Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kruisbessenschuimvlaai

"Ouch!" I sucked the drop of blood off my finger. Sharp thorns dug into my flesh every time I reached for the fruit I wanted to pick. A less determined person would have given up already, but a distant childhood memory of a sweet and tangy vlaai fueled my stubbornness. I had only enjoyed kruisbessenschuimvlaai once but it left such an impression that I was willing to sustain a couple of painful punctures to taste it again!

Kruisbessenschuimvlaai (what a great word for hangman!) is a traditional Limburg pie, with a mixture of slightly sour kruisbessen, or gooseberries, and a topping of meringue. A popular name for kruisbessen can also be stekelbes (prickle berry), knoeper or kroesel, which explains the Limburg name for this pie: "krosjele vlaai". It is possible that the English name for this berry, gooseberry, may  have been a derivative of the Dutch word kruisbes. Who knows!?


Kruisbessen do grow in the wild in the Netherlands, but are also grown commercially, albeit in small quantities. The fact that they are not easy to pick may have something to do with it, but it's also a rather old-fashioned, almost forgotten fruit. Nevertheless, it is fairly easy to plant a small bush or two in your own garden, and they provide generous gatherings, enough for a couple of pies per plant!

Now, typically the meringue will be soft and baked with the pie, but I prefer a crunchy meringue topping, so I baked the top separately. I've posted instructions for both variations. I hope you enjoy this lovely vlaai - it was worthy every pinch, scratch and drop of blood!

Kruisbessensschuimvlaai
For the vlaai dough:
1 1/2 cup AP flour (175 gram)
1 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup milk, warm (110F/43C)
3 tablespoons butter, soft
1 tablespoon sugar
2 egg yolks, or 1 egg
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the filling
2 lbs of gooseberries, washed
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon of corn starch

For the meringue
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar

Knead a dough from the flour, yeast, milk, butter, sugar, egg and salt. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover it and let it rise at room temperature. In the meantime, mix the cinnamon with the breadcrumbs and set it aside.

Remove the stems and the blossom ends of the gooseberries. Place the berries in a saucepan, with just enough water to cover the bottom layer, and slowly bring to a simmer. Carefully stir in the sugar, making sure not to break too many berries. You may want to taste and see if it's not too tangy - if it is, add a bit more sugar. After all, it should be fun to eat this pie, not a punishment!

When the berries are warm and juicy, add a little bit of cold water to the cornstarch and make a slurry. Stir that into the berries and bring the pan back up to a boil, give it a couple of stirs until the whiteness of the cornstarch has disappeared, then turn it off. The cornstarch will thicken the juice and make it easier to use as a pie filling.

Heat your oven up to 400F. Knead the air out of the pie dough, roll it into a circle and line a greased pie pan with it. For this recipe I used a 11 inch wide, one inch high, scalloped pie dish. If your dish is slightly smaller and higher, the recipe will accommodate easily. Dock the dough (use a fork to punch little holes in it) and cover it again for its second rise.

When the dough is puffy and risen, spread the panko mix over the bottom of the dough, and then fill it with the berries. Place it in the oven and bake.

Beat the egg whites and the sugar into a shiny stiff meringue. If you want to have a soft meringue, pull the vlaai out of the oven after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 300F, spread the meringue over the filling and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the meringue as it colors fast! Pull the vlaai and let it cool.

If you prefer a crunchy meringue like I do, you will need to take one additional step. Let the pie bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 400F, then pull it out of the oven. Lower the temperature of the oven to 175F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper where you've drawn a circle that matches the circumference of the pie pan. Spread the meringue within the circle on the paper, making sure to make it slightly lower in the center. Bake the meringue at 175F for at least an hour, checking toward the end to make sure it has fully dried. If not, leave it in the oven for another 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and let the meringue dry.

When the meringue has cooled and dried, place the disk on top of the pie, cut into slices and serve! Depending on how you generous you cut your slices, this pie will give you 8 to 10 slices.



Sunday, December 18, 2016

Amandelkransjes

 The dark days before Christmas, my grandmother called this time of the year. The days are short, and the nights are long. But even though we're lacking daylight outside, doesn't mean we can't make it gezellig inside - a cup of hot tea, a couple of cookies....it's easy to do! It's also probably a good day to finish writing those last Christmas cards, if you haven't done so yet. Last year, the Dutch sent 115 million cards for the holiday season. Several of those may have come your way if you still have family and friends in the Netherlands!

Christmas is also linked to great food. Kerstkransjes, or cookie Christmas wreaths, are a typical sight in Dutch Christmas trees. Sprinkled with sugar, decorated with slivered almonds, round, scalloped, chocolate,...they come in a variety of shapes and flavors, but always with a little hole in the middle so you can tie it to a branch of the tree.

For today, I baked some almond kransjes - some of them may go in my tree, but I've primarily made them to give to a neighbor....but I may have sample one or two with my afternoon tea while I write my Christmas cards! The dough is easy and quick to put together, and the cookies bake in fifteen to twenty minutes. These happen to be scalloped, but you can cut out stars, trees, or snowmen - and it's an easy and fun project to do with kids.

Sprinkle with colored sugar, add some chocolate or cinnamon to the recipe, or you might even dip the cookies in chocolate. They also make a great gift during these holiday times. The recipe makes approximately twenty cookies.

Amandelkransjes
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons butter, cold and diced
1 sachet vanilla sugar (or 2 teaspoons vanilla essence)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 to 3 tablespoons cold milk
1 egg, beaten

For decoration: slivered almonds and granulated sugar

Mix the flour with the salt, the sugar and the baking powder. Carefully knead in the cold butter, then add in the vanilla, lemon zest. If the mixture is too dry, add in a tablespoon of cold milk at a time. Knead everything into a pliable dough, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for an hour, to let the flavors blend.

Roll the dough out on a lightly dusted counter. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Use a drinking glass, or a cookie cutter of any shape, to cut out the cookies. Use the end of an apple corer or a large straw to poke a hole in the middle of the dough. When all cookies are cut and cored, place them on the parchment paper, brush them with egg and sprinkle sliced almonds and sugar on top. Bake on the middle rack until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool on a rack. Now you can either pack them in a cute cookie tin, or cut ribbons and thread through the hole, then put a knot in it and decorate your tree!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Chocoladeletters

The early days of December always hold much joy and excitement in the heart of the Dutch, old and young - it is Sinterklaas time! A full twenty days ahead of Santa Claus, on December 5th, Sinterklaas delivers presents and goods to all, and the days are filled with plenty of sweets. This is the time of year when you may get speculaasbrokken or a piece of banketstaaf with your cup of coffee, or if you're really lucky, a piece of gevulde speculaas!

Sinterklaas time is also the time that the children get to "set" their shoe by the fireplace or backdoor. The shoe is filled with straw and a carrot for the horse Amerigo, and often has a written letter to Sint with a request for presents. The shoe is always set out right before going to bed. As you can imagine, the next morning is a mad dash to make it to your shoe first, so that you can see what Sint or his helper Piet have left you in return! It's often a small token - a mandarin orange, a small gift or, if you're lucky, a chocolate letter.

In the old days, according to this source, gifts would be covered with a sheet, instead of individually wrapped. A letter made from bread would indicate what presents would be for which child. Later, these letters became chocolate letters and can still be found in all the letters of the alphabet, so that there is a letter for everybody.

The most popular letter is the letter M, not in the least because the perception is that it has the most chocolate....but one look at the weight of both an I and an M reveal that both letters hold exactly the same amount of chocolate. For some reason, the facts don't matter: an M still seems like a better deal than an I!

For those of us that live abroad, it can sometimes be difficult to find chocolate letters so that we can continue the tradition with our families, or the stores we order from have run out or don't have the letters we need anymore. So let's make our own!

Making your own chocolate letters* is really very easy: all it takes is chocolate, a little bit of butter ( 1 oz per 4 oz of chocolate) and all the sprinkles and edible cake decorations you can find. It would be a great afternoon activity to do with the kids and let them decorate their own letters.

Chocolade letters
For approximately 8 small letters
Chocolate, 1 lb
Butter, 4 oz (room temperature)

Melt 12 oz of chocolate over a pot with warm water, or in the microwave, but be careful to not overheat or burn the chocolate. Dark chocolate should not surpass 118F (48C) and milk chocolate should not get hotter than 113F (45C). Remove the pot from the heat and stir the remainder of the chocolate into the melted chocolate to bring down its temperature to between 86F and 88F (30 to 31C). Be careful to not have any water or steam get to the chocolate - it will seize up. (More info on tempering chocolate here).

When all the chocolate has melted, whip the butter airy and fluffy until it turns white, then stir in the chocolate. Place a piece of parchment paper on the back of a baking sheet, and tape it down. Slide your printed letters under the paper. Prepare a piping bag with a star tip, and fill the bag.

Now pipe the letters onto the parchment paper. You can pipe high or double for thicker, higher letters, or do a single pass. If you don't like how you piped it, you can remove the chocolate and add it back to the bag. If the chocolate spreads too much because it's still too warm, put it back in the bag and wait a little bit longer.

You have a bit of time before the chocolate starts to set. Decorate the letters with edible glitter, kruidnoten or chocolate chips for the kids, or go for grownup flavors like a dusting of chili powder, pistachios or sea salt. Place the letters, after they're done, in a cool area to set up: it will take about two hours. You can then wrap them, or eat them :-)




*The easiest letters to pipe are the S and the O, but if you're adventurous or experienced, definitely try different shapes. I printed out the letter S in Calibri font at 520 points so that it would match the traditional small chocolate letter of 4.5 inches by 3. The large letters measure 6 x 4 inches. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Appeltjes onder de deken

Sometimes recipes are hard to resist: either they have adorable names, or they are made with delectable ingredients. This week's recipe combines both: the name of the dish is Appeltjes onder de deken, meaning "little apples under the blanket", and the dessert dish has both apples and custard, a winning combination. How can you say no!?

These "tucked in apples" as this recipe is aptly called, make use of two staples in the Dutch household: apples and vanilla vla. It's a perfect dessert to get in the oven as you dish up the evening meal: by the time you are done and the plates are cleared, your apples will be baked and ready to be served. They are wonderful eaten warm, but will do just well at room temperature.

Apples are not foreign to the Dutch kitchen. We love our apple pie, apple turnovers, apple beignets and appelbollen! It should therefore not be surprising that, last year, 336 million kilos of apples were harvested in the Netherlands. Of all those apples, a whopping 129 million kilos were of the Elstar variety alone. It is easily the most popular apple among the Dutch.

The Elstar apple was developed in the city of Elst, in the province of Gelderland, by a man called Arie Schaap. The Elstar combines the name of the city and the two first letters of Arie's name, in his honor. Since the apple's introduction in the seventies, it has quickly become a Dutch favorite and continues to be so to this day. The Elstar is a red and green apple, with creamy white flesh and a sweet and slightly tart taste, and is a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Ingrid Marie apple.

Other traditional Dutch varieties, which are becoming more and more difficult to find, are Notarisappel, Groninger Kroon, Sterappel, Dubbele Zoete Aagt, Eijsdener Klumpke and the more accessible Belle de Boskoop apple.

Elstar apples are hard to come by here in the United States, so I've used little Gala apples instead. The Elstar has a sweeter taste but the Gala will do for tucking in, so to say. If you have space in your garden, you may consider planting an Elstar tree or any of these other old fashioned Dutch varieties! It takes a bit of looking but they can be found at nurseries.

Appeltjes onder de deken
1/2 cup mixed dried fruits*
1/2 cup of apple juice
2 tablespoons of brandy (optional)
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 small size Gala apples
2 packages vanilla pudding (cook and serve, 4.6oz/130gr each)
6 cups milk

Mix the dried fruits with the apple juice, brandy, brown sugar and the cinnamon stick and let it soak overnight.

The next day, heat the oven to 375F while you prepare the hot custard. Wash the apples and cut in half, top to bottom. Remove the core (I use a teaspoon sized measuring spoon for a nice, even round). Pour half of the custard on the bottom of a large baking tray - the tray has to hold 8 apple halves- and keep the rest of the custard warm and covered!**

Place the apples, cut side up, on top of the custard. Stir the dried fruit and put a heaping tablespoon in each apple hollow. Continue until the fruits have been distributed evenly.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve the apples hot at the table, and pour the rest of the hot custard over the apples right before you serve, tucking them in under a nice, warm blanket.....

Eet smakelijk!






* Use what you have: mix up dark raisins, golden raisins, currants, cranberries, chopped up walnuts, almonds or pecan.

** It's a little bit more work, but I prefer making the second batch of vanilla pudding when the apples are baking - right before they come out of the oven. That way, I have piping hot custard to pour over the apples!