Kaneelbeschuitjes

There is this sweet memory I have from my early teenage years. Every day, my mom would have a hot pot of Pickwick tea waiting for me when I got home from middle school. The fact that I made it home was a feat in itself: five miles one way, on my bike, with the wind in my face, I had to cycle from the house to a neighboring town, along a dark bicycle path, with tall, looming trees on both sides. It was always dark under those trees, no matter what time of day. Early mornings, and late afternoons when I returned, I always had that darn wind in my face, which made the 5 miles feel more like 10. Every push of the pedal with my stubby little legs was an effort, and all that kept me going was that golden pot of tea on the table, with a small tealight underneath it to keep it warm, and a plate of cookies. Not too many, mind you, just a few to enjoy while I drank my tea and made my homework, but that promise of comfort and warmth kept this 11 year old little girl cycling "through weather and wind", as we say. 

Our household traditions are not unique, of course. About 40% of the Dutch drink on average about 3 cups of tea a day, adding up to well over 25 gallons a year. Not usually with milk, like our British neighbors do, but plain or sweetened with sugar, and usually served in a glass mug. Tea also prefers a different kind of cookie: because of the gentle flavor of the tea, we tend to go for lighter cookies that combine well and don't overwhelm the delicate tea taste. These cookies are not too heavy on the chocolate, or overly spiced or flavored, and are usually called "thee biscuitjes", tea cookies, where biscuit, or biskwie, refers to a hard-baked cookie. And if they dunk well, even better! 

One of our tea cookie favorites are "kaneelbeschuitjes", cinnamon rusks, slender long crisp cookies with a delicious topping of sugar and cinnamon. Originally, the bakeries fabricated these cookies from leftover white bread - we're so frugal! Nowadays, these cookies are made from a sweet yeasted dough that is baked in a shallow, long shape and then sliced, sugared and baked again, in a warm oven. The word "beschuit" is from the Latin "bis coctus" and is related to the Italian word "biscotti" - twice baked.  

I tend to make them the old-fashioned way, with leftover bread. I've found that those so-called Italian loaves are a great resource, but any unsliced white bread with a thin crust that you can find will do. 

Because these Italian loaves are domed, I put a baking sheet and a heavy weight on top for 24 hours, to flatten the loaf down to approximately 1.5 inch (somewhere around 3 1/2 cm) tall. For the Italian loaves that I buy here, in the US, I need a ten pound bag of flour to bring down the weight. Start out with a lower weight for your loaf as it may not need as much, and slowly increase the weight if you notice resistance. If you put too much weight on it from the start, or if the loaf is very fresh, it might just flatten into a pancake and we will not be able to use it for these cinnamon rusks!

Kaneelbeschuitjes

1 loaf Italian (or other white) bread, unsliced

3 tablespoons sugar

1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup milk

Slice the flattened loaf into 1/2 inch slices (approx. 1.5 cm) Reassemble the bread on a baking sheet, balance another baking sheet on top and place the whole thing in the oven on the warm setting, or up to 200F (about 95 to 100C). This will help to start drying out the bread a little bit and set its shape.

Pour the milk in a flat bowl, and mix the sugar and cinnamon in another. Dip each bread slice quickly with one side into the milk and then dip that wet part in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place the bread slices on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet, sugary side up. 

When you've covered all the slices with sugar, put the sheet pan back into the oven for a minimum of 2 hours, but no longer than 4. Depending on how thick you sliced, or how long you dipped the bread, it might take a bit longer to get that typical rusk crunch. 

One regular Italian loaf makes about 15 - 18 kaneelbeschuitjes






Abrikozenvlaai

One bite of apricot tart wooshes me straight back into my grandma's, oma's, kitchen. We grew up in the south of the Netherlands, in the province called Limburg, where vlaai (pie, or tart) is a regional tradition. All kinds of fruit tarts: cherry, black plum, apple crumble, pear, gooseberry or the so very traditional "butter vlaai"- you name it. During birthdays, holidays, or just regular Sundays it was traditional to have a variety of them laid out for when people came to visit - and my pick was always, always, apricot tart. The sweetness of the jammy fruit, the slight tang at the back of the tongue and the crunch of the sugar on the lattice was for me the perfect combination. Many Sundays I sat at my oma's elbow, pinching off small pieces of tart with my little fork and wrinkling my nose and happily shudder every time the tang hit me. It always made her laugh! 

October 25th is National Vlaai Day, the day to celebrate this fantastic, yet so simple, traditional Limburg pie. I've spoken about the history of the vlaai frequently, because to me it is such a great example of how out of little, like our country*, much can be made: the vlaai started its humble beginnings as a piece of leftover bread dough, rolled out flat and baked with a bit of fresh fruit or jam, and eaten while waiting for the bread to finish baking in the oven. 

So what keeps you? If you have flour, yeast, sugar, an egg, a bit of butter and some fresh fruit or preserves around the house, whip up a vlaai or two to enjoy this weekend, or share a "stökske vlaaj" (slice of vlaai) with family and friends, and celebrate this day with us! 

Abrikozenvlaai
For the vlaai:
1 1/2 cup (200 gr) AP flour 
1/2 stick butter (50 gr), room temperature
1/3 cup milk (80 ml), lukewarm
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs or panko
1/2 cup sliced almonds

For the filling:
4 cups sliced fresh apricots (or canned and drained)
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice (when using fresh fruit only)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk, and let it proof while you measure out the rest of the ingredients. Add the flour to a mixing bowl, sprinkle the sugar on top and give it a stir. Now pour the milk with the yeast on top and start mixing. As the dough comes together, add in the egg and a bit later the salt. Add the soft butter and let the whole mixture come together while you need it into a soft dough. (You may need to add a tablespoon or two of milk in case the dough turns out to be a bit dry).

Form the dough into a ball, put it in a bowl, cover and let it rise.

In the meantime, make the filling. In a bowl, sift the cornstarch in the sugar and toss the apricots in the mixture. Also add in the lemon juice if you use fresh fruit, to keep it from oxidizing. As you can tell from the picture, I forgot and some pieces turned a little brown. It doesn't affect the flavor, it just looks a little "off".

Punch down the dough, and roll it into a circle large enough for an 9 or 11 inch shallow pan. Spray or butter the pie pan. Press in the dough, cover with cling film and let it rise a second time, about 20 - 30 minutes, until fluffy. Dock the dough with a fork and prick little holes all over, letting the air out. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly over the dough. Apricots can be quite juicy sometimes and the breadcrumbs will absorb some of that moisture and keep the bottom dry.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 400F. Spoon the apricot slices into the pan. Bake in the hot oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Add the almond slices to a baking sheet and toast them lightly in the cooling oven (keep an eye on it!), or give them a quick toss in a frying pan, just for a bit of color and increased flavor. 

Sprinkle the almonds around the rim of the vlaai right before serving. 




*Almost 20% of the country is man-made, or reclaimed land from the sea.

Zuurkoolstamppot met rookworst (keto version)

Well, folks, over here it's that time of the year where you're eyeing the warm sweaters and the woolen socks. You know that, if you put away all your summer gear and stock your closets with your winter clothes, the weather is going to turn and we'll have a hot weather spell. But you also know that if you don't, the weather will turn the other way and it'll be so cold you're layering three summer dresses and looking for a warm long sleeve cardigan. At least, that's my experience :-) 

Regardless of whether the sun is shining or the rain comes pouring down, once my nose catches a whiff of that autumn scent (chrysantemums, caramel apples, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon pine cones), this girl wants stamppot. And any variety will do, whether it's boerenkool (kale), spruitjes (Brussels sprouts), or hutspot (carrot and onion) - it matters not. All I look forward to is a cozy evening in front of the TV, with my legs pulled up under a warm blankie, watching a good mystery show, and a plate of hot, steaming stamppot on my lap. 

Vending cart at Waterlooplein, A'dam

Stamppot, a one pot dish of mashed vegetables and potatoes, is a staple dish in the Dutch household, and has been for various centuries, although it wasn't always named stamppot (stomped pot) but used to go by the more general name of hutspot (or hussepot, tossed pot). The first reference to the mashed vegetable and potato dish as stamppot does not happen until around 1870, even though similar dishes had been served for many years before that. One of the most famous, and still celebrated every year, mashed one dish pots is the hutspot, a dish the Spanish left behind when chased out of the city of Leiden, in 1574. 

The dish we're making today is a simple zuurkoolstamppot: mashed potatoes with zuurkool, sauerkraut. If you remember, last week we prepared pots and pots of salted and shredded cabbage to make zuurkool). We're serving rookworst with it, a smoked beef sausage - the smoked, juicy meat matches the slightly sour flavor of the zuurkool really well! 

A nineteenth century Dutch cookbook, Aaltje de volmaakte en zuinige keukenmeid, has several zuurkool dishes listed, and they were popular dishes to make: one pot was easier to tend to if you were working the fields or the shop, or had an otherwise busy household. 

Now....usually this dish is made with potatoes, but since somebody in our household is keto-ing, I made a keto version. I wonder what Aaltje would have to say about that! 

Zuurkoolstamppot met rookworst

2 lbs cauliflower (or 1.5 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed)*

2 lbs jar of sauerkraut

Salt

Fresly ground black pepper

1 smoked sausage

Chop the cauliflower into small pieces, add enough water to cover, add a teaspoon of salt and set to boil, covered. Drain the sauerkraut and squeeze out as much moisture as you can, making sure to save some liquid. A 2 lbs. jar should leave you with approximately half to 3/4 lbs of sauerkraut. 

Once the cauliflower is cooked (and you are looking for a soft consistency, not al dente), pour off the water and blend the vegetable into a purée until it's smooth. Put it back on the stove and stir several times on low fire, for a good five minutes, to remove some of the moisture, as cauliflower tends to be very wet. Make sure it doesn't scorch.

In the meantime, heat the smoked sausage according to instructions (I tend to simmer it in a shallow bottom of water in pan on the stove, but others have been known to take it out of the plastic and microwaving it for 3 minutes). 

Stir in the sauerkraut and make sure it's all mixed in together, and add in some of the sauerkraut liquid, one tablespoon at a time. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Slice the sausage or serve whole. A side of good mustard is appreciated! 

* if you use potatoes, just boil until tender, drain and mash with a potato masher, do not use the stick blender! 

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Koffiekoekje I

Today, September 22, we're celebrating Nationale Koffiedag, National Coffee Day, in the Netherlands. It's not a centuries old tradition, mind you, but something a bit more modern. National Coffee Day was called into existence by a company called Fortune Coffee with the purpose to connect local entrepreneurs with each other, in the hope that, while enjoying a cup or two of coffee, ideas will flow, connections will be made, and deals are closed. 

However, with the amounts of bean brew that we consume on a yearly basis (260 liters, or 69 gallons per person), you'd think we celebrate coffee day every day! We drink coffee with our breakfast, around 10:30 at work or at home, with our lunch, when we get company over, or go visit a friend, again around 4:00 PM in the afternoon (although many will switch it up and have a cup of tea instead) and then again halfway between dinner and going to bed, around 8:00 PM. 

Why so much coffee, you'd think? Are we such a thirsty nation? Do we need all that caffeine to support us in our endless cycling endeavors? Heck no. I bet you it's because with every cup of coffee you're initially entitled to a koekje, a cookie! We eat around 72 million cookies per year between all of us. That's on average about five cookies per day per person. Assuming you're not eating cookies with your breakfast or lunch, and you're averaging about four cups a day....see where I am going? So maybe we're not drinking all that coffee because we love coffee, but because we love cookies. And would you blame us? We have one of the most extensive selections of cookies available to us: whole aisles in the grocery store are dedicated to cookies alone. 

Off the top of my head I can name at least twenty cookies that go well with a cup of coffee (or tea) and : stroopwafel, speculaas, chocoprins, gevulde koek, janhagel, bastognekoek, bokkepootjes, moppen, bitterkoekjes, boterkoek, eierkoek, jodenkoek, Arnhemse meisjes, kletskop, cocosmacroon, krakeling, lange vinger, roze koek, pennywafel, sprits, etc etc etc. Cookies with glorious names, with old traditions and many memories. 

And then there are the cookies that are just called "koffiekoekjes". Usually a type of sugar or crisp cookie, they are tasty enough, but never really stood out to receive any other descriptor than "cookie to serve with a coffee". And that's a shame. Because there are some tasty, tasty cookies that fall in that category, like today's cookie. It's quick to make, affordable, lekker and memorable because of its warm spices, perfect for this Fall season. Even though it's never gone beyond being called "koffiekoekje", they're a favorite in our household. Today we're baking the first of a series. Why don't you join us?

Koffiekoekje 1

2 cups all-purpose flour (240 gr.)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of each: nutmeg, ginger, cloves

1/4 teaspoon of each: baking soda, baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup butter (225 gr. - room temp)

1/2 cup white sugar (100 gr.)

1/4 cup brown sugar (50 gr.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 tablespoons cold water

Add everything to the mixer or blender at once and use the paddle to mix it together. When it appears to look like wet sand, add the water, one tablespoon at a time so that it comes together. It should be pliable, like play dough. Knead the dough into a ball, wrap and set aside for at least an hour, but better overnight. If you can't spare the hour, don't worry about it and just bake them right away. 

Roll the dough out, not too thick (about 3mm), and cut into preferred shapes. Use a baking mat or parchment paper to line your baking sheets. Bake in a 350F degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes. Let cool completely on rack (cookie will crisp up). Store in an airtight container. Hide from undeserving family members ;-) because as soon as they smell the cookies, they'll want some!

If you're wondering how we got the text on the cookies, check out these customizable cookie stamps here or here. We get a few pennies from your purchase which helps with maintaining the website. 







Knapkook


There is something inherently attractive about simplicity: are we not able to recall with much more pleasure the flavors of a home cooked meal instead of a luxury dinner, the pure taste of good cheese, the sweet acidity of a sun-kissed tomato fresh of the vine? Perhaps too, when we have to do with less, we can hopefully still enjoy the things we do have, or are able to obtain, with equal pleasure.

It is not often that I wax philosophical about the shortcomings in life, but this week's cookie reminded me of how the best baked goods benefit from just a handful of simple ingredients. A simple sponge cake is just eggs, sugar and flour. A good bread should consist predominantly of flour, water, salt and yeast. And so too this traditional Limburg cookie, the knapkook: butter, flour, sugar, egg, and a pinch of baking powder to lighten it up is all it needs. Quality ingredients, mind you, but still just the very basics of baking.

My grandfather Tinus loved all things sweet but had a special preference for cookies, or pletskes, as they were called in the Venlo dialect that he grew up speaking. He enjoyed them in moderation, but his eyes lit up if there was the prospect of a cookie with his afternoon coffee. His favorite cookie was the knapkook, best translated as "snap cookie". It is a cookie typical of Limburg and part of Belgium (Maaseik in particular): crisp and sugary, it makes a satisfying snapping sound as you break it in two. These cookies are fairly large, measuring a good 4 inches across.

Just like with so many recipes that are handed down from generation to generation, you can make these as fancy as you like: add a teaspoon or two of hazelnut liqueur to the dough, mix a pinch of cinnamon in with the flour or with the sugar on top, or brush it with strong coffee instead of egg. If you don't have a 4 inch round cookie cutter, make smaller ones, or cut them into diamond shapes. Today, I baked the most basic version - and sometimes, basic is good enough.

Knapkook
2 cups all-purpose flour (250 gr)
3/4 cup sugar (150 gr)
1 stick and 2 tablespoons butter (150 gr), cold
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder (5 gr)
1 egg
Pinch of salt if butter is unsalted

For topping:
1 egg
1/2 cup coarse grain sugar (100 gr)

In a bowl, cut the cold butter into the flour, sugar and baking powder, until you have pea-sized pieces of butter. Add the egg, liquor or a different flavoring if desired, and knead the contents of the bowl into a dough for a good four to five minutes, until it comes together and holds it shape. The dough should not be too sticky. Form into a log, wrap with plastic foil, or place it in a container, and
refrigerate for an hour.

Remove the dough from the fridge and let it adjust to room temperature to become pliable. Cut off a piece of the log, and roll it thin, about 3mm or 1/8 of an inch. Carefully remove the cookies from the counter and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

When all the cookies are cut, brush them with beaten egg and sprinkle coarse sugar on top. Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 8 minutes until they're golden brown, not pale. Pull the parchment paper with the cookies onto a rack and let it cool - the cookies will harden. These can be stored, when cold, in a biscuit tin or cookie tin.

Makes approx 25 cookies.