Monday, December 30, 2013

Kniepertjes

Nothing like the last day of the year to kick back for a moment, grab a cup of coffee and reflect on the past 365 days. The hassle of Sinterklaas and Christmas is over, only tomorrow night's event (in case you've organized or are attending a New Year's Eve party) is left before the old year turns to new, and we get a chance to do it all over again.

The northern provinces of Groningen and Drenthe have a unique way of celebrating this change. On the last day of the year, the Drenthenaars consume flat, crispy, sweet waffles or cookies called kniepertjes, so called because you have to "knijp" (pinch) the waffle iron shut in order to bake them. On the first day of the new year, they enjoy the same type of waffle, but now rolled up tight (rolletjes). The old year, as in the flat cookie, is now laid before them, having revealed all it had in store. The new year, just like the tightly rolled one, is yet to unfold itself and holds all kinds of mysteries and excitement. So to add some sweetness to the unexpected, they fill these rolls up with sweet whipped cream. What a great way to start a new year!

These waffles are easy to make. Use your ice cream cone maker, or stroopwafel machine or pizzelle to make these. Roll them fast, as they set and crisp up as soon as they cool. This recipe makes approximately 40 waffles.

Kniepertjes
1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted and cool
Pinch of salt

Mix the flour and sugar together, then mix in the egg, the milk, the vanilla and the cinnamon. When all has come together and there are no lumps, stir in the melted butter and the salt. The batter should be thick but pourable. If it's too thick, add a tablespoon of milk at a time. Let the batter sit for a good fifteen minutes before using it.

Heat up the waffle maker and pour a tablespoon of batter on the hot plate. Close the lid and follow instructions (usually a light will come on or off to let you know the waffle is ready). As these waffles hold more sugar than the regular recipe, keep track of how long it takes for the waffles to be ready. Bake one, let it cool and taste it. Do you want more cinnamon? Then this is a great time to add it! Bake half of the waffles flat.

For the rolled up ones: use the handle of a wooden spoon to roll the cookies on. As soon as you pull the cookie off the hot plate, lay it on the counter, place the handle on one end and roll it up. Press down the handle on the seam for a second or two until the cookie sets, then pull it off the handle. Let it cool further on a plate.

These rolled up ones are great filled with sweet whipped cream, but are just as good without. Happy New Year everyone!!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Banketstaaf

It simply does not feel like Christmas without it. As soon as the banketstaaf hits the neighborhood bakery pastry case or the grocery store (which is right around Sinterklaas's arrival towards the end of November), there will be no way around it. At the office for the daily mid-morning cup of coffee, in the afternoon for that encouraging mug of hot tea, whenever you are presented with or have the opportunity to select something sweet, a tempting slice of banketstaaf will be there, in all its plain simplicity.

I say simplicity because there is really not much to a banketstaaf, by the looks of it. A bit of puff pastry, a center of almond paste, and if you're lucky and get the more luxurious version, an almond on top. And yet it all its modesty, the banket gives you a feeling of well-being, of abundance, of comfort. It's sheer luxury to bite into the crispy, flaky top and taste the sweet, almond paste. Just look at people's faces when they take their first bite....Who can say "no" to that?!

Banketstaaf, or sometimes just called banket, is traditionally sold in the shape of a log or rod. If it's shaped like an M or an S, it's called banketletter. This recipe makes two 9 inch staven, or logs, that can be eaten cold or warm. It's a great gift to share, and fun for kids to help make. Or you can double the recipe, and while the other two banket are baking, put your feet up, pour a cup of coffee or tea and serve yourself a slice of the still warm banketstaaf you just made....A treat well deserved!

Banketstaaf
10 oz slivered almonds
10 oz powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1 sheet of Pepperidge Farm's puff pastry (box contains 2 sheets)
10 whole blanched almonds


Thaw the puff pastry sheet on the counter. In the meantime, pulse half of the slivered almonds with half of the powdered sugar in a food processor until the almonds have turned into rough meal. Do the same with the other half of the almonds and sugar. Mix the flours in a bowl, and add the teaspoon of lemon zest, the beaten egg (minus a tablespoon) and the almond extract. Knead to a pliable paste. Divide the amount in two halves and wrap each in plastic film. Refrigerate while you wait for the puff pastry to thaw. The almond paste can also be made a day or two in advance.

When the puff pastry has thawed, dust the counter with a little bit of flour. Unfold the puff pastry and carefully roll the dough out to a 9 x 9 inch square. Cut the dough horizontally in half so that you have two 9 x 4.5 inch pieces, with the long side towards you.

Heat the oven to 400F. Remove the almond paste from the fridge and roll each log, while still in the plastic wrap to a uniform log of about 8 inches long. Place it in the middle of one of the puff pastry strips. Carefully pull the top part of the dough over the log, and roll it towards you. Wet the bottom half inch of the dough with a little bit of water, and roll the dough tightly over the seam. Fold in the edges on each side so that the log is sealed. Do the same with the second log.

Put parchment paper on a baking sheet and place both logs on top. Press five almonds into the top of each log, and brush lightly with the remaining egg. Put the sheet pan in the fridge for ten minutes, then bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden and puffy.

Cool until warm, cut into slices and serve warm or cold. Goes great with a cup of coffee, some tea or hot chocolate!



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Speculaascake met peren

These are busy times in a Dutch household! It's only five more days until Sinterklaas is supposed to leave a sackload of gifts on the doorstep but most people, as help-Sints(ahem ahem), still have gifts to buy, rhymes to come up with and even worse, think of any surprises they are going to built this year. Because during Sinterklaas you don't just wrap a present and attach a card to it: you disguise the gift into a completely unrelated (or not) object and write a long, tongue-in-cheek-and-poking-fun rhyming poem for the recipient of your generosity.  

So if that's you, don't despair.  You still have five whole days. Treat yourself to a comforting, sweet and hopefully rhyme-inspiring cake, made with fresh fruit and speculaaskruiden, those all-present spices that flavor just about anything this time of year. 

Put your feet up with a good cup of coffee and a slice of speculaascake. Pears are a fantastic fall and winter fruit, and speculaas evokes promises of goodness and cheer. Take a sip, munch a bite. Grab a pen and paper. Go to the RhymeZone and before you know it, a fantastic poem will come right rolling out!  

Speculaascake met peren
1 ½ stick butter
½ cup sugar
1 cup finely ground almonds
1 teaspoon almond essence
4 eggs
1 ½ cup flour
1 tablespoon speculaas* spices
3 pears
2 tablespoons apricot jam

Cream the butter with the sugar. Add one egg at a time, until each egg has been absorbed. Stir in the almond meal, the flour and the almond essence, lastly the speculaaskruiden, until you have a smooth batter.

Heat the oven to 350F. Grease a pie plate. Peel the pears, slice them in half and remove the core. Slice the pear halves in thin slices and brush with a little bit of lemon juice. Pour the batter into the pie plate and place five  pear halves on top, pushing them slightly into the dough, but just a little bit.

Bake for 50 minutes or until done. Add half a tablespoon of warm water to the apricot jam and brush the pears and the cake with the glaze. Let cool. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.






Speculaas spices: mix 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon with ½ tablespoon of nutmeg, clove, ginger and coriander each, 1/4 of a tablespoon of cardamom, white pepper, and ground orange peel.