will be no point in denying it. Oh boy!

Children that have been naugthy will be put in the, now empty, gift bag and taken to Madrid in Spain, where Sinterklaas lives the rest of the year. What happens to them there is unknown. Many a smart alec will try to trump Sint and say that he'll be glad to go to Spain: the weather is nice year round and he wouldn't have to share a room with his sister.

I honestly don't know why we believed such drivel as children: any kid will at one point in time wonder how the horse gets up on the roof, much less stay there, how Black Pete can climb down the gas furnace, get all your stuff and then make it back up again without leaving any kind of charred evidence, why Sinterklaas bothers to travel all the way from Madrid on a steamboat and doesn't take an airplane like everybody else (and even more, how does he do it, since there is no direct waterway connected to the ocean from there) and why Sinterklaas looks and sounds so much like Uncle Steve. It must be because, eventually, we figured out that the adults amuse themselves so much with the anticipation, the hiding of the presents and the playing of Sinterklaas, that as a child, you don't have the heart to tell 'm that they're insulting your intelligence. You''ll play along as long as you get what you asked for. And you know you will, because it's been weeks since you found the wrapped gifts hidden away in the hall closet and you've undone one corner of each package to see what you were getting. Score!

In the meantime, grandma and granda sit back on the couch, drink a cup of hot chocolate or something stronger, and help themselves to another slice of gevulde speculaas. It's the traditional baked good for these festive days and although it is pretty much available year round, it still seems to trigger that Sinterklaas-feeling around this time of year.

Gevulde Speculaas
For the dough
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons speculaas spices
1 cup brown sugar, packed
Pinch of salt
1 stick and 2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk

For the filling*
1 cup of almonds, whole
1 cup of powdered sugar, packed
1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon of almond flavoring

Pour two cups of boiling water over the almonds and let them sit for about fifteen minutes. Rinse the nuts with cold water, and slip off the brown skin. Save twelve half almonds for decorating. Put the almonds in a blender and pulse several times until they have a wet sand consistency, that should take only a few pulses. Place the almond meal in a bowl, stir in the sugar, the egg white and the almond extract. You should have a creamy, spreadable consistency. If not, add in a little bit of the yolk (beat it first) at a time until you do. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mix the flour, the speculaas spices, the sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with two knives until the butter is reduced to pebbles and the flour feels like wet sand. Add the milk and the egg yolk and knead the dough until it comes together. Pat into ball, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

Divide the dough in two parts. Grease a 9" pie pan or springform and roll out the first dough. Cover the bottom and the sides of the pan. Spread the almond paste over the dough, roll out the second dough and cover the filling and the edges of the pie form.

Brush with the remaining egg yolk, place the 12 almond halves on the pie and bake at 325F for about 35 minutes until done. Let it cool before taking it out of the spring form, then carefully slice into 12 pieces and serve.


  1. This was amazing. I love almond filling and this had it. Attractive to serve and good to eat.
    Now my mother told quite a different story of St Nicholas Night in south Germany when she was a child. Seemingly there the big boys dressed up and would come around and be let into the house and would knock the little kids around and then give them some sweets. My mother said they dreaded the visit of St Nicholas

  2. Tried this out today and the results are delicious. It's been a long time since I had "Gevulde Speculaas". I think it's even better then the "real" thing you can buy in the grocery stores in Holland. Thanks again for a great recipe.

  3. zoooo lekker! hij ziet er ook perfect uit.
    ben blij dat het sinterklaas-geloven hier nu over is in huis, werd gek van dat in-de-rondte-liegen. Heb zelf mijn twijfels bij sinterklaas sinds ik op de lagere school zag dat zijn baard vast zat met leukoplast-pleister!!! (heb mijn tekening die ik voor hem gemaakt had toen onder mijn stoel verstopt en niet gegeven)

  4. Lien, mijn vader verklapte het toen ik rond zes jaar was, maar ik blijf het nog steeds een van de leukste dagen vinden! Grappig detail van die baard, gek waar je als kind zoal niet op let!

  5. Nicole,
    je maakt zelf amandal vulling! Ik kan hier bij de bakerrij "almond paste" koopen. Maar waar ik hier in NJ ben zijn er veel mensen van Nederlandse afkomst. Ziet er heerlijk uit.


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