Sunday, January 27, 2013

Daring Baker Challenge January 2013: Speculaas Gevulde

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! 


This month, the Daring Baker challenge was another thing I've never eaten, speculaas.  Indeed, I've never really heard much about it my neck of the woods.  The closest I ever came to any experimentation was when I read this piece by David Leibovitz over 2 years ago.  I imagined what the flavor of that speculoos spread tasted like, and wondered if I'd ever see a jar of it here, or better if I could make some myself.  Then I promptly forgot about it until this month when it rang a bell once again.

Speculaas Gevulde is Dutch, comprised of an almond paste center and a top and bottom layer of spiced shortbread.  There apparently are famous cookies, bearing the traditional shapes of their Dutch (or Belgian) counterparts.  This piqued my interest.  Some of the only non-homemade cookies I remember at my Gram's house were perpetual boxes of "Windmill Cookies".  They were almondy and brittle thin, slightly spiced and excellent when dunked in milk.  In fact, many cookies in my possession went submerged too long and turned into that miraculous cookie sludge in the bottom of my glass, that I happily drank after no doubt negotiating more cookies to replace them.  Perhaps that wasn't far off from the speculoos spread that Leibovitz heralded...

It appears that "speculoos" and "speculaas" refer to the same thing, names bound by a common Latin moniker I'd imagine, and used by citizenry of different countries.  What little online research I did prying into the past of speculaas didn't confirm much in the way of how a brittle spice cookie turned into a semi-soft, layered confection.  The term "gevulde speculaas" is Dutch for filled speculass, which is what this cookie-cake is called.  It really makes no difference to me how it came to evolve, because this little cake was actually very easy to make and incredibly delicious!


Our challenge was actually to make the almond paste middle as well, and since I had stashed some homemade almond paste in the freezer from last September (when I made this wonderful gluten-free upside down cake from the Bojon Gourmet), the cake came together even more quickly.  I used 12 oz. of stored almond paste that I made according to this recipe (except I added extra almond extract - I can never get enough almond!).  I let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and it was a perfect consistency to roll for the center of this dessert.  (I used my strange-sized tart tin, which measures 7 inches across the bottom and 8 across the top.)

Maybe 2 days before actually baking the speculaas, I mixed up the spice mixture and then the dough.  Using my food processor, which seemed to be the easiest and least messy way of cutting a good amount of butter into a floury spice mix, I had speculaas dough in short order.  I think the time in the fridge was good for marrying the spicy flavors as well.

speculaas spices.

One of the most interesting things about this challenge was the combination of spices.  Having never tasted the real thing, I relied on the formula our host provided.  In additions to mandatory inclusions like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, optional spices like nutmeg (mace, nutmeg's weblike exterior coating, interestingly was also a mandatory spice), coriander, and white pepper.  Francijn suggested the parts of spice, but it was basically individual taste that dictated the final flavor.  I added extra ginger powder, but next time I'd like to increase the "spicy-hot" factor by adding more white pepper, and perhaps by using cassia cinnamon which has a hotter profile than Ceylon cinnamon.

Speculaas Spice Mix
(enough for several batches of gevulde speculaas dough)
  • 2 t. cloves
  • 1 t. mace
  • 1 1/2 t. ginger powder
  • 1 t. cardamom
  • 1/2 t. coriander powder
  • 1/2 t. anise seed, crushed to a powder
  • 1 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 t. white pepper
After weighing the base spices (about 12 g.), I added the cinnamon.  I started with 8 g., which was a little light.  10 g. bumped it up to perfect.  To see Francijn's suggested measuring system for speculaas spices, click here.


The original recipe did not call for specifically for milk, but only to add some if the dough felt dry.  I poured it through the top of the processor as it was pulsing and stopped as soon as the dough pinched together like a pastry dough should. 

Speculaas Gevulde Dough (Francjin, via The Daring Kitchen)
  • 250 g. (1 3/4 c.) AP flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 150 g. (3/4 c. packed) brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 T. speculaas spices, see above
  • 175 g. (3/4 c. or 6 oz.) butter, cut into pieces
  • enough whole milk to hold it together, about 2-3 T.
Combine all ingredients except butter and milk in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Add the butter, and pulse several times until the mixture resembles "coarse meal".  Add milk as described above if the dough doesn't come together.

Transfer the dough to a plastic bag, form into a disc, and refrigerate at least two hours, and up to several days.  The dough can also be frozen for several months.

Assembling the final Speculaas Gevulde:

When it comes time to assemble your gevulde speculaas, roll out the speculaas dough in two equal pieces exactly the size of your chosen pan.  Use two pieces of cling wrap and roll between them. (It helps to work with the dough cold, as it gets sticky as it warms.) Roll out the almond paste to the same size as well.  Beat an egg for an egg wash, and have some blanched almonds ready for decoration.  (You can easily blanch the almonds and remove the skins yourself:  Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Add almonds, cover and remove from heat.  Let stand for 1 minute, then drain and the skins will pop right off between your fingers.)

Butter your baking dish (glass pan, tart pan, etc.) well, then fit a layer of speculaas dough into the bottom.  Brush liberally with egg wash, then fit the almond layer over the top.  Brush again liberally with egg wash.  Top with the second piece of speculaas dough.  Brush a final time with egg wash, then decorate with the blanched almonds.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  The top will be nicely browned, and the cake will feel set and dense.  Cool completely in the pan before removing and slicing.


I had just a small amount of speculaas dough left over and an even smaller amount of almond paste.  This came from trimming to fit a circular tart tin.  I made 9 small balls of the speculaas dough, and 9 tiny almond past balls, fit the two together, then pressed with a glass to an even thickness.  I refrigerated them until the gevulde speculaas was done baking, then popped them into the oven at 350 until they were browned and crisp, about 20 minutes.  They were much crunchier than the layered speculaas, and I liked them a lot!  I probably like the layered cake better, so I wouldn't make the dough especially into cookies, but it's a great use for the leftover trimmings.


 I really enjoyed this cake as it aged.  I stored it in my new obsession: these reusable, beeswax coated, hemp and cotton flats that can be made into envelopes around food.  I can't thank Deena enough for sending me a package of them - I had never heard of them, and I really love them!  The wrapping kept it moist and dense, and I feel like the flavors deepened as the days passed.

I'm so pleased with the way this challenge went.  An elegant, petite spice cake, spiked with almond and nearly endlessly adaptable to your liking?  How could I feel anything but pure love for this dessert?  Thank you to Francjin for a wonderful challenge selection!  Be sure to check out the original recipe, and a short history of the spice trade and the Netherlands role in this confection!


  1. Trawling around the Daring Baker's challenge bloggers is an awesome experience, especially when the reward is as scrumptious as this one! I HAVE to try this recipe! It calls to me on so many different levels. Cheers for sharing your variation on a theme :)

  2. Looks beautiful! I remember Windmill Cookies at my Gram's too.

  3. Looks beautiful! I remember Windmill Cookies at my Gram's too.

  4. After smelling and making the dough, I was a little concerned it may have been too spiced, although once cooked I was happy with the strong and lovely flavour. The addition of the almond paste layer worked very well between the two pastry layers. This is certainly a great “slice” you could make that is a little different and not too sweet.



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