Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pannenkoeken met appelstroop

Previously published in Dutch, issue 1

Fall is a significant time for the Dutch, especially if you’re at the age where you are still going to school. Holland’s summer vacation is fairly short ( if you get to have any summer at all) and before you know it, you’re back in the schoolbanken, agonizing over homework, teachers and hoping your bike hasn’t been stolen while you were in class. 

Thankfully Fall brings a well-deserved break, in the shape of a highly coveted one week vacation called herfstvakantie, or fall vacation. School’s out during that time and families undertake one last fun activity before the winter weather kicks in and reduces outside life to a minimum.  

Herfstvakanties are usually spent outside the home, weather permitting, on a day trip to a theme park such as the Efteling, a weeklong visit with grandma and grandpa, or a trip to the North Sea islands. But regardless of where you go, or with whom, you know that at least once during that week you are going to get treated to that typical Dutch kids favorite: pannekoeken!

Thin, flavorful and as-big-as-your-plate pancakes are a special treat, especially for kids, and are often the food of choice for children’s birthday parties or special occasions. Whole restaurants, called pannekoekenhuisjes (pancake houses), are dedicated to just that: offering a large variety of pancakes and toppings to please everybody’s tastebuds. The décor of these restaurants is usually rural Dutch: lots of white and red checkered tablecloths, big wooden tables and chairs and with an overall farm-feel to it.

But pancakes are not just for kids. For adults, pannekoeken also are a traditional Dutch meal: studded with chunks of apple, pieces of bacon or covered with a layer of melted aged Gouda cheese, these large flapcakes are a quick and affordable substitute for an evening meal. Unlike in the United States and Canada, pancakes are not part of the breakfast tradition in Holland and are more suited for dinner. Whereas kids usually prefer the batter made with white flour, recipes for grown-up pancakes will often mention buckwheat, whole wheat or a mixture of both.

The most traditional choice is pannekoek met appelstroop, pancake with apple syrup, a tangy dark sugary spread made out of apple juice. The dark stroop is spread over the whole surface of the pannekoek, after which it is rolled up and either eaten as a wrap, or cut into bite size pieces and consumed with knife and fork. Other popular toppings are peanut butter, chocolate sprinkles, jam, powdered sugar or just plain. As the batter does not contain any sugar, the pancake can be eaten either as a savory option or as a sweet one.

Keeping Dutch tradition, most people will usually eat a savory pancake first, followed by one with a sweet topping. Often, slices of apple or bacon will be fried and then incorporated into a pancake, or chopped preserved ginger or fresh fruit is stirred right into the batter.

Pannekoeken
3 cups of self-rising flour
2 teaspoons of salt
2 eggs
6 cups of milk, divided
1 stick of butter, divided

Stir the flour and salt together, and then add three cups of milk and the eggs. Beat until the batter is smooth and thin with the remaining milk. Melt six tablespoons of butter and stir this into the pancake batter. You are looking for a pourable batter.

Heat a 12 inch skillet, add in ½ tablespoon of butter. As soon as the butter is melted (but not browned), take the skillet off the stove, pour in half a cup of batter and swirl the skillet so that the whole bottom surface is covered with a thin layer. Put the skillet back on the stove, and carefully bake the pancake until the surface is dry. Then flip or turn the pancake over and cook the other side.
Stack the pancakes as you go and cover them with a clean kitchen tea towel while you bake the rest. Serve with a variety of toppings, both sweet and savory, such as peanut butter, cheese, jam, fruit jams, bacon or sugar. Makes about ten large pancakes.

Appelstroop
3 cups of apple juice or apple cider
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of dark molasses

Stir the sugar into the apple juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for the next twenty minutes. When the liquid has been reduced to about half, start monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer. As soon as the syrup has reached 235F, take the pan off the stove. Let it cool, stir in the molasses and serve with the pancakes. This appelstroop, when still warm, is not as thick as the commercial product but will thicken when refrigerated. The flavor is very close to the original. Makes one cup.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Karnemelkpudding

Holland is dairy country par excellence. Much of that lactic largesse is reflected in its vast assortment of cheeses ofcourse, a product so closely associated with The Netherlands that its inhabitants are often referred to as "cheese heads" or kaaskop. But the dairy domination does not stop at the cheesemonger. Besides yogurt, ice cream and chocolate milk, the dessert section at the grocery store holds a huge variety of puddings, pourable custards (vla), drink yogurts, cream cheese, mousse and bavaroise, all made with delectable Dutch milk.

The pourable vla is a typical Dutch product, with the consistency and mouthfeel of yogurt but without the tang, and served in over twenty flavors: vanilla, chocolate, caramel, strawberry, banana, raspberry, apple-cinnamon, coffee....you name it. We'll do a separate chapter on vlas alone one of these days!

But one dairy product does not usually jump out at anybody for its mouthfeel, for its flavor or even for its innovative character: it's the slighly snubbed, often overlooked karnemelk, or buttermilk. The slightly sour taste, the viscosity of the milk and sometimes even the smell, will put many off.

Karnemelk is the milk that is left over after the cream has been removed for butter. It's slightly sour and a little thicker than milk and is most often used for baking with: the slight acidity is an excellent trigger for a leavener such as baking powder. In the older days, buttermilk was used as a beverage and for the poorest of people, as a substitute for meat gravy on their potatoes. In the more rural areas of Holland you will still find that some older farmers pour buttermilk over their potatoes before they prak, or mash, them.

From probably those same days stems an old-fashioned dessert called buttermilk pudding, or karnemelkpudding. Easy to make, the hardest part is going to exercise the patience to wait until its ready to eat: the pudding requires a minimum of four hours in the refrigerator, and even better overnight. It's a creamy, airy, slightly tangy with a sweet undertone pudding and goes very well with sweet fresh fruit such as strawberries or for a more wintery dish, try a jar of sweet dark cherries to pair this dessert with.

Karnemelkpudding
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of water
2 envelopes of gelatin powder
2 1/2 cups of buttermilk
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
2 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar

Add the sugar and the water to a small saucepan and stir, over medium heat, until the sugar has dissolved. Take it off the stove, sprinkle in one envelope of gelatin powder until the powder has dissolved and slowly pour in the buttermilk. Stir until everything is well mixed and set it to the side to cool.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream with the sugar and the second package of gelatin powder until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream in with the buttermilk until they are blended. Rinse a pudding form (either a large one, or several small ones) with cold water and pour the pudding mix into the mold. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate for a good four to five hours minimum, better overnight.

To remove the pudding from the mold, set the mold in a pan with hot water for ten seconds, then tip over on a plate. Decorate with fresh or canned fruit.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Gerookte Makreel

Mackerel and I don't have the best of relationships. My first encounter with this fatty finned food was while fishing one day on the North Sea, many years ago. It was cold, it was windy and trying to get those slippery fish off the hook while they void their vent on you is a hassle and a half. Not my idea of a fun afternoon, mind you, and I venture to say not the mackerel's either.

Last week, many years after our first date, we met again, mackerel and I. Not anywhere near the North Sea, but in the freezer department of a local grocery store. There it was, immediately recognizable by its distinct silver and dark blue pattern, but slightly less agitated than last time. Well, quite a bit less agitated actually, because it was frozen stiff.

The Dutch traditionally don't smoke many of their foods for preservation or flavor: rookworst (smoked kielbasa), rookvlees (thinly sliced smoked sandwich meat, made from either beef or horse), rookkaas (smoked cheese) are just about it. But visit any fish monger worth his weight and you will find smoked mackerel, smoked eel and smoked herring (bokking) as part of the assortment. Whether as a sandwich filling or as a fatty snack by itself, both mackerel and eel are Dutch favorites when it comes to fish.

Fatty fish are great sources for Omega-3 fatty acids and two portions a week are said to do you much good. Both eel and mackerel are fatty fish and a little bit goes a long way. A one pound mackerel will probably serve three to four easily. Do serve it with either a bread and butter pickle or a pickle spear, to cut through the fat.

*Caution: fatty fish are much more prone to spoilage. As soon as the fish has thawed, gut it and put in in a salt bath, per recipe's instructions. The salt will flavor the meat but also kill any possible pathogens. Brine it for at least three hours, or even better if you can leave it soaking overnight in the fridge.

For this dish you need a smokehouse or smoker. I purchased a Little Chief smoker and used apple chips to smoke the fish. Keep the temperature at an even 150F for the duration of the process: mackerel should be ready in about an hour and a half.

Gerookte Makreel
2 mackerel
Salt
Water
4 handfuls of apple chips

Thaw the fish in the refrigerator, or in the sink under running water. In the meantime, prepare a salt water solution (1 cup of table salt on sixteen cups of water) with enough water to cover both fish.

Lay the fish on its side, and cut open the belly with a short sharp knife from the vent to the gills. Carefully reach inside and pull out all the organs and the digestive tract. Cut out the gills. Rinse out the cavity and the head, and lay the fish in the salt water brine.

Keep the fish submerged in the brine for at least three hours, but if you can brine them overnight in the fridge, even better. The next day, rinse the fish and pat them dry. Insert a sausage hook (I used the metal hooks from a bungee cord) into the back of the head of the fish. 

Fire up your smoker. In the meantime, hang the fish somewhere where they are covered, out of the elements but with some kind of airflow. A small fan might just do the trick. Smoke does not penetrate into wet meats, so the drier the fish, the better the smoke flavor.

Hang the mackerel in your smoker, put the lid back on and get smoking! Mackerel has a distinct flavor of its own and apple will give a tender, non-dominant smoke flavor to the fish, but you are welcome to experiment with any other flavors, or stick to your favorite.

Remove the mackerel when they're golden and done, roll them separately in aluminum foil, and let them rest for an hour. If you want to eat them warm (and who doesn't!!), cut off the head and the tail, and carefully break open the fish by inserting your thumbs into the belly cavity. Remove the spines and the skin, and break the remaining meat into large chunks.

Serve as such, on a buttered roll with a pickle, or cold on some crackers as a snack or appetizer.



Saturday, October 8, 2011

Beschuit met muisjes

I'm in such a celebratory mood! A new magazine has seen the light, a new publication dedicated to all things Dutch, and I've just received the first issue. To celebrate this new "birth", I'm enjoying a cup of coffee and two beschuit met muisjes while reading Dutch. I'm especially pleased because the publisher accepted my article for publication, a full four page feature with recipes and pictures!

In Holland, the birth of a child is celebrated with beschuit, a twice baked white roll that is as brittle and fragile as a new-born baby. Depending on the outcome, these rusks are buttered and sprinkled with pink muisjes if it's a girl, and blue muisjes if it's a boy. As it's usually either one or the other, only those two color variations exist for the sugar coated aniseed muisjes, or "mice". That is, unless you're royalty. In that case, the beschuit will be covered with orange muisjes, to represent the Dutch royal house, the Oranges.

Beschuit has been around since the early 1400s: the then bishop of Utrecht is said to already have enjoyed the twice baked bread. During the 1600s, the city of Wormer made a name for itself with its beschuit, a finer table bread, and more delicate than its sturdier sister, the scheepsbeschuit or hardtack, that was produced for the seafaring population of that area. The popularity of both had, at one point, over 150 grain mills delivering the flour needed to produce all those beschuiten.

Nowadays, beschuit is still a favorite breakfast bread: it requires skill to butter the rusk without it breaking in three or four pieces and plenty of tourists has wondered why on earth the Dutch bother with something so dry and brittle if there are so many other breads to choose from.

But beschuit is one of those foods that triggers memories: softened with warm milk and sugar it becomes grandma's lammetjespap (lambs porridge), crushed to fine crumbs it holds together that lovely schoenlapperstaart (cobbler's pie) or those famous Dutch meatballs, and if you were sick as a child, a cup of weak tea and a dry beschuit would sometimes be the only food you were allowed to eat.

Unfortunately beschuit is no longer baked by artesan bakers such as the ones in Wormer or Jisk, but large companies such as Verkade or Bolletje have included beschuit into their assortment of baked goods. Verkade started baking beschuit during the last part of the 19th century. Baking was considered a man's job but the beschuit was so brittle that Verkade started employing (unmarried) women to pack the rusks, as their hands were more slender and their packing skills more gentle than the burly beschuit bakers.

Making beschuit at home takes some time, but it's worth to do. You can vary with whole wheat flour, add sesame seeds or sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top for a sweet version. For the baking, use straight edged ramekins that are five inches across and 1.5 inches high.

Beschuit
4 tablespoons of butter, room temperature
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 cup of milk
2 eggs
3 3/4 cups of flour
1 scant tablespoon of baking powder
1 scant tablespoon of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of salt

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix the flour, baking powder, yeast, and salt in a bowl and add to the creamed butter. Add the milk and the eggs and knead everything into a pliable dough, about five minutes.
Let it rest in an oiled bowl, covered for fifteen minutes, then divide into 3.5 ounce pieces. Roll and rest under a towel while you prepare the ramekins.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray each ramekin with cooking spray. Place the dough balls on a baking sheet, cover each one with a ramekin and let the dough rise for about 30 minutes. Place the sheet on the middle rack and bake for twenty minutes, leaving the ramekins in place. Retrieve the baking sheet, remove the ramekins, turn the beschuit over and bake for another ten minutes.

Now, cool the beschuit until cold to the touch and slice the bread lengthwise in two. Place cut side up on the baking sheet and return the rusks to the oven, lowered to 325 to dry and lightly brown.

This will take another ten to fifteen minutes, but keep an eye on the bread.

When they're golden and dry, remove, cool and enjoy!!