Sinterklaas is to the Dutch what Santa Claus is to the Americans and 5th December here is what 24th is in America. The two saints might look somewhat similar (red cloths, white beard) but it is Sinterklaas who is the real deal. He precedes Santa Claus, you see. Sinterklaas does not live at the North Pole, he lives in Spain (much better climate) and only comes to the Netherlands for a couple of weeks in November and December. He doesn’t ride reindeer, he rides a white horse named Amerigo. His helpers are no fairies, they’re Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) who tell us they “mean no harm” even though they’re “black as coal”.Yeah, they’re from an era before political correctness.
The food is different, too. If you want to prepare the typical Sinterklaas treats at home, the first step is to mix a generous batch of speculaas spice mix. It’s central to almost all the sweets connected to the feast of Sinterklaas – pepernoten, speculaas cookies and gevulde speculaas, which I somewhat clumsily translate as Speculaas almond pie.
This recipe is a slightly healthier version of the classic. It’s made with honey instead of sugar, and the dough is not very sweet. But because it uses a generous amount of the speculaas spice, it still has a pretty intense taste. It is not a recipe for sugar-addicts, it’s for those who enjoy treats that have many flavors instead of just being sweet.
The list of ingredients is long but no part of the recipe is difficult. You could probably use ready-made almond paste, but making your own is easy and the taste will be superior. If you can, make the paste a couple of days in advance, it will benefit the taste.
Speculaas spice mix
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground star anise or aniseed
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground white pepper
Honey almond speculaas pie
Honey almond paste:
250 g blanched almonds
150 g honey
1 small egg
a small pinch of salt
zest of 1 (unwaxed) lemon
250 g unbleached flour
pinch of salt
1 ½ tbsp speculaas spice
100 g (7 tbsp/ 3,5 ounces) butter
2 tbsp honey
1 egg, mixed with 1 tsp water
several almond halves
First make the almond paste. Grind the almonds as fine as possible. (You can probably do this in the food processor, but I don’t have one, so haven’t tested it). Mix the almonds well with the rest of the ingredients. Store the almond paste in an airtight container in the fridge until needed. Leaving it for a couple of days will improve the taste.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius (320 Fahrenheit).
Lightly butter a round springform of 22 cm (8 inch) diameter.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour with salt and spices. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add honey and egg and mix everything until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly bigger than the other. On a floured surface, roll the smaller piece of dough into a circle and using the springform ring cut a lid for the pie, put aside. Roll the rest of the dough into a circle a bit larger than the springform. Line the form with the dough, pressing against the sides. Fill the pie with the almond paste and fold the edges over the filling. Brush them with eggwash and put the lid on top, pressing gently around the edges to seal. Brush the top of the pie with the eggwash and with a knife make a diamond pattern. Put half an almond in each square and brush the pie once more with eggwash.
Bake until the top is golden, about 45 minutes.