It took you half an hour to work with a kilo of almonds. Bring water to the boil, add almonds, let it boil for a while, drain, take a nut between your thumb and index finger and let it pop out of its brown skin with a subtle squeeze. The trick was to let the almonds cool just enough not to burn you, but not too much, because the colder they got, the harder to peel.

When I think about how my mother and I used to make almond paste every year, I can still smell that wee, dusty, let’s say filthy smell of cooked brown almonds. But I can also taste how deliciously sweet and creamy those white, freshly peeled, still a little warm almonds tasted. And I still feel that flop. How the sharp point broke through the membrane first, after which the convex, round side slid smoothly behind it.

It’s a wonderful, satisfying feeling, youth sentiment, too, and yet these days I always buy white almonds. Sin actually. Of the money, because brown almonds are cheaper than white ones. But above all, it was a waste of tradition, because it was also a pleasant job. Our personal prelude to the festive season. Because the almond paste that we produced in large quantities every year around the end of November was, of course, intended for Sinterklaas and Christmas pastries. Stuffed speculaas, pastry letter, stol, we baked it all ourselves. For ourselves, but also to give away. Well, happiness was still very common then, wasn’t it?

Almond paste tastes best when it matures for a few days. If you make a portion this weekend, it will be perfect on Thursday for the following, just not classic pastry letter. (If you prefer to keep it traditional, just omit pistachios and orange blossom.)

Banquet letter with pistachio paste

For the almond paste:300 g peeled almonds; 300 g of sugar; 2 small eggs; zest of 1 scrubbed lemon.

For the pastry letter:100 g shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped; 3 – 5 tbsp whipped cream; orange blossom water; 8 slices of butter puff pastry, thawed; 1 egg yolk, beaten with a few drops of milk; flower to pollinate.

Meal the almonds fine in the food processor. Add the sugar and lemon zest and let the blade run for a while. Separate the eggs. Add the egg yolks to the almond mixture and run the blade again. After a minute or so, a smooth, cohesive mass should form. If not and the mixture remains grainy, add some egg whites. Gradually, because the food should not get too wet. Spoon it into a clean glass jar and let it ripen in the fridge for a day or four.

Heat for the pastry letter preheat the oven to 210 degrees. Knead the pistachios, as much whipped cream as needed for a smooth mass, and a few drops of orange blossom water to taste with the almond paste. Dust the work surface and a rolling pin with flour. Stack the puff pastry sheets and roll them out into a thin, elongated sheet about 15 cm wide and 70 cm long. Make a roll of the pistachio paste that is almost the same length and place it in the middle of the dough.

Crease the dough around the sausage and seal the seams and ends with some beaten egg. Place the roll with the seam at the bottom on a baking tray lined with baking paper and shape it into an S of Sint (or another letter). Brush it with the beaten egg yolk and bake in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.