Monday, March 28, 2011

Crushed mice and chocolate hail


Pink and white "mice",
aniseed dipped in a sugary coating.
Each seed has a little stem that causes the
bread topping to look like a small
mouse...hence the name.
Holland, or the Netherlands, is one of the largest bread consumers of Europe. Many a tourist, when stepping inside a Dutch bakery, is surprised by the large amount of bread varieties. Two out of the three daily meals, breakfast and lunch, consist mainly of bread. As you can imagine, the variety of bread and the huge amount of sandwich toppings is not so much a luxury as a necessity.

Breakfast usually consists of two to 4 slices of bread, depending on whether you prefer open or closed faced sandwiches. The Dutch spread butter or margarine on their bread to hold on to the toppings. One sandwich will have a savory cover such as cheese, liver paté or sandwich meat, and the other one will have a sweet choice. From early on, Dutch children learn to eat the savory sandwich first, and save their appetite and creativity for the sweet one. Because it's not just jam or jelly that's available to the Dutch: in regards to bread toppings, they are the master decorators!

Koninklijke De Ruijter, in existence since 1860, is the main producer of bread toppings in the Netherlands. They carry a solid array of favorites and introduce every so often a new variety. The following bread toppings are by far the most favorite.

Chocolate Flakes
Children in Holland have it good: by liberally sprinkling chocolate hail or, as pictured here, chocolate flakes or vlokken on their sandwich, they can assure themselves of eating at least the equivalent of half a chocolate bar in one sitting. Chocolate vlokken come in dark chocolate, milk, white and a combination of all three. The cacao content is at least 39% on average, which makes it a sweet, sugary but also a quality kind of bread topping!

Chocoladevlokken were introduced in 1955, as the first chocolate product to decorate a slice of bread. Barely two years later, chocolate hail followed.

Pink Mice

"Pink mice" is the name of a sweet breadtopping that consists of pink and white sugar coated aniseed. Because of the seed stem, the shape often resembles that of a little mouse. Pink mice, or "roze muisjes" are traditionally served on a Dutch rusk when celebrating the birth of a girl. For a boy, it's blue and white mice, or "blauwe muisjes". The birth of royalty, such as a prince or princess, is celebrated nationally with orange mice, in reference to the name of the royal family, Oranje.

These nativity mice, as they were called, were the first product that was sold by De Ruijter in 1860.



Speculaas
Speculaas, or spice cookie, is a crunchy, buttery cookie made with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, white pepper and cardamom. It's similar to the American windmill cookie but contains a larger variety and amount of spices. Traditionally a December treat, speculaas cookies are now available year round.

Straight out of the package, speculaas cookies are served with morning coffee or afternoon tea. After several days in the cookie jar, the cookies absorb moisture and soften and are no longer presentable to guests. This is when they become a desirable bread topping, especially for children. The softness of the bread, the slightly salty taste of the butter and the spicy sweetness of the speculaas cookie is a winning combination, and one that is engraved in many a Dutch child's memory. For a recipe for speculaas, click here.

Chocolate Hail

The story goes that, after receiving several letters from a young boy imploring him to make a chocolate bread topping, Mr. De Ruijter introduced chocolate sprinkles, or in Dutch "chocolate hail", chocolade hagel, in 1957. The earliest advertisements from a company called Venz showed a boy and a girl, hiding from a chocolate hailstorm under a giant umbrella. These children were so smart as to have a slice of buttered bread: they stuck it out from under the umbrella, had their sandwich hailed on and enjoyed a buttered slice of bread with top notch chocolate!

Nowadays you will find dark chocolate and milk chocolate hail. In order to call chocolate sprinkles "chocolate" they have to have a cocoa content of at least 37.5%. The combination of salty peanut butter and sweet chocolate hail is one of the most favorite toppings for both children and adults.

Fruit Hail
Fruit, or sugar hail, combines three bright colors: orange (orange), pink (raspberry) and yellow (lemon) and is a sweet, crunchy, slightly powdery confection. It melts into the butter and leaves bright colors on your bread but the flavors are not distinguishable. Fruit hail was first introduced in 1928 and was an immediate success.

Initially, fruit hail had four colors: the aforementioned three and a white hail (anise). In later years, the white hail was separated from the colored sprinkles and received its own packaging and product line as anise hail. In 2003, De Ruijter introduced a new fruit hail, the Berry Hail, made with berry juices and in the colors purple, pink and fucsia.

Fruit hail was the first bread topping that De Ruijter exported to the Dutch soldiers in Indonesia, in 1946.

Stroop

Stroop, or syrup, is a sweet, sticky spread made from reduced apple juice. Boiled down to a sticky, dark goo, apple stroop is favored on bread and on pancakes and in flavoring certains meat sauces such as "zuurvlees". Of all the bread toppings, it's probably the healthiest one as it contains large amounts of iron and vitamins. Stroop is pleasant by itself as a topping but will often be used in combination with cheese.

Stroop is traditionally made in the province of Limburg where, nowadays, only two families have continued the tradition of "stroop stoken", "boiling down stroop". A lengthy process, apple and pear juice is reduced in large copper kettles while stirred down continuously. A more tart version called "rinse appelstroop" is made with apples and sugar beets.


Crushed Mice
Gestampte Muisjes, or crushed mice, is another variation on aniseed bread toppings.  The anise hail that was mentioned under fruit hail is now pulverized and presented as a white, powdery substance. Bread with a thin layer of butter and dusted with gestampte muisjes is delicious but certainly messy to eat. Do not inhale when you are about to take a bite, the light powder will get in your throat and cause you to cough! Gestampte muisjes are a key ingredients in a variety of baked goods of which the most famous one is Oranjekoek.



And the most humble bread topping of all:

Contentment

Holland has certainly known hard times, especially during and after WWII. Little food was there to eat but for the white bread loaves of American and Canadian relief agencies. Sandwiches, or slices of bread, were served with the bread topping "tevredenheid", contentment. A single slice of dry bread reminded the Dutch that, even though these were rough times, they could still imagine bread was topped with something.

Broodjes: The Dutch Sandwich

Sign offering 30
different sandwiches
I just finished reading this month's issue of Saveur, a high quality magazine dedicated to all things food. It is one of my favorite monthly reads, with articles that focus on eats from all over the world, exotic recipes within reach and writers that offer great cultural backgrounds on dishes, traditions and tools. This month's cover boasts "90 Handheld Meals From Around The Globe" and an article about "World's Best Breads and Condiments": it's the Sandwich Issue. 
 
With the huge variety on sandwiches (broodjes) and bread toppings we have in Holland, I was convinced we would be mentioned at least in one, if not in both articles. After all, the sandwich plays such an important role in the Dutch food culture that there are not one but two national Tastiest Sandwich of the Year competitions. Holland, or the Netherlands, is one of the largest bread consumers of Europe. Many a tourist, when stepping inside a Dutch bakery, grocery store or sandwich shop, is surprised by the large amount of bread varieties and toppings to choose from. But for a country where two out of three meals mainly consist of bread, the variety is not so much an option as a necessity.

Broodje shrimp
Sandwiches are therefore par for the course. Many people bring lunch from home in a small lunchbox or eat at a neighborhood sandwich shop or the company's cafetaria. A typical Dutch lunch will consist of a whole wheat sandwich with cheese or meat, a white sandwich with a sweet topping and a piece of fruit or a small yogurt to round off the meal. Boring? Not with all the choices one has to spruce up a slice of bread!

Did they cover the bread toppings? I wondered. Well, heck, how can you not? Whole grocery store aisles are dedicated to just that, ranging from sweet to savory and anything inbetween. "I bet you they featured mice" I thought, those crunchy sugar-coated anise seeds that resemble the shape of rodents, with their little tail pointing upward. Or maybe coconut bread topping, those thin sheets of hot pink coconut paste that so many of us loved when we were young.


Chocolate hail and flakes
 But that might be too exotic. Maybe they played it safe and only covered the chocolate hail and the flakes. Or the fruit hail, jellybellies, pink or blue mice. Or maybe they didn't cover sweet at all, maybe they only featured savory spreads. A broodje oxen wurst perhaps, or filet americain, pickled liverwurst, raw herring, shrimp, frikandel, warm sliced meat, or kroket? Broodje bal? Smoked eel?

Or perhaps a cheese sandwich? But which cheese? Gouda, Edam, graskaas, meikaas, Old Amsterdam, Maaslander, Parrano, Westland or Waddenkaas? My head was spinning just thinking about all the different options and I felt bad for those Saveurders who would have to try and make sense out of all of this.

The Dutch Uitsmijter
But guess what? Not a word. Not one mention of hail, halfom or herring. Not even a hint on Holland's Sandwich of all Sandwiches, the Uitsmijter. I went through the magazine twice, just to make sure I didn't miss it by accident. The closest we came is the mention of a Dutch crunch roll on page 46, which is supposed to resemble a tiger roll.

It's a little bit our own fault ofcourse. We don't half brag about our food like other countries do and it's almost like we're too humble to mention it. But maybe it's not that we're too humble, perhaps we just don't know where to start!

So to set things straight, and to get our fabulous Dutch food on the map after all, I'm suggesting these additions.

Global Sandwiches Agenda (pg 18)
On June 11, Holland celebrates Luilak, a centuries old tradition predominantly popular in the northern part of the country. Youngsters mock late sleepers and try to prevent anybody from sleeping in on this Saturday morning by ringing doorbells, honking car horns and tying pots and pans to the back of their cars and bicycles and making a huge racket. Bakers prepare luilakbollen, a sweet round roll with raisins and currants, as a specialty for the day. Whomever wakes up last is supposed to treat the family to luilakbollen.

Zebras
Regional Rye Breads (pg 36)
Rye bread is one of Holland's favorites bread choices. The sturdy, coarse slices of roggebrood are used as sandwich covers (wheat bread on the bottom, sandwich topping in the middle and roggebrood on top) or for those pretty, tasty breadbites called zebras: alternate layers of softened cream cheese flavored with fresh chives between moist slices of rye bread.

Friesland's roggebrood is darker and is made with whole rye kernels, Brabant's and Limburg's roggebrood is made with rye flour instead and not as dense. Split-pea soup is traditionally accompanied by slices of roggebrood.


Give Us Bread (pg 46)
Dutch Crunch, or tiger rolls
Thirty breads from all over the world grace these two pages but no Dutch loaf made it onto the list. What about our tiger roll, Frisian sugar loaf, white rolls, raisin rolls, casino bread, Waldkorn.......there are too many to mention! We're so bread-happy in Holland, it's hard to choose. See for yourself how many varieties there are, even per province: http://www.brood.net/default.asp?id=851&pid=streekbrood

Sandwich City (pg 48)
The magazine covered the city of Philadelphia, but it could have easily chosen Amsterdam instead. Home to a large variety of sandwich shops, Amsterdam can also brag about having the largest variety of sandwich toppings that are unique to the city: broodje halfom ( a white roll with two slices of Dutch pastrami and four slices of thinly sliced liver sandwich meat), broodje osseworst (a raw oxen meat sausage, cold smoked, and spiced with salt, white pepper, nutmeg and mace), broodje kroket (either Van Dobben or Kwekkeboom), broodje Sal Meyer, broodje warm vlees.....The list goes on.

Special Treats (pg 52)
This is the spot for all those sweet Dutch bread toppings! Hagelslag, gestampte muisjes, vruchtenhagel, schuddebuikjes.....

Classic Combination (pg 54)
Ah....the all too famous combo of ham and cheese. The French have their Croque Monsieur and the Dutch have their Uitsmijter. Two slices of bread, butter, ham, cheese and two fried eggs on top. A little bit of lettuce, some pickles and a tomato on the side, this open-faced sandwich is the Kingwich under the sandwiches. Traditionally a lunch item, and fancy enough to be eaten with knife and fork, the uitsmijter gained its name from being served as a "one for the road" after a night of partying. In order to indicate that the night was over, the host would get busy in the kitchen and prepare ham, cheese and fried egg sandwiches and send everybody on their way. Uitsmijter literally means "throw out".

Nuts about It (pg 60)
Where is a mention of the ubiquitous peanut butter and chocolate hail Dutch sandwich? A standard for all kids, and many adults, the combination of salty peanut butter and sweet chocolate is sheer heaven. Bet Elvis never had one of those!

Finishing Touches (pg 76)
What better than a lick of appelstroop on a cheese sandwich......the slightly tart flavor combined with a dense sweetness, Appelstroop, a thick syrup made from reduced apple juice and sugar, is a staple in the Dutch kitchen. Its tangy, sweet flavor adds dimension to sandwiches, is used to flavor meat stews such as zuurvlees and is the number one choice of topping for those big cartwheel-sized Dutch pancakes.

Nevertheless, Saveur's Sandwich issue was a good one. Wonderful sandwich ideas, great pictures, lovely breads and educational articles.....enough for this little Dutch girl to sit and savor each page!

Puddingbroodjes

I've had several people asking me when I was going to make puddingbroodjes, a sweet roll filled with a vanilla cream pudding and dusted with powdered sugar.

I don't have much with these rolls. As a solid bread lover, the roll is too fluffy and too sweet for me, but these rolls are a huge favorite with the Dutch. Also called roombroodjes, cream rolls, they often show up at coffee time or on special occassions.

The puddingbroodjes fall in the same category of messy, drippy and powdery pastries like the tompoes or the Bossche bol. You'll either have a dab of cream on your face, powdered sugar on your nose or worse, on your black suit. Heed caution! I sometimes wonder if half of the desserts we have in Holland are not purely based on our schadenfreude sense of humor and affection for practical jokes.

Nevertheless, here goes. There are two ways of making this: you either buy store-bought rolls and store-bought pudding and assemble the dessert at home, or you bake it from scratch. The recipe below is for you let's-make-it-from-scratch people.

All others, find a nice sweet Hawaiian type roll, buy a package of instant vanilla pudding, some whipping cream, powdered sugar and a gallon of milk. Whip the cream with the pudding powder until it's sturdy enough to hold if you want a fluffier cream, or just plain make the pudding per manufacturer's instructions, split the rolls on top, fill with the cream or pudding, dust generously with powdered sugar, pour yourself a glass of milk, kick back and relax while the rest of us wait for the dough to rise (and rise again, and again) and fret over burning our pastry cream.

Maybe you can offer us one of your puddingbroodjes while we wait for ours :-)

Puddingbroodjes
2 1/2 cups of flour (500grm)
1 cup and two tablespoons of milk (250ml), warm
1/2 stick of butter (40gr)
2 tablespoons of powdered milk
1/3 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of active dry yeast

Melt the butter in the warm milk. Mix all the dry ingredients, add the warm milk and knead into a sweet, supple dough. Oil a bowl, add the dough and turn over: cover and rise until doubled in size. Punch down, knead once or twice carefully, and rise again. Cut in eight pieces, roll into round or elongated shapes. Grease a baking pan, place the rolls in it and let rise one more time. Heat the oven to 400F, brush the rolls with milk and bake in about 15-20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Pastry Cream
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of pure vanilla essence (or 1 vanilla bean)
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of flour

Warm the milk, add the vanilla bean and steep for 15 minutes. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar, add the flour, one tablespoon at a time. 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.

When the rolls have cooled, make an incision along the top length of the roll and pipe the pastry cream inside, adding a decorative strand across the top. Dust with powdered sugar, grab a napkin and a glass of milk and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Haringsalade

Holland celebrates its yearly carnaval season this week. As a traditionally Catholic festivity, it is held in the southern provinces of the country, such as Limburg, Brabant, Gelderland and even Zeeland. The northern Protestant areas tend to do a lighter version, if at all, but still haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet :-).

The south sure makes up for it! Being the more lively half of the country, children and adults will dress up in costumes, parties are held at schools and work and the whole bottom half of the country is pretty much out of the running during these last carnaval days. For those party-poopers that wish to escape all lunacy, ski destinations are especially popular during this time of year. As you may remember, Holland has no mountains, so the Dutch flee en masse to hillier countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Austria. Ski away!!

Carnaval organizations from various cities in the south will select a theme and organize parades with huge floats with which they reflect on important local events, make fun of political happenings or represent their organization, guild or sports club, each in their own distinct dialect. Most places will also adopt a different name during these last five days before Lent: the city of Den Bosch is now known as Oeteldonk, Breda becomes Kielegat and my own Venlo is now called Jocus. The city of Sittard, now 't Marotte Riek, is well known for its deep-fried Carnaval donut called nonnevot

The word carnaval presumably originated from the Latin "carne vale", something akin to "farewell meat", as this period precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of the forty days of Lent, a period of sobriety and penitence. Carnaval therefore is the last stop to indulge in all things human: food, drink, dance and God knows what else. The official Carnaval period starts on November 11 (the number attributed to fools), the eleven of the eleventh, and reaches its climax during the weekend before Ash Wednesday.

But as it is, to all good things come an end, and when Ash Wednesday, March 8th, comes around it's time to regroup, repent and retreat. After partying for five days straight, people go back (to their own) home, wash the makeup off their face, remove the confetti from their hair and put away their costumes. After so many indulgences, it is traditional to celebrate the end of carnaval, and the beginning of Lent with haringsalade, a pickled herring salad. Beets, potatoes, pickles, apple and herring make a creamy, slightly tangy dish that is refreshing, nourishing and makes up for the lack of meat. Eaten preferably with buttered cold toast, it's a good way to put up your feet, relax and mentally prepare for next year's Carnaval. After all, November 11th is only nine months away......

Haringsalade
1 small jar of herring in sour cream, 12oz
2 beets, boiled and peeled
1 large potato, boiled and peeled
1 large apple, crisp
6 tiny dill pickles
1 tablespoon of capers
1 small shallot or onion
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise

Four slices of white bread
Butter

Dice the beets and potato. Peel and core the apple, then dice these as well. Chop the shallot or the onion, do the same with the dill pickles. Fish (no pun intended) the herring pieces from the sour cream dressing and cut them in half. Add two tablespoons of mayo to the remaining sour cream dressing in the jar, mix and toss carefully with the rest of the ingredients into a creamy salad until the beets have colored everything a purplish red. Add additional sour cream or mayo if the salad needs it.

Toast the bread, let it cool and butter on one side. Cut in two or three pieces and serve with the salad.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Witte bolletjes

A sign at Hartog's bakery in Amsterdam
says: "World's most beautiful weapon
on clay and sand is and always will be
the plough on farmland"
Holland's love for all things bread started early, around 4500BC, when a tribe of growers settled in the valley of southern Limburg and started growing grain. Slowly the grain selection expanded as wheat came in from France and rye from the German neighbors, causing a variety of breads, porridges and puddings to make their way onto the Dutch table.


The best soil for growing grains was (and still is) in the province of Zeeland, already famous for its quality flour in the twelfth and thirteenth century. Other provinces such as Friesland, Groningen and even Northern Holland tended to have a wetter soil and proved more beneficial for pasture land than cropland. Those provinces were often dependent on the import of grains from neighboring countries.

Besides wheat and rye, the Dutch also grew combinations of grain. Masteluin, a mixture of rye and wheat, provided the basis for a bread of the same name. Rye mixed with oats was called mancksaet and rye with barley spilkoren. All these grain mixes provided heavy, chewy, dark bread, that fed the masses of hard workers. White bread was limited to the wealthy and was nick-named "professor's bread" in the city of Leiden, birthplace of the first university in Holland in 1575, indicating that only the educated and were able to afford it.

Bread is a common theme in Dutch etymology. "Wittebroodsweken", or "white bread weeks", refers to the honeymoon period, those first six weeks after the wedding when a couple is still enjoying the festive and unique character of the celebration.

White rolls are used for hotdogs, broodje frikandel, for lunch boxes and to grace the table on a sunny Sunday morning for breakfast. Elongated breads, called puntjes, are the hotdog bun by choice or serve as the foundation for a puddingbroodje. Round ones, bolletjes, hold savory slices of cheese and tomato, juicy sheets of roast beef with slices of red onion, or peanut butter and hagelslag...... Such a simple bread, and yet so versatile.

Witte bolletjes
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 scant teaspoons active dry yeast
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup powdered milk*

For the wash
1 small egg
4 tablespoons of milk

Mix the powdered milk with the water, warm to about 120F, add the butter and set aside to melt. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and mix in the sugar, salt and active dry yeast. Add the warm milk/butter mix and knead the dough for a good ten minutes until it comes together. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until almost doubled in size.

Brush the risen rolls before
they go into the oven
Punch down and divide into 3oz rolls. Grease a baking pan or casserole dish and place the rolls in the pan, leaving about an inch of distance in between in the pan. If you want high rolls, keep the inch, if you want flatter rolls, increase the distance. Cover and let rise until doubled in size.

Brush the rolls with an egg/milk wash, bake at 400F for about ten minutes or until done. Remove pan from oven, set aside and place the rolls on a rack to cool. When cooled, wrap to avoid drying out.

*If you don't have powdered milk, use milk instead of water.

Now slice open a roll, smear with butter (never with mayo!) and add some good cheese or sandwich meat and enjoy this little luxury!


Disclaimer: if you're a heavy "scooper" your flour weight might be higher than mine, or lower if you scoop light. Adjust your liquids accordingly.