Basic Belgian: Chocolate Speculoos Pie
Three weeks ago, my friend the artist Luc Vandervelde told me that "You missed the best city in Europe. You eat better than in Paris. Better art than in Berlin. More relaxed than Lisbon. Only it rains a lot." Brussels.
I had been in Paris. Paris to Belgium is a quick trip on the TGV for the professional classes and a cheap one for the student set on the international budget zeitgeist Megabus. But Paris was the quick trip from Lisbon, which was itself undertaken as a quick trip from London, a move I made from New York because the whole thing was so much quicker and easier than anything I had up to that point undertaken in China. I dwell in Possibility. All of life is possibly a quick trip from one place to another place. But to my knowledge you can still only be on one trip at a time. You can't take every turn.
Belgium remains a page unturned for me. But I know some of the basic joys of the Belgian kitchen, including the chocolate, of course, and the weird and incredible combination of crushed cinnamon cookies with peanut-butter-like preparation known as speculoos. And I know from experience that you can find these things as easily in your local Trader Joe's as in the capital of the European Union, and that they can be the sources of both a very basic pie and a very basic pleasure.
Chocolate Speculoos Pie
Pie dough, prepared by you or someone else
1/2 cup hazelnuts, with the skin removed
1 cup heavy cream
7oz/200g Belgian dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
1/2 cup speculoos (don't refrigerate it)
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
Spread the hazelnuts out on a baking tray and place them in the oven for about ten minutes, shaking the tray once or twice to move them around, until they are browned but not burnt.
If someone hasn't already done this for you. Roll out the dough and fit it into a pie dish or aluminum pie pan. Bake the crust for about 30 minutes, or until it's golden brown all over. Remove the crust from the oven and allow it to cool completely. You can turn the oven off--you're done with the baking.
Meanwhile, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-low heat, and then switch off the heat right away. Add the chocolate and whisk while the chocolate melts. Add the butter and continue to whisk until everything is melted and combined. Allow this ganache to cool to room temperature, too, whisking once or twice.
When everything's ready. Use a rubber spatula to spread an even layer of speculoos above the pie crust to create the bottom layer of your pie (be careful not to spread too vigorously or you'll dig up the crust). Pour the ganache on top of the speculoos until the pie crust is full but not overflowing (you'll likely have a little bit extra--you'll find a use for it very easily).
Refrigerate the pie for an hour and then gently press the hazelnuts into the top of the pie in a ring around the inside of the crust. Eat the pie right away or keep it refrigerated until you do.
You can save all the leftovers (and bake small circles of extra rolled out pie dough) to make quick chocolate speculoos sandwich cookies.