Last year I went all gaga over the recipe for Spicy Speculaas in none other than Ladies, A Plate. I spent a lot of time blanching and grinding almonds myself for the filling, and I seem to remember the business of grating two tablespoons of nutmeg for the spice mix to be a more labourious task than it was this year. Practice? Perhaps. The whole business was quite straightforward this time, though I mentioned in last year’s post that I went to the Karori opshop in the middle of making it… yes, that can take up a bit of your afternoon…
Well, true to my idea way back when I wrote that first post, I went the traditional biscuit making method of butter and sugar, egg, then dry ingredients, rather than the rubbing of butter into flour as is in the book. The result is a crisper biscuit all round. There were a lot of fine crumbs on the board after I cut it all up, but all the better to lick my fingers and eat you with. Louis put the last of his crumbs on his porridge! I got a bit lazy and bought ground almonds, and the filling is finer and chewier than last year’s. In all, the speculaas seems more ‘compact’ this time, a little less bread-like, and I don’t really know why the butter is rubbed into the flour but I think I prefer it creamed with the sugar somehow. If you are really into this recipe yourself, I would recommend that you at least try making it this way once.
So this time round, I am going to share the recipe. The ingredients and (most of) their measurements come from Ladies, A Plate but the method has been altered slightly. I’ve gone the imperial weights route, so if you’re after the metrics you’ll have to get yourself a copy of A Second Helping. But really, Alexa Johnston’s instructions are much better than mine, so with the exception of my adjustment you really should just follow her recipe.
Spicy Speculaas (adapted from Ladies, A Plate: A Second Helping and illustrated with my photographs from last year’s batch)
8oz caster sugar
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1lb 2oz flour
2 heaped Tbsp speculaas spices
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6oz ground almonds
3oz caster sugar
3oz icing sugar
2 drops rosewater
1 egg, beaten
1 egg, beaten
Soften butter, and make the almond filling while you wait. Combine almonds, sugar and rosewater and mix to a firm paste with the egg. Wrap it in waxed paper and set aside. Sift together the flour, spices, salt and baking powder.
Cream butter and sugar and beat in the egg. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix to form dough. Knead well, divide evenly, then wrap in waxed paper and set aside in a cool place for a couple of hours.
Turn on the oven – 170C/340F.
The process of piecing it all together is a bit fiddly. Roll out one block of your dough on a piece of floured baking paper to fit your baking tray. Ladies, A Plate recommends one 25x35cm, but mine was roughly 31x31cm so I made a square instead of a rectangle. Rolling things out into an actual shape is hard work and it has taken me a while to nut it out. It takes a bit of practice, and some nudging of the dough – that’s really all I’ve learned so far. If at first you don’t succeed, knead and try again. Transfer the dough with its paper underneath onto the baking tray.
Roll out the almond filling to the same size as the dough, then transfer it onto the first layer of dough. The first time I did this, I rolled it out on my plastic tablecloth with flour sprinkled over, cut it into eight and carefully lifted each section with a large fish slice. This year I foolishly thought rolling it out on baking paper and tipping it onto the first layer and peeling off the paper would be better. It wasn’t. Do not be tempted to do this. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to prize the paper away. The almond filling is sticky. It pulls apart easily. It sticks to everything but the first layer of dough. You have been warned.
But then when it comes to the top layer of dough, yes. Rolling it out on baking paper and tipping it onto the almond layer is the way to go. Roll the rolling pin gently over the surface of the dough once it is in place – it just makes sure everything is in place.
Brush with egg, then draw a grid with the back of a knife. Diamonds is a nice way to go. Each diamond should be big enough to fit an almond in. Arrange the almonds inside the grid, then glaze again with the egg.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the tray after 20 minutes. Cool on a rack and cut along the lines using a long knife.
There you go!