speculaas bowral style

My favourite Bakery in the Southern Highlands town of Bowral specialises in organic sourdough and sweet morsels. Lovely organic coffee too. It’s called Flour Water Salt . Over the course of a week I became utterly obsessed by one spicy treat in particular with a silky almond filling. They call them Dutch Speculaas. Normally a Winter/Xmas food in Europe I guess. But I call them the perfect coffee food and re-named them ‘Bowral Bliss’.  The guys at FWS wouldn’t give me their recipe. Bugger! However after three attempts and a little trial and error, I’m satisfied the recipe below is equally as blissful.

Dutch Speculaas (Bowral Bliss)

Ingredients

500 grams white plain (all purpose) flour ❤ 250 grams chilled unsalted butter ❤ 250 grams dark brown sugar ❤ 2 eggs, lightly beaten ❤ ¼ cup thickened cream ❤ a  generous pinch of sea salt 30 - 50 grams Speculaas Spice (ie. as much or as little as your nose & taste buds like - see tips) I use approx. 5 teaspoons of the mixed spice combination to a batch ❤ freshly grated rind of 2 lemons ❤ 1 teaspoon bi carb soda ❤ 1 teaspoon baking powder ❤ lightly beaten egg white for brushing

Almond Paste 

200 grams almond meal ❤ 200 grams icing sugar ❤ 1 egg, lightly beaten + 1 egg white, lightly beaten ❤ 1 tablespoon of Rose Water OR 1 teaspoon of almond extract 

Speculaas Spice

4 tablespoons ground cinnamon ❤ 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg ❤ 1 tablespoon ground cloves ❤  1½ teaspoons ground white pepper ❤ 1½ teaspoons ground ginger ❤ 1½ teaspoons ground cardamom seed

Method + Tips

It’s important to get the spice right first. Traditionally, Speculaas Spice included all six ground spices as above; cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, ginger and cardamon. When I say tradition, I’m talking dating back to medieval times. Combine all 6 spices evenly in a small dish. In all honesty, I left the ground white pepper out last time cause I found it a little too much for my taste buds.

To make the Dough - Sift the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda together. Add the brown sugar and combine well.  Using the dough hook of your mixer, processor or by hand, add the chopped butter and combine. Mix in the freshly grated lemon rind.  Lightly beat the cream and eggs together and add to the dry mixture. Dough will come together easily.  Do not overwork.  Flatten dough and cover in cling wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

Note: There should be enough leftover dough to make a dozen small speculaas cookies or ½ dozen large gingerbread men when you’ve completed this recipe.  Each layer (pastry & almond filling) is rolled about 5mm thick.

Make the almond paste filling by sifting icing sugar over the almond meal in a medium sized bowl. Gradually add the beaten egg, egg white and then the rosewater, teaspoon by teaspoon. You need the filling to be spreadable, not runny. Flatten and cover in cling wrap also and refrigerate overnight.

Next day or whenever you’re ready to bake the Speculaas, preheat oven to moderate 180°C (350°F). Grease and line your cake tin (23cm square) with baking paper.

Allow dough to sit at room temperature to come to workable temp. Divide the dough in half, knead lightly and roll out each portion on a very well floured bench or pastry sheet with well floured rolling pin. About 5mm/¼ inch thick. Drape first rolled portion into cake tin.  Cut or patch as required to make neat.  Roll out almond filling to same shape/size and place over the dough layer. Repeat by draping over the top layer of dough and pressing down around the edges to seal.

Brush generously with lightly whisked egg white.  Bake for 20 minutes until firm and rich brown in colour.  Cut as required. I like the long strips as pictured. At FWS they served them as very generous sized rectangles. Or in little fudge size bites on the saucer with coffee as a sampler. Brutal tactics. They go oh so beautifully with a good espresso.

Travel Tale

Truth No. 5. I have a serious new addiction that doesn’t involve food.  Namely House Swapping. Firstly, the activity of cleaning your home like a crazy mad person prepping for a real estate open inspection. Not so addictive. But secondly, the more joyful activity of stepping off a plane and into someones equally sparkling clean home in a foreign town. Thirdly, the overwhelming delight of trialling local restaurants, markets, coffee beans, shops, corner pub, sourdough bakery, the lot - on the good recommendation of your faraway hosts. Finally, not having a great big fat hotel bill added to one’s credit card before flying home.

I love my life but leaving it behind for a week or two to ponder what life in Town X would really be like is a very refreshing experience. OK, so one of my favourite movies IS ‘The Holiday’. But tell me honestly, who can deny Jude Law in picturesque English countryside isn’t its own special form of addiction. 

On one of our recent exchanges we visited the Southern Highlands.  Bowral was a destination that ticked all the boxes at once and with sudden rapid fire. Timing was perfect. The magnificent Open Gardens Scheme & Tulip Time Festival was underway. But even so, this region has much to offer without 1000’s of tulips. 

‘Our’ house was like stepping into the pages of Country Style Magazine . Or more specifically Highlife - the Southern Highlands glossy mag based in Bowral. 

It was the 51st anniversary of Tulip Time, one of Australia’s largest floral garden festivals. A feast for garden lovers and foodies, lasting two weeks each year at the end of September - early October.

We visited over a dozen open gardens. Milton Park and its 8 acres of formal gardens and 20 acres of lawns and informal areas was in its 61st year of opening its gates and raising money for charity.  Bluebells, daffodils, jonquils, 2000 tulips and snowdrops covered the glade. The ancient Rhododendrons were a colour palette of spring shades.

Corbett Gardens (the town's corner park) at the end of Merrigang Street was just the beginning. Freshly picked tulips, waratahs and warm baking screamed ‘take me home’ from all angles. Barbara’s Storehouse - and numerous other lovely stores - had the most fabulous array of inexpensive home wares I’ve seen anywhere.  

Further afield, Exeter General Store was a little jewel for lunch and local produce, with heaps of handmade confectionery, conserves and great coffee. And what a pretty drive to get there. The town of Berry, closer to the coast was gourmet shopping heaven.

The Southern Highlands slogan is perfectly apt - ‘the journey is just as impressive as the destination’.   I say, if you can’t make the journey right now, at least make the Speculaas.  Terrific preserves too.