Sunday, June 30, 2013

Caramelco

The whole reason why I ended up with a recipe for Caramelco started with this great news in Forbes Magazine: Eindhoven is the top most inventive city of the world! We already knew this of course, as Eindhoven was the starting point in 1891 for Philips, a company that has pioneered many technological inventions and industrial changes throughout history, and still is, to this day.

Curious as to whether this city in North Brabant had a particular claim on any type of food, I started researching its culinary past. I found mentions of lektoeten (stroopsoldaatjes) and poeliepek (dropwater) which seem to be more nationally known. But one product that was famous in the 1960's and 70s was a product made in the nearby vicinity of Eindhoven, in a small community called Bergeijk.

Here, from 1913 until 1980, the milk processing operation Saint Bernardus (later acquired by Campina) produced, among other things, koffiemelk (condensed coffee creamer) . Story goes that one of the sweetened condensed milk cans got stuck in the autoclave, and after being heated for a prolonged amount of time the contents of the can turned into a sweet, caramelized spread. The factory was quick to reproduce the error and marketed the brown goop under the name Caramelco, which quickly turned into a popular sandwich topping.

And that's really not all that surprising either. Given the fact that we have a huge sweet tooth and love to decorate our open-faced sandwiches with all kinds of sweets possible (stomped mice, anyone?), the product gained a huge following until the factory was acquired by Campina and production of Caramelco ceased. Which leads me to think that the perceived market spread wasn't so huge after all, but what do I know? They still sell  dubbelzoute drop and let's face it, not that many (besides me) can be enamored by the taste of doubly-salted-ammonia-flavored black rubber, right? Right.

Nowadays, Caramelco still remains in the flavor-memory of many that grew up with this broodbeleg. With the globalization of our cuisines and culinary discoveries, it appears that Caramelco most certainly exists in other cultures, where it is known as manjar or dulce de leche. There is therefore no more need to yearn for the past! Even better, Caramelco is very easy to make. It can be used as a sweet spread on bread, but also consider using it as a barrier between your apple pie filling and your dough, or as a filler for cookies. And when in doubt, just eat a spoonful....it's good :-)

Caramelco
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
Water

Add the can of condensed milk to a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil and simmer for two hours. Be sure to keep the can under water at all times. After two hours, turn off the stove and let the can cool. When cool to the touch, open and taste.



Sunday, June 23, 2013

Zuringsoep

Summer is a time for as little cooking as possible: we choose cold dishes such as huzarensalade to serve with the evening boterham, or a lekkerbekje from the fish cart at the market. Anybody who has ever had a slice of Dutch brown bread, good butter, mature cheese and fresh slices of tomato or cucumber knows that it is a very satisfying meal indeed!

But when weather permits (how we love it when the sun shines!), everybody and their dog pulls out the charcoal grill, the gourmet kit or fondue pot. Friends are called, neighbors are let in on the plans, and a grill-out is planned for the back patio, the balcony or, by lack of both, simply on the stoep. The local butcher sells "barbecue pakketten", a collection of seasoned meats: pork chops, beef skewers, sausages and very often fresh sliced pork, or speklappen.

But if you're not in the mood for large cookouts, lots of meat or having plenty of people over, treat yourself to a cup of soup. Sorrel, or zuring, grows freely in fields and along ditch banks, and in the old days it was often used to make a quick, early summer soup, one of the first greens to be enjoyed. My mother remembers her grandmother gathering zuring from the meadow and making this soup. It is also known as spinach dock.

Zuring, as its name indicates, has a slight sour taste to it, but it is also very refreshing. Combine it with the aforementioned cheese sandwich, or simply with some toast, and you're set. No need to heat up the kitchen at all but for a short time to get the soup ready, easy-peasy!

Sorrel can be easily grown from seed and will do well in pots or planters. It is rich in Vitamin C and iron.

Zuringsoep
2 large handfuls of sorrel leaves
1 tablespoon of butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
4 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
Salt
Pepper
Sour cream (optional)

Cut the stems off the leaves and discard if too woody, then chop the leaves and tender stems into pieces. Heat the butter in a saucepan, sauté the garlic and onion until soft. Add the potato, and the chopped leaves on top and stir for a second, then pour in the vegetable or chicken stock. Cover, bring up to a light simmer and cook for ten minutes at low heat or until the potatoes are done. Purée, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon of sour cream if desired.





Sunday, June 16, 2013

Boerenjongens

Boerenjongens, simply called farm boys, are golden and dark raisins soaked in a sugary syrup and brandy. It is a favorite with the older generation, although it is currently experiencing a small revival with the younger crowds. At birthdays, weddings or funerals, the men would often consume a small serving of boerenjongens, served in a borrelglaasje with a small spoon, whereas the ladies would prefer boerenmeisjes, the female equivalent, made with dried apricots. 

You will also find that boerenjongens have found their way into a variety of other foods: most notoriously as a topping for yogurt, ice cream or pancakes, but also on the market in vla, or as a stuffing in pork roasts. The alcohol fuses nicely with the sugary syrup, and after a week of five of soaking up all those lovely flavors in a dark, cool space, these farm boys are ready to put to work! 

Both boerenjongens and boerenmeisjes are a great gift from your kitchen. They're quick to make, and are open to any personalized flavors: add a vanilla bean or star anise to the meisjes, and infuse the boys with cognac and allspice for a change of taste. 

Boerenjongens
2 cups golden raisins
½ cup dark raisins
1 cup sugar
3 cups water
1 cup brandy
1 cinnamon stick

Wash the raisins and soak in enough warm water to cover them, for a good two hours. Heat the sugar with the 3 cups of water, bring to a boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then set aside to cool. Add the raisins to a glass jar. Mix the cool sugary syrup with the brandy, stir and pour over the raisins. If they’re not covered with the liquid, make another batch of syrup. Add the cinnamon stick, cover and let sit in a cool, dark place for four weeks before sampling. 


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Boerenmeisjes

All you ever heard about Dutch farm girls is true: they're soft, sweet, juicy and have a bit of a kick to 'm. No...not those kind of girls.....I'm talking about boerenmeisjes, farm girls, lovely sweet, brandied apricots. It's a classic and old fashioned Dutch alcoholic refreshment.

Remember the chat about the relationship between ladies-of-a-certain-age and advocaat? Well, boerenmeisjes are a little bit like that. It's not for the young, hip crowd, but more for the relaxed, laid-back older, no-nonsense generation. Boerenmeisjes are either consumed straight from the jar, with two or three pieces of fruit in a small glass with enough syrup to keep them moist, over ice cream, or puréed as an apricot sauce. You can also chop several up and fold into a Dutch apple pie filling.

Their counterpart, boerenjongens (farm boys), are brandied raisins. Equally good and served just like the girls, and a great gift. The boerenmeisjes and boerenjongens will take about four to five weeks on the shelf before they're ready.

If you choose to use fresh fruit, use apricots that are still firm to the touch. Half them, remove the pit and do not simmer for more than five minutes so as to retain their shape.

Boerenmeisjes
20 dried apricots
3 cups warm water
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup brandy

Soak the apricots in the warm water for twenty minutes, then pour off the remaining water into a saucepan. Add the sugar, and bring it up to a slow boil. Stir. As soon as the sugar has dissolved, add the dried apricots to the saucepan, add the cinnamon stick, and let the fruit simmer, on low heat, for fifteen minutes.

Take everything off the stove and let it cool. When it has cooled down, stir in a cup of brandy, and transfer the fruit and the cinnamon stick to a clean jar. Don't pack the fruit too tight as it will need space to soak and expand. Make sure the fruit is covered with syrup and brandy. Cover and set aside in a cool, dark place.

Once a week, check on the meisjes to make sure they are still covered. If not, add equal parts syrup and brandy, stir and cover again.

After four to five weeks, these girls are ready to be served!




Sunday, June 2, 2013

Christoffelvlaai

As soon as the cherries hit the store, I start craving Christoffel pie. It's a traditional Limburg pie, or vlaai, that is standard on the list of top vlaaien and a favorite of many. The standard vlaai is baked with a yeast dough, filled with canned cherries, topped with chocolate whipped cream, regular sweet whipped cream, a sprinkling of dark chocolate curls and a dusting of cocoa. Thanks to observant reader Emily, we know that there is also a Christoffeltaart which consists of a meringue bottom instead of dough, and may contain custard or vanilla cream or some other combination. Regardless of the variety that you prefer, chocolate, whipped cream and cherries are always involved.

But who is this Christoffel and why was a pie named after him? I'd love to know the answer but search after search comes up blank. Someone suggested that it's a vlaai typical from Roermond, a city in the southeastern part of the Netherlands, whose patron saint is St. Christopher. A local bakery states the same information, but that's all I can find, so I'm not sure if we're milking the same information or whether that is true. Further research into St. Christopher himself reveals very little detail as well and the only connection between him and the cherries is that he is the patron saint of fruit merchants. Okay. Not much to go on as far as a valid explanation for why this pie is named after this pious pilgrim, but I'll take it!

Christoffelvlaai
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
2 cups canned cherries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon panko or breadcrumbs
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 small dark chocolate bar

Measure out the flour. Proof the yeast in the warm milk, then add it to the flour, together with the sugar. Knead four or five times until it comes together, and knead in the butter and the egg yolk until the dough is satiny but firm. Cover and set aside for the first rise.

Drain the liquid off the canned cherries, stir in the cornstarch and bring up to heat, all the while stirring. The cornstarch will thicken the liquid. Fold in the sugar and the cherries, and set aside.

Roll the dough out to a circle slightly larger than your pie plate, lay it over your dough roller and line the vlaai form if you have one, or a regular pie plate (approx. 9 to 10 inches across). Use a fork to dock the dough, then cover and let rise until puffy, about thirty minutes.

Heat your oven to 375F. Sprinkle a tablespoon of panko or breadcrumbs on the pie dough, and pour in the cherries. Bake for 25 minutes. If the top of the dough browns too fast, tent it with some aluminum foil.

Whip the heavy cream with the powdered sugar. Remove one third when done, then fold in the cocoa powder (easier if you sift it above the bowl) in the remaining two thirds of whipped cream.

When the pie has cooled, spread the chocolate whipped cream on top. Shave curls off the dark chocolate bar and sprinkle over the whipped cream. Pipe white whipping cream rosettes along the edge, and refrigerate the vlaai until it's time to eat.