Do you love apples, sugar and large doses of dairy? Have a thing for vowels? Is bright orange your absolute favorite color? If you imagine an ideal day, is it filled with bikes, bars and beer...apples, sugar and large doses of dairy? If so, I have a spare bedroom.
I’ve been living in Amsterdam since the beginning of June (a temporary arrangement that ends in August), and though it isn’t my first time in this liberal city of slanted buildings, it all feels so new. And with all of the narrow stone streets, prominent smells of baking sweets and fresh bread, blankets of bright flowers and ridiculously precious blonde babies, I sometimes feel like I’m in an alternate universe. At times, life here seems so idyllic, it verges on creepy.
Luckily, there is a slightly more gritty, salty side to the city keeping things real: techno blasts from boats as they party their way down a canal; graffiti is revered as local art; there is more beer than milk, and that means there’s a hell of a lot of beer; outdoor urinals adorn every square (perhaps, at times, too real); and pedestrians don’t have the right of way, under any circumstance (my husband and I have taken to calling bikers “silent killers” (in a french accent, because we prefer it that way)). Taking all into account, I really like this place.
Considering my current kitchen is the size of a matchbox and temperatures here continue to hover in the high 80s with a humidity of 350%, my cooking is sporadic and light. I’ve been keeping it simple with muesli, composed salads , quick one-pan dishes and walks down to the local frite shop for a big dose of healthy with mayo on top. Therefore, today’s recipe is borrowed from a wonderful book I recently picked up in The American Book Center . , by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, is a charming cookbook, full of beautiful photographs, informative, yet warm writing and enticing recipes. Though I can't wait to try her semolina sponge cake and pineapple tart, I'm most excited about her recipe for gevulde speculaas, a classic Dutch treat I’ve eaten thrice weekly since discovering it at one of my favorite neighborhood bakeries.
So if it’s cooler where you are (or you’re blessed with a/c), then please, give this recipe a try and report back. When it’s not so ridiculously hot that entire families cram into kiddie pools on the city side walks and I’m tempted to down a large, very bad slushy “coffee drink” because dealing with a nasty aftertaste is better than going without ice, it will be the first thing I bake.
(Unrelated, but very important - word on the street isORANJE's got it in the bag . Which may mean surviving Sunday, Monday and Tuesday will prove a feat. In any event, I'm pretty excited!)
(from , by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra)
Gevulde speculaas is ubiquitous in Amsterdam - vending machines, bakeries, souvenir shops, cafes and grocery stores all sell their versions of this cookie-cum-cake. At Vlaamsch Broodhys, an organic bakery with several locations in Amsterdam, they make a small, round variety that is subtly spiced, both crispy and soft in texture, laced with only a thin layer of almond paste and topped with crunchy whole almonds. It’s divine. recipe directs one to form the speculaas into a large torte and calls for over 10 ounces of almond paste, which seems like a very rich interpretation. Personally, I would reduce the paste to 7 or 8 ounces, but I kept her recommendation below.]
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon aniseed
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon mace
9 oz (1 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 oz (1 cup) dark brown sugar
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg, well beaten
10 1/2 oz coarse almond paste
about 1/2 - 3/4 beaten egg (reserve the rest for glazing)
Sift the flour with the spice mixture, baking powder, salt and sugar into a roomy bowl. Rub in the butter thoroughly so that the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. A food processor makes short work of this job. If using one, pulse all of the dry ingredients, then add the butter. Continue to pulse until it looks like breadcrumbs and transfer to a bowl.
Add the [first] beaten egg and knead well for a minute or two. Shape into a ball, then wrap in plastic wrap and chill for a about an hour. It can be chilled longer or even overnight, but will then need enough time at room temperature so that it can be rolled out without breaking.
Preheat the oven to 340 F/170 C. Grease [a 9-inch round] pan.
Mix the coarse almond paste with enough beaten egg to make a fairly soft, spreadable consistency. Divide the dough into two unequal pieces: one piece about one-third of the total; and the second piece, two-thirds. Shape into balls, then flatten slightly into discs.
Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on the work surface and place the large piece of dough on it. Cover with a second piece of plastic wrap, stretched tautly so that there are no folds or creases over the dough. Roll this disc out between the plastic wrap to a 11-inch circle and use it to line the pan, pressing the edges against the side of the pan so that they don’t fall inwards.
Spread the almond paste mixture evenly over the dough and fold in the dough edges so that they rest on the almond paste. Ruse the plastic wrap to roll the second piece of dough out in the same way to a 8 1/2-inch circle. It should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the pan. Trim the edges so that the circle is fairly neat. Moisten the edges of the dough already in the pan with your finger dipped in water and top with the smaller circle. Press the edges gently to seal. Brush with beaten egg and prick with a fork in several places.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Leave to cool in the pan, then transfer carefully to a serving plate.