Monday, July 3, 2017

Dutch stamps of traditional Dutch treats

If you receive mail from the Netherlands, you may soon see some tasty postage stamps on the envelope. The Dutch mail service, PostNL, has recently released a new sheet of stamps called "Nederlandse Lekkernijen", or Dutch treats. The stamps have pictures of Bossche bollen, kersenvlaai, stroopwafels, and Zeeuwse bolus, as well as other regional specialties.

What a great way to promote regional products!

What is your favorite lekkernij?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kruisbessenschuimvlaai

"Ouch!" I sucked the drop of blood off my finger. Sharp thorns dug into my flesh every time I reached for the fruit I wanted to pick. A less determined person would have given up already, but a distant childhood memory of a sweet and tangy vlaai fueled my stubbornness. I had only enjoyed kruisbessenschuimvlaai once but it left such an impression that I was willing to sustain a couple of painful punctures to taste it again!

Kruisbessenschuimvlaai (what a great word for hangman!) is a traditional Limburg pie, with a mixture of slightly sour kruisbessen, or gooseberries, and a topping of meringue. A popular name for kruisbessen can also be stekelbes (prickle berry), knoeper or kroesel, which explains the Limburg name for this pie: "krosjele vlaai". It is possible that the English name for this berry, gooseberry, may  have been a derivative of the Dutch word kruisbes. Who knows!?


Kruisbessen do grow in the wild in the Netherlands, but are also grown commercially, albeit in small quantities. The fact that they are not easy to pick may have something to do with it, but it's also a rather old-fashioned, almost forgotten fruit. Nevertheless, it is fairly easy to plant a small bush or two in your own garden, and they provide generous gatherings, enough for a couple of pies per plant!

Now, typically the meringue will be soft and baked with the pie, but I prefer a crunchy meringue topping, so I baked the top separately. I've posted instructions for both variations. I hope you enjoy this lovely vlaai - it was worthy every pinch, scratch and drop of blood!

Kruisbessensschuimvlaai
For the vlaai dough:
1 1/2 cup AP flour (175 gram)
1 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup milk, warm (110F/43C)
3 tablespoons butter, soft
1 tablespoon sugar
2 egg yolks, or 1 egg
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the filling
2 lbs of gooseberries, washed
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon of corn starch

For the meringue
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar

Knead a dough from the flour, yeast, milk, butter, sugar, egg and salt. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover it and let it rise at room temperature. In the meantime, mix the cinnamon with the breadcrumbs and set it aside.

Remove the stems and the blossom ends of the gooseberries. Place the berries in a saucepan, with just enough water to cover the bottom layer, and slowly bring to a simmer. Carefully stir in the sugar, making sure not to break too many berries. You may want to taste and see if it's not too tangy - if it is, add a bit more sugar. After all, it should be fun to eat this pie, not a punishment!

When the berries are warm and juicy, add a little bit of cold water to the cornstarch and make a slurry. Stir that into the berries and bring the pan back up to a boil, give it a couple of stirs until the whiteness of the cornstarch has disappeared, then turn it off. The cornstarch will thicken the juice and make it easier to use as a pie filling.

Heat your oven up to 400F. Knead the air out of the pie dough, roll it into a circle and line a greased pie pan with it. For this recipe I used a 11 inch wide, one inch high, scalloped pie dish. If your dish is slightly smaller and higher, the recipe will accommodate easily. Dock the dough (use a fork to punch little holes in it) and cover it again for its second rise.

When the dough is puffy and risen, spread the panko mix over the bottom of the dough, and then fill it with the berries. Place it in the oven and bake.

Beat the egg whites and the sugar into a shiny stiff meringue. If you want to have a soft meringue, pull the vlaai out of the oven after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 300F, spread the meringue over the filling and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the meringue as it colors fast! Pull the vlaai and let it cool.

If you prefer a crunchy meringue like I do, you will need to take one additional step. Let the pie bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 400F, then pull it out of the oven. Lower the temperature of the oven to 175F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper where you've drawn a circle that matches the circumference of the pie pan. Spread the meringue within the circle on the paper, making sure to make it slightly lower in the center. Bake the meringue at 175F for at least an hour, checking toward the end to make sure it has fully dried. If not, leave it in the oven for another 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and let the meringue dry.

When the meringue has cooled and dried, place the disk on top of the pie, cut into slices and serve! Depending on how you generous you cut your slices, this pie will give you 8 to 10 slices.