Here in Holland we are celebrating Sint Nicolaas before we get into the Christmas spirit. I suppose everybody celebrates these feasts in their own way, but here at home we try to keep it simple and creative. One of the traditional things we do is make presents for eachother. The kids love it! The present is often made of paper mache or cardboard but you can use any sort of material. Hidden inside this present are small gifts. Then attached to the present is a (usually funny) poem written by Sint Nicolaas.
I'm also spending time baking with the children. Traditionally we make the speculaas, pepernoten, and amandelspijs (almond paste). This weekend we are celebrating Sint Nicolaas by doing something creative with the children like making these cut out transparent pictures. Then sharing the presents we made and of course baking with the children. Tangerines are traditionally the fruit of this feast so I don't give the children tangerines until it's Sint Nicolaas. They get all excited that they finally get to eat tangerines! With Sint Nicolaas music, a lit fire place or candles, the smell of tangerines and speculaas spices, this is a typical Dutch feast which brings warmth in the chilly month of December.
Making amandelspijs (almond paste) is fun and easy to make. Most amandelspijs is made with sugar and often a raw egg is also added. I found out that amandelspijs is delicious when you make it with a syrup. I don't know why they use the egg and even if I wasn't a vegan, I don't like the idea of eating raw eggs.
You can experiment with different syrups. Agave is a syrup which can be used. It's sweet and easy to work with. I'm not such a sweet tooth and prefer to use organic corn & barley syrup. The taste is delicious. You can also use brown rice syrup instead.
You'll need a finely ground almond flour. I bought mine at the health food store but you can also grind the nuts yourself, as long as you grind the almonds to a fine meal. Then add finely grated peel of an organic lemon.
Now add the syrup, mixing it in with a fork or in the case of syrup which is too sticky to work in with the fork, you can use your hands. Knead the syrup into the almond flour until all the ingredients are combined.
Now cover the bowl with plastic film or a lid and place the amandelspijs in the fridge. The longer you leave it to set the better the taste. This should take atleast a few days to several weeks.
Here in the Netherlands we use amandelspijs in gevulde speculaas (stuffed brown-spiced biscuit) and banketstaaf/letter (puff-pastry filled with almond paste). Amandelspijs is also used as a filling in the fruited Christmas bread called kerststol.