Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sneeuwballen

The end of the year is celebrated in Holland as it is in so many other countries: friends and family gather, with good food, lovely drinks and with a certain sense of excitement about the change of the year that will happen at midnight. It's virtually the same in many other places in the world, but what sets the Dutch apart is the food that we eat to celebrate the event with: deep-fried goodies such as oliebollen or deep-fried dough balls (presumably the predecessor of the American donut), deep-fried apple slices (appelbeignets)and many other goodies that are available from stands around town or made at home that help us slide into the new year with a greasy grin and a full belly.

One of those golden, deep-fried beauties that shows up in every older Dutch recipes cookbook is the so-called "sneeuwbal", or snowball. A deep-fried (what else?) puffy ball of dough, studded with raisins and candied fruits, filled with whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar, used to be standard fare for the New Year's celebration, cozily sharing a platter with the formerly mentioned oliebollen and appelbeignets. In later Dutch cookbooks, the sneeuwballen are no longer mentioned.

And I am *not* surprised! This is the third year I try to make these things and I've just about given up. For some reason I just can't get them to puff up in the hot oil and instead of snowballs, I get lumps. Ugly, squishy, heavy, oily lumps, no matter how low I turn the heat. So, as so many times before, I re-read all the recipes in the cookbooks, went back online, and re-read every possible online snowball recipe to see what I could have missed. I just about started to suspect that nobody had actually ever made these themselves but just copied the recipe ad nauseam, until I came across a short video from nobody else but Cees Holtkamp. Yes, that Cees Holtkamp, possibly the most famous patissier in Holland.

And guess what? Instead of deep-frying them, he bakes them, just like Bossche Bollen or bananensoezen. He must have had no luck with frying them either, is my guess. (Just kidding, Mr. Holtkamp, just kidding!!) So if Cees bakes them, so can I! Problem solved and pride a tad less damaged. Here we go!

Sneeuwballen
1 cup of water
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of flour
4 eggs
Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of candied fruit mix
1 tablespoon of raisins

16 oz of heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

Bring the water, butter and salt to a boil. Pour the flour in and stir until the flour comes together in a ball, and clings to the spoon. Take the pan off the stove and stir in the eggs, one at a time, until the dough is shiny and has absorbed all the egg. Carefully fold in the candied fruit mix and the raisins.

Preheat the oven to 375F. On a silicone mat or on parchment paper on a baking sheet, place large heaps of batter, or pipe them. This will make 12 medium size puffs or 6 large ones.

Bake them for twenty five minutes or until golden and puffy. In the meantime, beat the whipping cream stiff with four tablespoons of powedered sugar. When the puffs have cooled, fill a pastry bag with a star tip with the whipped cream, insert the tip in the bottom and fill the snowballs up with whipped cream.

Sprinkle with plenty of powdered sugar and serve.


Wishing everybody a wonderful, healthy and fun filled 2012!

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!!!!!!



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Appelstroop

Appelstroop, or apple syrup, is one of those condiments or ingredients that make Dutch food Dutch. Spreadable like a thick molasses, appelstroop is made from reducing apple juice with other sugars until it thickens into a dark, gooey, thick syrup. A variety of products exist: rinse appelstroop is made from appels and sugarbeets, delivering a sweet and slightly tart (rinse) flavor, a sweeter stroop made with apples and pears (where pears contribute to a higher sugar content) and one that's consumed further down south which is an apple/pear/date stroop. All three delectable for using on toast, pancakes or rabbit or beef stews.  


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.

Kerstkonijn

Traditional Christmas diners in Holland tend to follow a certain pattern: a shrimp or seafood cocktail to start with, followed by a soup (either clear or cream), the main dish accompanied by wintery vegetables like red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, potatoes in some way, shape or form and finished with ice cream and fruit or stewed pears with hangop. Past diner, coffee with bonbons is served and sometimes even a small "borrel", such as Dutch gin, or something sweeter for the ladies.
Nowadays, this pattern can vary. As we've become more casual with festive holidays, some people replace the whole dinner rigmarole with their favorite foods. In some of the forums online, many have confessed to just making boerenkool met worst, a typical Dutch kale and mashed potato dish with kielbasa. And why not? Christmas is after all what you make it. But in traditional settings, and on the menu of Dutch restaurants that offer a multiple course diner on Christmas Day, you'll find a similar pattern as the one described above. The main course is often wild, or game meat: venison, deer, or smaller game like hare or rabbit.

Rabbit for me is the ultimate Christmas dish. For as long as I can remember, Christmas dinner consisted of a sweet and tangy rabbit dish my grandma Pauline used to make. It was something we all looked forward to, every year, as it's usually not a dish that's served any other time of the year. We all used to gather at her home in Limburg and on Christmas morning, that sweet tangy smell would emanate from the kitchen, and all would be well.

Grandma Pauline is no longer with us, so we're all spending our holidays elsewhere. Since I'm spending Christmas at home this year, here in the United States, I wanted to make sure I found some rabbit to keep the tradition going. Several years ago it was more difficult to find, but slowly our meat selections are changing: goat, lamb and also rabbit are now easier to find than before. Call around to some of your local butchers to see if someone carries rabbit. 
Ofcourse rabbit during Christmas conjures up images of sad little children and eating pets. Youp van 't Hek, a Dutch comedian, once wrote a song called Flappie, about a boy whose rabbit went missing on Christmas Day. Father urged him to stay away from the shed and later, during Christmas dinner while serving the meat, callously remarked that Flappie was found after all. The next day, the little boy urges his mom to stay away from the shed when she comes looking for her husband. A recognizable story (the rabbit part), especially during the difficult war times, with a gruesome twist.

So yesterday, I was in my kitchen cutting up this animal. It was a little unnerving because neither the head nor the tail was on this pink carcass. Enough for my mother to venture the thought that perhaps it was cat after all: it was not unheard of during the war years to buy "rabbit" in the stores and have a diminishing feline population at the same time. These pieces of meat were called "roof rabbits" among the people in the know...... Anyway, back to the bunny. The main meat on the rabbit is going to be the legs. The front legs are easily cut as they are not attached to the main body. Cut the saddle (the rabbit bacon) on the side, and remove the rib cage and the pelvis. Cut the hind legs off, just like you do with a chicken, half the loin part and you're good to go. 

For those of you that have never had rabbit....it tastes a little bit like chicken. Seriously.

Christmas Rabbit
1 medium sized rabbit, approx. 3 lbs
2 cups of water, divided
2 cups of red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
3 cloves
1 large size onion, peeled and sliced thin
3 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of brown sugar or appelstroop
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup of water
salt
pepper

Cut the rabbit up. Make sure you remove small bones or splinters before cooking the meat, they can be nasty.

Add the water, vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves and slices of onion to a large bowl and add the pieces of meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, take the meat out of the marinade and pat it dry with some paper towels. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven and quickly brown the meat on all sides. Remove from the pan, brown the onions and add the meat back in. Pour the marinade over the meat but keep the peppercorns behind, they are a pain to remove once the sauce is made. Bring to a boil, turn low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan, scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and add the appelstroop or brown sugar and the second cup of water if needed. Bind the sauce with a tablespoon of flour and 1/3 cup water, taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Add the meat back to the sauce and simmer for another hour or until the meat is tender to the point where it falls off the bone.

Serve with boiled potatoes or pommes duchesse and red cabbage. Zalig Kerstfeest, everyone!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kruidnoten

Several seasonal events are announced by the arrival of traditional foods on the supermarket shelves. Chocolate eggs mark the beginning of the Easter season, and Vlaggetjesdag is initiated by the catching of the first herring. But nothing prepares us for this month of December, with its Sinterklaas, Christmas and New Year celebrations, as the smell of speculaas from the bakeries and the sight of pepernoten at the store.  Peppernuts show up as early as mid-September, three full months before the good-hearted Saint Nicholas has even set foot on shore. And with it, also appears another event: the yearly, and sometimes heated, discussion on the difference between peppernuts and spice nuts.

Pepernoten (pepper nuts) and Kruidnoten (spice nuts) are very different from each other: pepernoten are the chewy, taai-taai-esque square pieces of brick that break your teeth, kruidnoten are the round, crunchy peppery speculaas-type cookies that Zwarte Piet throws around. Throwing pepernoten is not encouraged!

Until recently, the difference between kruidnoten and pepernoten was clear to everyone. But, as the edibility of the pepernoten became more and more challenging, and the crunchy tenderness of the kruidnoten gained terrain, pepernoten became the new name for kruidnoten. Still with me? Even packaging, marketing and nowadays the common user calls it pepernoten, except for the purists. And they are very vocal about it!

When I first wrote an article on this treat for Dutch the magazine, the editor emailed me back and asked whether the recipe I was submitting was for kruidnoten or pepernoten. Good question, and I am glad he asked. I called it pepernoten, but the recipe was clearly for kruidnoten.

Anyway....if you choose to share these and call them pepernoten, you'll know soon enough whom of your friends is a peppernut purist. You've been warned!! :-)

Kruidnoten
1 cup of self-rising flour
¾ cup of brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of ground aniseed
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of white pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of ginger
2 tablespoons of butter

Knead everything together into a stiff dough. You may have to add a tablespoon or two of water if it's too stiff. Wrap and rest the dough in the fridge, preferably overnight but at least for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend.

Roll small pieces of dough into little balls and place them on parchment paper or a silicone mat on a baking sheet and slightly press them down. Because of the self-rising flour they will puff up a bit.

Bake them at 400F in about 15 minutes until nicely browned. Let them cool on a rack. Mix with chocolate coins, and hard candy to make an excellent "throw mix" for Zwarte Pieten!




Sunday, December 11, 2011

Borstplaat

You know that the special holiday season, starting with Sinterklaas, is approaching when a series of traditional sugary sweets start showing up in the local bakeries, with coffee at work or if your best friend shows up with "iets lekkers" (something tasty) in a small bag at your appointed tea time.

Enamel-chipping sweet, borstplaat is one of those traditional candies. Fabricated purely from sugar and water, and sometimes a splash of heavy cream for good measure, borstplaat is one of the sweetest confections around. And, honesty dictates me to say, also one of the most addictive ones. Thankfully, it only shows up around the holidays, so you get your fill, vow to never, ever eat another piece of borstplaat again and after about a week wait impatiently wait till next year until you see those innocent-looking, cute little figurines or sugar hearts in the bakery's shop window again......

Thankfully (or not, as the case may be), this sweet candy is easy to make at home. Furthermore, it allows you to be creative with flavors, shapes and dimensions, so the sky is the limit. Traditional tastes encourage strawberry, coffee and a lighter cream flavor, but as soon as you have the hang of making this lovely sweet, you can pull out all stops and go for gold: how about banana flavor, almond, chocolate, caramel, peppermint, coconut? The grocery store offers many varieties of flavorings, natural or otherwise, that you can stir in and make your own personal batch of borstplaat. Try flavored lemonade powders, coffee creamers or basic materials such as instant coffee or Dutch cocoa powder.


The molds used in the photograph are old-fashioned borstplaat molds that belonged to my grandmother Pauline. The metal mold is held together by a small pin: after the sugar cools, you remove the pin, carefully separate the legs of the heart and the candy un-molds from the metal. As it takes a while for the candy to set, it is not easy to push it out of the mold without it breaking.

If you cannot find these molds, try using silicone candy molds, or pouring the borstplaat on a slightly buttered piece of parchment paper, let it set until almost hardened and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. It takes a try or two to know when the borstplaat is still soft enough to be cut but not too hard to break, so don't be afraid to give it a try. And if you miss the deadline, no worries. Break the borstplaat into edible chunks and call it good, it's all about the flavor!

Borstplaat
1 cup of white sugar
3 tablespoons of milk, water or heavy cream
Flavoring
Butter
Molds
Parchment paper

Lightly grease the molds and set them on top of slightly greased parchment paper on a baking sheet. Heat the sugar with the milk, water or heavy cream in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar gets "woolly", about five minutes. Dip a fork into the mix; if the sugar forms a sheet on the tines, it's ready to be poured.

Take the sugar off the stove, mix in two drops of vanilla extract, stir and count to five. Now pour the hot sugary mix into the molds. Let it rest for thirty minutes, then carefully see if you can tip the molds on the side so that the bottom can cool and dry. When the candy feels hardened enough (it is difficult to say how long it takes as each kitchen is different, but give it a good another thirty minutes), carefully take the pin out of the mold and separate the sides. If you use silicone molds, see if it will allow you to unmold at this time without breaking. If not, eat the evidence and wait a little longer for the other ones :-)

Let the candy cool on a rack until dry. Keep in a jar or tin that closes well: extreme moisture will make this candy crumbly and soft.






Sunday, December 4, 2011

Slagroomtaart - We vieren feest!

Hieperdepiephoera!! We're celebrating today's 100th post on The Dutch Table with an authentic Dutch slagroomtaart, or whipped cream cake. The name itself already suggests reckless abandon, from a Calvinistic perspective, but what can I say? Today is a special day and in good Dutch tradition, any reason is a good excuse to bring out the coffee, some cake and enjoy the company of friends.

Slagroomtaart is THE birthday cake par excellence. It has a very light and airy batter, and is hard to find outside of the Netherlands. It's an easy cake to bake, and a fun one to decorate. Traditionally you will find fruits and chocolate on top, and nougatine, candied nuts, on the side. Since those last ones are hard to find here in the United States, we're making them, it doesn't take long.

Slagroomtaart
For the cake:
4 eggs
3/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of corn starch
Chocolate, fruits for decorating

For the whipped cream
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup of powdered sugar

For the nougatine
1 cup of dry roasted peanuts
3/4 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of water

Preheat the oven to 320F. Butter and flour a 9 inch spring form.

Beat the four eggs and the sugar at high speed until it's tripled its volume and is light yellow, full of air and falls off the beater in a thick ribbon. Sift the flour and the corn starch together and carefully fold it into the airy batter. Pour it into the mold and place it in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center.

Let the cake cool.  In the meantime, chop the peanuts into small pieces or pulse it several times in the food processor. Take a heavy bottomed pan, and add the sugar and the water. Bring it to a boil and keep stirring until the sugary mixture caramelizes and has a nice, dark golden color to it. Remove from the stove, add in the chopped peanuts and stir them quickly, making sure all the peanuts are coated. Spread the thick layer on a piece of parchment, a marble top or a silicone mat and let it cool. When cooled down, you can use a rolling pin to break it into small pieces, leaving you with caramel coated peanut pieces.

Whip the cream with the powdered sugar and transfer half of it to a piping bag with a big star tip.

Slice the cake in half lengthwise. Spread a generous amount of whipping cream on the bottom half and replace the top. Now cover the rest of the cake in whipping cream with a spatula, making sure you don't miss any spots.

Balancing the cake on the palm of one hand, cup a handful of nougatine in the other hand and apply it to the side of the cake. Rotate a bit and press some more onto the side until the cake is covered. This takes a bit of practice and maybe an extra set of hands.

Place the cake on a serving tray or pedestal and pipe big rosettes all around the outside rim, and another smaller circle in the middle. Fill the rest up with smaller rosettes or ribbons, however you see fit.

Dry off the decorating fruit (pineapple slices, kiwi, strawberries, maraschino cherries, mandarin oranges.....), and start making up the cake. Usually each rosette receives a piece of fruit, or every other one. Add the chocolate (balls, fans, sprinkles....) for a finishing touch and ready is your cake!!!

Best chilled and eaten the same day, with a cup of hot coffee and in good company. I know I'm in good company with all of you, so I'm helping myself to a large piece. Thank you all for these fantastic first 100 posts, there are many more to follow!!