Sunday, January 12, 2014

Botersprits

The first time you eat a botersprits, you wonder where this cookie has been all your life. The soft crumb, the sweet taste, the undeniable flavor of quality butter, sweet sugar and freshly zested lemon peel or vanilla make for an amazing combination. Sometimes spritsen come with an edge of dark chocolate, sometimes they present themselves in all their simple glory. But they're hard to forget.

Good spritsen, that is, are hard to forget. Unfortunately bad ones are too. They continue to linger on the brain as well as on your taste buds. Those are the ones made with margarine, or sweeteners, or cheap chocolate. These imitators leave an odd taste in the mouth, a funky layer on your teeth and don't do the sprits any justice. Oddly enough, these sprits simulators are mostly baked commercially and are sold in large amounts from supermarkets, grocery stores and *gasp* even professional bakeries! 

That's why it's so surprising that so few people bake their own sprits (originally a German cookie that is piped or pressed, gespritzt) at home. The ingredients are few, but should be of top quality. The dough is easily put together and the cookies bake in less than twenty minutes. Enough time to brew a fresh batch of coffee or boil water for tea, take the mugs out of the cupboard and invite the neighbor lady over. In the old days you could just knock on the wall and she'd know the coffee is ready, but with all these modern insulation techniques that is a thing of the past. 

It's easiest to pipe the cookie dough through a star-shaped tip, but ultimately, it doesn't matter much what shape or size you give it. Just make them all the same size and height so that they can bake off at the same time. 
 
Utrechtse Sprits
2 sticks quality butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose or cake flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest (optional)

Cream the butter and the sugar into a pale, fluffy mass. Add the salt, stir once or twice, then add the whole egg and stir it with the paddle or by hand until the egg has been fully incorporated. Now mix in the vanilla extract. Sift the flour and divide it in two halves: add one half at a time to the butter and stir until it's absorbed. At this point you can stir in the lemon zest if you'd like. 

Transfer the soft dough to a piping bag outfitted with a large star tip. Pipe the dough moving left to right on parchment paper, or pipe individual cookies. Just make sure they're approximately the same height and volume, so they can bake at the same time. .

Heat the oven to 350F. Place the parchment paper on a baking sheet and place it in the hot oven. They should turn color in about fifteen minutes, and are ready as soon as the edges start to color golden. If you baked long strips, you can cut these in individual portions (approx 3 or 4 inches) immediately when the cookies come out of the oven. Let them cool while you brew some fresh coffee or tea, and look forward to enjoying the fruits of your labor!


Tip: draw two pencil lines on parchment paper, parallel to each other with a distance of 2 1/2 inches apart. Pipe the cookie dough in between these two lines, as seen in the picture. It will help to maintain similar size. 



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Draadjesvlees

If you're anything like me, you're glad the holidays are over. Don't get me wrong, it's great to celebrate with good food and family and friends. It's fun to decorate the house, open presents, hide other ones, do some cooking, some baking.....and lots and lots of eating. It's such a wonderful, special time, and I love it! But I'm also glad when I can put the tree away, pick up the last of the holiday decorations and get back to down-to-earth-and-honest-cooking. You know, good old fashioned Dutch food. This week's recipe is perfect for the crock pot, or slow cooker. What better to get dinner started while you're cleaning house, catching up on mail or plain simply take a snooze!

 Draadjesvlees, or literally "meat cooked to threads" is one of Holland's favorite meats. It's generally a cheaper cut of beef, braised for several hours, to the point where it is tender, flavorful and easily shreds to savory strands. It's similar to hachée, but without that many onions, and it's a great dish for these colder temperatures. As it sudders (braises) on the stove, the kitchen will fill up with a lovely, wonderful, sweet smell, and makes the evening so much more gezellig...

As you may have noticed, certain vegetables are usually combined with a particular cut or type of meat, and rode kool met appeltjes, red cabbage with apples, seems to be the favorite partner for today's recipe, with green beans being a close second. But one thing you will most definitely need is some type of starch to sop up all the lovely gravy that comes with this dish: usually only boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes will do! 

Draadjesvlees is Dutch comfort food at its best. There is even a Draadjesvlees society


Draadjesvlees
2 lbs of chuck roast, thick sliced
1 tablespoon of butter
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon of flour
4 cups of homemade beef stock*
3 bay leaves
3 cloves, whole
4 juniper berries (optional)
8 pepper corns
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or red wine
Salt
Pepper

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven, dust the beef with flour and quickly brown it in the pan. Add the onions and stir in with the beef until the onions are translucent. Add four coups of beef stock), stir and add to the pan. The meat has to be almost submerged. Add the bay leaves, cloves (I stick them in a piece of onion so I can find them again), juniper berries if you want and the peppercorns, then stir in the vinegar or the wine. Bring to a slow boil, then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for a good two hours. 

Try a little piece of meat to see if it's tender to your liking. Remove the meat onto a plate, fish out the peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves and juniper berries and adjust the sauce with salt and pepper or a little vinegar if you like it more tangy and reduce slightly. Add the meat back in, stir to cover, and serve with mashed potatoes and rode kool, red cabbage. 

*or four cups of water and 1 beef bouillon cube