Sunday, February 23, 2014

Joodse Boterkoek

Boterkoek, butter cake, is a traditional Dutch delicacy. The Belgians do not have anything similar to it, nor do the Germans. The French have a Breton butter cake, but that's a completely different animal. Nope, the boterkoek is most definitely Dutch, with its crunchy sides and soft, tender heart.

It's definitely not for the faint of heart, or the dainty eaters, nor for the more refined consumer. Boterkoek, since its early appearance in the thirtiesappears to be a confection for the common people. It was not sold in the higher-end patisseries or bakeries in town, nor could it be found in the tea rooms of the upper classes. Even the traditional boterkoek baking pans, the shallow tart pans with the built-in slider, were not stocked in the higher-end specialty stores, according to Johannes van Dam, the famous Dutch food writer, but could easily be found in more eh...general stores like Blokker and Hema.

But in the homes of the hard workers, the farmers, the fishermen, the harbor workers and other physically challenging jobs, a small square of boterkoek was well received, together with a cup of strong coffee to cut through some of the greasy goodness. Made with (good) butter, i.e. not margarine, sugar and flour, the butter cake is probably one of the easiest cakes to make, and probably one of the first ones that kids learn to make at home.

Somehow there is a Jewish connection with boterkoek, as it was traditionally served on Shabbat in Dutch Jewish homes. Claudia Roden includes a recipe for Joodse Boterkoek in her book "The Book of Jewish Food", where she mentions that  the boterkoek is part of "a few dishes, seen as Jewish but presenting a distinctive Dutch character."  The Dutch Joodse boterkoek, Jewish butter cake, is per definition made with candied ginger.

Joodse Boterkoek
2 sticks of butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
1 egg
1/2 cup of candied ginger

1 egg for brushing

Mix the butter with the sugar until it comes together, then add the flour. Chop the ginger into small strips and add 3/4 of the amount to the dough. When the flour has been absorbed, add in the egg, mix it a few more times until it appears to be a cohesive dough.

Butter a square or round baking pan (9 inches) and place a bottom of parchment paper in there. Pat the dough into the pan, refrigerate it for 10 minutes, then brush it with the beaten egg and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 of ginger on top. Bake in an 350F oven for 25 - 30 minutes or until the sides start browning.

Remove from the oven, and let cool down completely before removing the cake from the pan. Cut into small squares. Serve at room temperature with some good coffee.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Wentelteefjes

It's a holiday today, so hopefully you got to sleep in a bit, lounge around the house for a while and get some much needed things done. Good for you! It's not until you get ready to fix breakfast that you realize somebody left the bag with bread out on the counter all night, and now all the slices have gone stale. Ugh...but not to worry! Remember those delectable slices of fried bread your oma or mama used to make? Today is a perfect day to indulge!

These slices of stale bread, dipped in egg and milk and then fried golden in butter, are a staple of practically any country that has sliced bread on the menu. Whether you call it French toast, pain perdu, torrijas or wentelteefjes, it all comes down to the same thing: proud housemothers (or fathers) using up the food they have and making a worthy dish out of it!

The word "wentelteefje" always generates a big smile from the adults and a snicker from the kids. The word itself could be considered an insult ("teef" is Dutch for female dog and therefore also used to describe less than pleasant women), and to "wentelen" means to turn over. So "wentelteefje" literally means "turnover little b*tch", pardon my English.

But how did this name come about? Did people run around the kitchens yelling insults at the maids to flip the bread? No, of course not. The generally assumed thought is that the name came from "wentel het even", turn it over for a minute (loosely translated) which might not be correct, after all, according to this article by Ewoud Sanders in the NRC newspaper. Regional variations of the name wentelteefje include draaireuen (rotating studs) and gebakken hondsvotjes (baked dogs butts), of which the latter one sends me into fits of giggles and is making me seriously contemplate telling my non-Dutch family that this is the correct name. I know, I know! It's not right. I promise I won't.

The best thing about wentelteefjes is the combination of ease of preparation and the big smiles you get when you set the platter on the table, stacked high with golden slices of yummie goodness.

Wentelteefjes
8 slices of stale bread
3 eggs
1 cup of milk
Butter
Sugar
Cinnamon

Whip the eggs with the milk well. Heat a skillet on the stove with a tablespoon of butter, dip the bread slices briefly into the eggy milk on both sides, and fry them in the pan. Turn them over to fry on the other side, and keep them warm on a platter until you're done.

Sprinkle with powdered or regular sugar and plenty of cinnamon!