Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Today, March 14th, is Pi Day. I usually pay little attention to all these "Today-is-Fill-In-The-Blank-With-A-Food-Name-" days. Should not every day be pie day?!  So, initially I had not planned to write about this mathematical merriment, until I realized there was a Dutch connection. If the pie part did not catch my attention, the Dutch link surely did. Read on!
So, the first calculation of  π was carried out by the Greek mathematician Archimedes somewhere around 250 BC, who determined it to be 3 and a little bit after the comma, more accurately speaking "less than 3 1/7 but greater than 3 10/71". Over the next several centuries, other digit crunchers added more numbers to his initial calculation. 

The big breakthrough happened in 1600, when Ludolph van Ceulen calculated the first 35 digits of  π. This mathematician and fencing instructor, a German-born Dutchman, spent most of his life calculating the numerical value of the number pi, and even having it named after him (Ludolphian number), and writing papers and books about it. His amazing 35-digit approximation to pi is even engraved on his tombstone in Leiden. 

How interesting is that! Not having enough to do with calculating numbers, raising kids and teaching fencing, Van Ceulen also spent time posing problems and solutions to other mathematicians. One of these challenged peers was called Goudaen (meaning from the city of Gouda), of which you can read more here.  

So while I was trying to figure out who this Goudaen is, I was distracted by something else. It appears that the city of Gouda happens to house the oldest herberg, or inn, known in the northern provinces of the Netherlands. The hotel is called De Zalm (The Salmon). It was established in 1522 and back then was called De Ouden Salm. It had a gilded salmon on the top of its roof that blew off during a storm but that has been restored to its former glory since.

Never mind the salmon....imagine my surprise when I learned that Kralingseveer, by Rotterdam, housed the busiest and largest salmon auction during the 1800s and 19th century. Apparently, our rivers were riddled with salmon during that time! Who knew?! After the industrialization, the rivers in the Netherlands became too polluted and the salmon pretty much disappeared, which was around 1890. The fish auction at the Kralingseveer was finally demolished in 1932 because there was no more salmon to auction off. Sad, sad, sad state of affairs.

So in honor of Pi day and as a tip of the hat to Ludolph van Ceulen I am celebrating with a warm, fishy salmon pie for lunch. This dish used to be an easy-to-make, safe standby for many long study nights during my college years, but has practically disappeared from the culinary scene. Which is a shame really, it's worth a shot! Some people add pineapple and corn, but I prefer this rather simple approach. 

Zalmtaart is also good eaten cold for lunch, with a glass of cold milk.  

1 can of pink or red salmon (14.75 ounces)
1 package Boursin cheese with garlic and fresh herbs (5.2 oz)
1 small shallot
1 tablespoon bread crumbs
3 tablespoons red and green pepper dice (or small can of Southwestern corn)
3 eggs
1 sheet puff pastry
Fresh parsley

Drain the salmon and break the meat into big pieces, picking out the skin and bones. Beat eggs with half of the cheese. Chop the shallot and fold into the eggs. Roll the thawed puff pastry out in 9 inch pie form, poke holes in pastry with a fork, and cover with 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs or panko. Distribute the salmon chunks over the bottom, and pour eggs on top. Break the rest of the cheese over the egg. Lastly sprinkle the bell peppers on top, or the drained corn if you're using it.

Heat the oven to 400F and bake the salmon pie in 20 minutes until done (the egg will be solid). You may finish it under the broiler to add some color to the top. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley just before serving. 

Makes 8 slices. 

Friday, December 22, 2017


If you grew up in the Netherlands during the eighties or nineties, you probably remember the sneeuwster cake from Maitre Paul. This Christmas dessert consisted of a light sponge cake filled with a layer of sweet whipped cream, and a generous layer of advocaat, the Dutch spiked eggnog. The upper layer of cake was split in eight portions, marking a star, and dusted with powdered sugar, hence the name: sneeuwster, or snow star. Although the flavor profiles of the cake are very nice, it was not always a popular item at the dinner table back in those days.

Part of the reason was that Maitre Paul was not a maitre per se, nor an artisan baker of any kind: it was the name of a baking factory/company from Tilburg that made frozen cakes, to the amount of 40,000 baked products, a day! The focus was therefore on production, on ship-ability, and on ensuring that the cakes made it to the many supermarkets around the country in one piece, and not so much on top notch quality and artisan skills. The other reason why sneeuwsterren were not always popular was because of the advocaat flavor** - it tends to be more favored by the older generations than with young people or children. Many of us who grew up during that time dreaded the announcement of the dessert at the Christmas table - (please let it not be another sneeuwster!) - and were secretly hoping for a Viennetta or a good old-fashioned apple pie.

But, as so often happens, because sneeuwsterren were so popular during that time because of convenience and its novelty aspect, it has come for many to be a traditional Christmas expectation and holds special memories. And even though this was never baked at home, but purchased frozen at the store and thawed in the refrigerator, it still marks a significant memory for many. And as easy as it is to make, there is no reason why you shouldn't perpetuate this memory, but this time with a homemade cake!

For the cake:
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar (150 gr.)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (100 gr.)
1/4 cup corn starch (30 gr.)

For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream (235 ml)
1/2 cup powdered sugar (55 gr.)

For the advocaat*:
7 egg yolks
3 eggs
1 cup sugar (200 gr.)
1 cup brandy (235 ml)

Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C/Gas mark 4.

Beat the four eggs and the sugar at high speed until it's tripled in volume and its color is a pale yellow, full of air and falls off the beater in a thick ribbon. Sift the flour and the corn starch together and carefully fold in into the airy batter. Butter and flour a round 9 inch (23 cm) baking mold, carefully pour in the batter, and bake it on the middle rack for about 30 minutes. If a toothpick comes out clean, it's done. Remove and cool.

While the cake is baking, crack your 10 eggs. Separate the egg white from 7 of the yolks and save it for meringues, schuimpjes or omelets. Mix the egg yolks, three 3 eggs and the sugar in a mixer on high speed until foamy and thick, much like your batter for the cake, and then slowly add the brandy until it's fully absorbed. Get a double boiler on the stove (or place a bowl on top of a saucepan with simmering water), and add the eggy mixture, then start stirring. It is important that you stir frequently to distribute the heat evenly, as well as to avoid the bottom of the bowl cooking the eggs. If the water in the saucepan gets too hot, you may well scramble the eggs!

The heat will thicken the eggs into a custardy consistence. Temp the egg mixture regularly as you want to bring it up to 160 F/ 70 C. At this temperature the egg yolks will consolidate, as well as kill all harmful bacteria. It will take careful stirring and careful measuring - it's okay to pull the advocaat at 155 F / 68 C as there will be some carry over heat. Pour the advocaat in a bowl that you can cover with plastic wrap (push it down onto the advocaat so that it doesn't get a skin) and let it cool.

Whip the heavy cream with the powdered sugar. Give it a quick taste to see if you want it sweeter!

Slice the cooled cake in half lengthwise. Spread the whipping cream on the bottom layer, making sure to make a slight mound in the middle. Place this in the freezer, while you make four six inch (15 cm) cuts into the top (see picture) part of the cake, leaving the bottom 1/5 inch uncut. I used a bench scraper for this but it will work just as well with a knife - just try to get clean cuts without much tearing.

Pull the cake from the freezer and add one cup of advocaat, spreading it out over the top of the whipped cream, again making a hill in the middle. Place the top layer of the cake on top. Because of the hill of advocaat and whipped cream, the lines you cut should open up a little bit and make it look like a star. Put the whole thing back in the freezer for another half hour. Cooling it down rapidly and partially freezing the cake will make it easier to cut into presentable slices later.

Now you have two choices - either you leave it in the freezer for serving later in the week, or you serve it the same day. If you want to make this cake ahead, pull it about an hour later, wrap it with plastic wrap and put it in a cake container, and put it back in the freezer. Pull it the day you want to serve it, in the morning, and let it thaw in your fridge for at least two hours before you serve it.

Right before you serve the cake, sprinkle it with powdered sugar. I added christmassy looking sprinkles on top but that's not traditional - I just liked the look of it...

*You will only use a 1/3rd for the cake. The rest can be consumed, given away, or if you are not an advocaat fan, you may want to cut the recipe in 1/3rds.

** If you don't like advocaat, or if you are making this for children, consider using a yellow colored custard or pudding instead. Banana cream, French vanilla or any other flavor that makes a pretty nice yellow star will work just fine.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Get busy baking! (I really should)

It's that time of the year -lovely speculaas smells should be wafting from my kitchen, trays and trays of cookies ought to be cooling down while I whip up frosting...but no such luck. Once again, the holiday season has snuck up on me. Every single year, when the first day of December hits, I have great plans to show off my culinary prowess: this year, I tell myself, I am going to do it all. For the Sinterklaas celebration I will bake gevulde speculaas, speculaasbrokken and kruidnoten.

And then, I seriously mean it, between then and Christmas, I will bake a Kerststol for every weekend breakfast, make borstplaat to set out on the living room table for guests, I am going to make kerstkransjes to hang in the tree, and while I am at it, I may give schuimpjes a go. Not because they are necessarily a part of the winter holidays, but because they're so nice and light to eat.

And I, every December, solemnly SWEAR that THIS year, I will fry enough oliebollen, appelbeignets and sneeuwballen to share with friends so that we can all enjoy a great celebration and ending of the year.

But what happens e-v-e-r-y single time? That's right, life interferes with my carefully planned baking schedule! See, it's December 17 now, and what have I accomplished so far? Of all the amazing and lekkere plans, so far I've only tested a new oliebollen recipe (I decided to stick with my own) and made a small batch of gevulde speculaas. But I promptly forgot to take it out of the oven after baking, so it was harder than a rock (I still ate it because nobody else was going to make one!).

Today, I am finally baking a Kerststol (yay me!) for the first time this season. This year, again, nobody has seen (or will see, for that matter) any kruidnoten or speculaasbrokken emerge from my kitchen, unless I buy them from a Dutch store, and you can forget about the borstplaat altogether - it's not going to happen this year!!! Geef mijn portie maar aan Fikkie, like my mug says!

On one hand it bothers me that I can't get everything done that I wanted to - but I also realize that, while I am not in the kitchen, I am tending to work, school, pets, students, family members, friends and life in general. And that's okay, too. This holiday season will still happen, whether I bake or not!

Perhaps you are a kitchen goddess with all the time in the world, or maybe you are a bit like me, happy when life takes a step back so I can bake some of our heritage recipes that remind me of home, family or loved ones. Regardless of where you are in the baking spectrum, enjoy the upcoming holidays, don't be too hard on yourself and do the best you can! There is always next year :-)

What's baking in your kitchen this week?

Friday, November 24, 2017

No time to pout

You may have noticed that I don't place advertisements on this page. There are some affiliate links in the gardening section, but otherwise I make sure these pages are being kept clean of ads. However...our family is expanding and we've gained a naughty little nephew, Niet Mokken!, that I would like to introduce you to!

Niet Mokken! designs mugs that are perfect for expressing your inner Dutch person, with a sense of humor and a tongue-in-cheek approach. If you've ever felt like saying something, or making your position clear but without wanting to offend, a cheeky Niet Mokken! mug might be just the thing for you! My favorite one is this one, but I also love the Worst one from the picture. And the Boerenkool one had me rethinking my dinner plans for tonight. It's hard to pick just one!

If you are in the US and order soon, you may still have the mugs in time for Christmas. Which one do you like best? There are six more on the website - clicking the image will take you there. Go take a peek and let me know what you think!