(Vlaai, vlaai. Sugar on the vlaai. I wish I had a little piece of it. And even if that piece was very small, it does have to have sugar on top.)
Ofcourse it rhymes in Limburgs, but you get the gist. It is an old traditional children's song from the region, and it showcases how much they like their vlaai (and quite honestly, what a sweet tooth they have!). Vlaaien are century old delicacies, created or at least first recorded by the Germanic tribes that roamed the area. They used to bake flatbreads with an elevated rim and top those breads with fruits, honey or fruit juices: I guess all that Germanic tribe-ing they did all day made them hungry!
The fruit vlaaien that are baked nowadays in Limburg still follow pretty much the same format: a yeast or bread dough is used to line a shallow baking pan, fruit purée or chopped up fruit is packed in between the sides and the vlaai is either baked with a lattice top, streusel or no top at all.
During the winter times, fresh fruit was not available. Fortunately, the thrifty Limburg housewife had plenty of canned fruits in her food pantry so the production and availability of vlaaien never stopped. Which was just as well, because vlaaien are, or used to be, a mainstay in the Limburg household. Sunday coffee dates, birthdays, funerals, weddings, county fairs.....you name it, any reason was good enough to bring out the large pie plates (there was often more than one vlaai to choose from) and share a piece, or two. Even better, nowadays you can purchase single serving vlaaien: a whole small vlaai all to yourself!!
The kersenvlaai was a pie that would often appear during winter times: it is a fruit that benefits from being canned and stored for a little while so it can release all its beautiful sweetness and juices. The cherries used here are canned, dark, sweet cherries. Use a 9 1/2 inch fluted tart pan for a large pie, or four 3 3/4 inch small ones.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup milk, warm
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt
2 cans dark sweet cherries (16 oz each)
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons panko or breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons coarse sugar for decorating
Knead the flour, yeast, milk, butter, sugar and half of the beaten egg into a soft dough. Grease a bowl, add the dough, cover and let it rise in a warm area for about 45 minutes.
In the meantime, drain the cherries and roughly chop them once or twice. Make sure you look for possible cherry pits that may have sneaked their way into the can! Add the juice (you should have about a cup and a half) and the sugar to a saucepan, remove two tablespoons, and bring it up to a simmer. Stir the two tablespoons of juice with the cornstarch into a slurry and add that to the juice. Bring to a boil while stirring: when the sauce thickens and changes color, fold in the cherries. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Divide the dough into six pieces (or leave it in one piece if you want to make one big one). Roll the dough out, line each buttered form with the dough. Roll the other two pieces to cut strips of dough. Cover and let rise for about 15-20 minutes until the dough is puffy. Prick holes in the dough with the tines of a fork. Sprinkle a little bit of breadcrumbs in each form, and divide the cherries over them. Cover with the lattice. Brush the rim and the lattice with the remaining egg and sprinkle some coarse sugar over the top. Bake for about 18 - 20 minutes for small pies, or 25 - 30 minutes for a large one. Keep an eye on the lattice: if it starts to brown prematurely, cover it with some aluminum foil.
Cool on a rack. Makes four.