Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tompoes

The tompouce, or tompoes, is a traditional Dutch pastry that is often served with afternoon coffee or at celebratory events like birthdays. It's similar to what's known as a Napoleon here in the United States, Napoleonbakelse in Sweden and Finland, and Napoleon-cake in Norway and Denmark. In Holland and Belgium it is called a tompoes, or tompouce (Tom Thumb). The odd coincidence that both Napoleon (Bonaparte) and Tom Thumb were vertically challenged may not be such a coincidence after all, but I would have to look into that a little further. Other countries, with perhaps less inclination towards fairy tale or historic nomenclature, just call the pastries custard or vanilla slices. What sets the Dutch variety apart is the sickeningly sweet Peptobismol-esque pink icing, often topped with a complimentary white stripe of whipped cream, as if the caloric content from the pastry itself was not enough.



It's a pastry that is much favored by all and, as the national sense of humor dictates, is the traditional choice for being served when one is visiting with one's family inlaws for the first time or when one has to make a good impression of oneself and is now challenged with having to eat a pastry that is going to fall to pieces the moment one bites into one end. Both the tompoes and the Bossche Bol, which I'll bake sometime soon, are the two top pastries that are a devil to eat, either by hand or with cutlery, without making an absolute mess.

But in case you were in a situation where manners do not matter, the easiest way to consume this lovely baked good is to grab the bottom layer firmly between thumb and index and attack it, one bite at a time, short side first.

Tompoes
1 cup of milk
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tablespoon of vanilla flavoring)
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of flour
pinch of salt
1 sheet of puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Warm the milk, add the vanilla bean and steep for 15 minutes. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar, add the salt and add flour, one tablespoon. Stir until creamy.

Take the vanilla bean out of the milk, open it up and scrape out the seeds (or add the vanilla essence to the milk) and stir. Take one tablespoon of warm milk and stir it into the egg yolk mix, then stir in the rest of the flour. Carefully stir all this back into the warm milk into the pan, put it back on a low heat and stir until it becomes a thick mass. Take off the stove and cover with a piece of plastic, to avoid forming a skin when it cools down.

Heat the oven to 400F. Spray a baking sheet or pan with cooking spray. Cut the puff pastry sheet in 4 equal rectangular sections and place them on the baking sheet. Brush the top with the beaten egg and bake for fifteen minutes, or until the dough has puffed up and is golden brown. Remove from the oven, and taking care not to burn your fingers, quickly and carefully pull the top from the bottom sheet. Set all eight pieces aside on a rack to cool.

For the icing
3 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar
2 teaspoons of milk
1 drop of red food coloring

Mix the sugar with one teaspoon of milk and the food coloring. Stir until blended, then add the remaining milk to make a quick icing.

Take the bottom part of one of the baked puff pastries and spread the cooled down vanilla cream on it. Top it with its corresponding top half of the pastry. When all four are done, carefully spread the pink icing on top: let it dry and eat!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Appeltaart


 "Koffie met appeltaart", coffee with apple pie, what a traditional Dutch way of celebrating eh...anything! City cafés that want to lure customers in will advertise homemade, overly delicious apple pie on their street signs. Spend a couple of hours at an outdoor market and the smell of freshly baked apple pie will draw you in: don't fight it, but just give in. Sit down at one of the many outdoor terrasjes, or patios, that the cafés have, order a koffie verkeerd or a hot cup of tea, and let yourself be treated to a traditional Dutch apple pie. It's probably one of the first pies that young people learn how to bake and it's one of those delicacies that grandma's are usually very, very good at making.

With all due respect, the apple pies sold as Dutch apple pie here in the United States are wonderful......but not very Dutch. I'm actually not entirely sure why they're called Dutch, something to look into. Perhaps it stems from the Pennsylvania Dutch, which aren't actually Dutch at all, but Deutsch which means "German". A classic Dutch apple pie is loaded with fresh apples and raisins and stand at least a good 2.5 to 3 inches high, with a lattice top.

The dough is made with butter and eggs and the apples are flavored with lemon juice and speculaas spices. It's usually baked in a springform and shows the filling through an elaborate lattice cover. It's seems like a lot of work, but trust me: it's so worth it! Try a variety of apples for a more complex flavor, f.ex. three Honeycrisp, three Roma and two Granny Smith.

Grandmother's Dutch Apple Pie
For the dough
2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1.5 stick of butter, cold
2 tablespoons of ice cold water
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix the flour with the sugar and cut in the butter until the flour turns into small pea-size pellets. Add 2 tablespoons of ice cold water, the egg and the salt and quickly knead the dough into a cohesive whole. Add more ice water if the dough is too dry. Pat into an oval, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the filling
8 small apples, peeled and cored
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup of golden raisins, soaked*
1 tablespoon speculaas spices
2 tablespoons custard powder
2 tablespoons panko or unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of sugar

Brushing
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon raw sugar

Quarter the apples and slice them thin. Toss them with the lemon juice, raisins, speculaas spices, custard powder and sugar. Set aside. Cut the crust off the bread and cut it into small cubes.

Butter a 9 inch spring form. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and remove 1/3th of the dough. Roll the rest into a large circle and line the bottom and sides of the form with the dough. Do not crimp. Sprinkle the panko or unseasoned breadcrumbs on the bottom of the dough, and pour in the apple mix. It's okay to push it down so as to fit more, that way the slices will stick better together and make it easier to cut into neat pie slices. Roll the rest of the dough out and cut into 6 wide strips. Place three strips crossing from left to right, the other three from right to left. Press lightly where the strip connects with the pie dough and remove any hangover dough from the rim. Brush the lattice with the egg and cream, and sprinkle the sugar on top of the dough. Bake in an 375 F degree oven for approximately 1 hour.

Let the pie cool on a rack, then cut into generous pieces and serve with a slightly sweetened dollop of whipped cream. Sit back and enjoy your hard labor: you deserved it!



Tip: you can also make five single serve hand pies out of the same amount. The small ones freeze well and are good to have around in case company shows up, or in case you feel like celebrating something. And if you have nothing to celebrate, you could celebrate the fact that you have nothing to celebrate!


* Soak the raisins in warm apple juice, a little bit of rum, or use boerenjongens. Lovely!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fryske Sûkerbôle

Sûkerbôle or suikerbrood is a traditional bread from the northern province of Friesland, in Holland. Other provinces such as Limburg and Brabant have a similar recipe for sugary bread loafs but what makes it Frisian is the high amount of sugar. In comparison to other regional recipes, Frisians use twice as much sugar.

The sûkerbôle was often given to a new mother to celebrate the arrival of a baby-girl; for baby-boys it was a raisin cake.

The sugar used for this recipe is called pearl sugar and hard to find in a regular store. Crushed up sugar cubes are a good substitute: add half a cup of cubes to a towel, fold it and whack it with a rolling pin. Not too hard! You want to have sugar lumps, not finely ground sugar. Handfold these lumps in the dough after the first rise.

Fryske Sûkerbôle
4 cups of flour
3/4 stick of butter, melted
pinch of salt
3/4 cup of warm milk
1 teaspoon of dry active yeast
3 tablespoons of ginger syrup*
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 cup of crushed sugar cubes plus one tablespoon, divided

Add the yeast to the warm milk. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Pour in the milk and yeast and mix together. Knead in the ginger syrup, the eggs one by one and 3/4s of melted butter until the dough forms a soft and flexible dough. Cover and rise until double its size.

On a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough in a square and cover with the sugar and the cinnamon. Now roll the dough into a loaf shape (first fold the sides towards each other, covering the sugar and cinnamon, then roll forward into a loaf). Butter the inside of a bread loaf pan heavily. Put a tablespoon of sugar in the pan and tilt it forward towards each side so that the sugar coats the whole inside. Place the loaf inside, seam down. Cover and rise for about 15 minutes, or until loaf peaks out from inside the pan.

In the meantime, heat your oven to 375F degrees. Brush the top of the loaf with the rest of the butter and spread the remainder of the sugar over the top. Bake for 30 minutes or until loaf is done. If the top browns too quickly, tent the loaf with aluminum foil.

Cool the loaf for about twenty minutes, then carefully loosen the bread from the pan: some of the sugar may have caused the bread to stick to the pan. Remove the loaf and continue to cool on a rack.



Awesome with a curl of real butter!

* If you don't have ginger syrup, don't worry. I boil a small piece of candied ginger and a tablespoon of sugar in a cup of water for a minute or two and let it steep overnight. Should be just fine!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rijstevlaai


The history of "vlaai", or flat pies, is a long one. Initially discovered by the Germanic tribes, the story goes that they spread out dough on a hot stone and drizzled fruit juice or honey over it to make it more palatable. The dough, mind you, not the stone. Over the years, the dough was spread thinner and the amount of toppings became larger, and hey presto! they ended up with fruit pies. Whether it's true or not.......it doesn't really matter, does it? All that counts is that we have fabulous recipes for all kinds of pies!

The province of Limburg, gastronomically one of the more interesting areas of the country, is known for a large variety of culinary treasures, among which are its famous vlaaien, or pies. Limburg vlaaien are unique in their sort as they use yeast dough instead of a pie crust, and measure on average about 28 centimeters (approximately 11 inches) in diameter. Elaborate lattice works, almond shavings or swirls of whipped cream are used to top off the pies that often hold fruit fillings or custardy creams. One of the most popular choices is a pie with a creamy milk rice filling, the rijstevlaai. Vlaaien are usually served on Sundays after lunch, at birthdays, burials, weddings, coffee tables, retirement parties and when the local fair is in town. Any time there's a gathering of good people, really. And if there is no reason at all to celebrate, mourn, gather or depart, it's just a gezellig thing to do. A cup of coffee, a piece of vlaai and your day's made!

Fortunately, they're easy to make and bake, and tend to be a favorite with many. Enjoy a slice of pie with a cup of coffee or tea, and pick out a variety you like. How about kersenvlaai , (cherry) or kruimelvlaai, a custard crumble? Sometimes a mocha vlaai, or one covered in fresh fruit may hit the spot. The yeast base is always the same, the filling changes.

Rijstevlaai
For the filling
4 cups of whole milk
1/2 cup of short grain rice
1/3 cup of sugar
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, divided
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla essence

For the dough
1 3/4 cup of flour
1/2 cup of milk, warm
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of butter
1 egg, beaten


Wash the rice in cold water and rinse (you may have to do this up to three times until the water remains clear). Bring the milk and salt to a boil, add the rice and the sugar, and bring back up to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 1 hour. Stir in the vanilla and set aside to cool.

Add the flour to a mixing bowl. Proof the yeast in the warm milk, then add to the flour. Mix in the sugar, the butter and the beaten egg, and knead everything into a soft but solid dough. Cover and set aside to rise.

Mix the egg yolks with the two tablespoons of sugar until creamy, and beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Mix the egg yolks with the rice and when it is well blended, fold in the stiff egg whites.

Butter an 11 inch pie dish or metal pan . Punch down the dough, roll it out and line the pie pan with the dough. Dock it with a fork, poking holes all over the surface, cover and let rise again.

Heat your oven up to 390F. Spread the rice mix* into the pie and bake to golden brown in approximately 40 minutes. If the top browns too fast, cover with some aluminum foil. Cool the pie in the pan for about 30 minutes, then remove and continue to cool on a rack. The rice filling will set as it cools.

Serve when cold, and it's one of those pies that's even better the next day. Great served plain, or decorated with whipped cream and chocolate shavings!


If, for whatever reason, you happen to have more mix than pie bottom, butter a small oven dish and pour the rest of the mix in there, sprinkle some cinnamon and brown sugar on top and bake it with the pie in the same oven. You'll have a nice, sweet and creamy rice custard treat while you wait for the pie to cool off. No need to let good things go to waste!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Oliebollen

There must be something in the human psyche that makes us want to celebrate the ending of another year by eating copious amounts of rich foods and by stuffing ourselves with large quantities of sugar and butter, all doused in a consistent flow of adult and non-adult beverages. It's as if we were saying: "Well, I made it another year, you can't take THAT away from me!" while shaking a fat finger in the face of the inevitable.

New Year's Eve in Holland is a great example. What better way to ring in the new year than by eating deep-fried doughballs and coated apple slices? Oliebollen (literally "balls of oil") and appelbeignets are a standard fare during the holiday season. The raisins and apples in the dough can hardly be considered a nutritional advantage but it's one of those once-a-year treats that one looks forward to!

I love oliebollen but can only stomach about two. The usual amounts given in recipes are for 30 or more. Here's one that makes about eight oliebollen. Use soybean or sunflower oil in your fryer to fry these, not shortening. Oliebollen are good cold too, with a hot cup of coffee and some extra powdered sugar.

Oliebollen
1/3 cup mixed dried fruits (raisins, currants)
2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1/2 cup of milk,warm
1 cup of all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoon of sugar
pinch of lemon zest
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon of butter, softened

1 heaping tablespoon of powdered sugar

Soak the dried fruits in some rum, orange juice or warm water several hours before, preferably the night prior to the frying. It's traditional to use currants and raisins, but fresh or dried apples, apricots, cherries are all very nice as well. Drain the fruits before you add them to the batter.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Mix the flour, sugar and the lemon zest, and stir in the milk and yeast mix. Add the salt, the egg and the butter and stir the batter for several minutes until everything is nicely blended. Stir in the drained raisins. Cover and let rise until it doubled its volume.

In the meantime, heat the oil in the fryer up to 350F. Place a plate with several paper towels to soak up the excess fat of the fried goods. Use a large spoon or an ice cream scoop to scoop out a portion, drop it into the hot oil and fry for about four minutes on each side or until brown. Dipping the scoop or spoon in the hot oil before each scoop will make it easier to drop the batter into the oil. It's important to gauge the temperature of your oil: too hot an oil will scorch the outside but leave the inside of the balls uncooked. A low temperature will not fry the balls fast enough and they will become "sinkers": oil-saturated and inedible.

Drain the balls on paper towels, then transfer onto a new plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar.



Oliebollen on the left, appelbeignets on the right....
Happy New Year!