Speculaas With Almond Filling

In Holland (and in Flanders, too) everyone needs speculaas for the winter holiday. My favorite version of this medieval cake wraps gingerbread spiced by the sweet heat of cinnamon and the gentle glow of ginger and nutmeg around a core of moist, sweet marzipan.

But speculaas takes many forms. There are at least forty-seven different kinds of gingerbread in the Netherlands. In Holland, the spices that go into gingerbread are something akin to a state secret. Without a doubt, the Dutch have a thing about speculaas.

This recipe will make about 50 pieces of speculaas, but a half-batch works well, too.

Speculaas With Almond Filling
(Adapted from Michael Krondl, author of "The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice." For more recipes see www.spicehistory.net.)

Dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1½ teaspoons ground white pepper
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
1½ teaspoons cardamom seed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 4 tablespoons butter
7 ounces sliced almonds
grated rind of 2 lemons
2 eggs
4 tablespoons whipping cream

Filling:
1 ¼ pounds almond paste
1 egg
1 egg white
about 2 tablespoons rose water

lightly beaten egg for brushing
whole blanched almond for decorating

To make the dough, stir together the flour, sugar, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Make sure the sugar is really well distributed. Then, add the butter that you have cut into small pieces, and using your fingers, or a couple of knives, reduce the butter into pieces the size of oatmeal flakes. Stir in the sliced almonds and lemon rind, then finally the 2 eggs that you have stirred together with the cream. Gently toss this mixture with your hands until you have a rather dry dough. If it doesn't hold together, add another tablespoon or two of cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Make the filling by putting the almond paste into a food processor and gradually adding the egg and white then the rosewater, teaspoon by teaspoon. You need the filling to be spreadable but not runny. Refrigerate this too before using.

When you're ready to bake the speculaas, set your oven to 350°F. Take half the dough and roll it out to about quarter inch thickness. Transfer this to a buttered baking sheet. Use plenty of flour when you're rolling out the dough and don't worry if it breaks as you are transferring it. You'll most likely need to cut it and patch it anyway to make it into an even rectangle. Spread the almond paste over the dough, leaving a border of about a half inch naked.

Roll our the rest of the dough, drape it over the stuffing and press down on the edges to seal.

Brush generously with egg then, with a knife, trace a pattern of lozenges over the surface. You can also decorate the top with whole, blanched almonds. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven until firm and a rich brown. Make sure to cut it into pieces before it cools completely. I usually cut it into squares or diamonds of about 2 inches.