One of the many strengths of our diverse kitchen are the local and regional specialties. Here I thought that, especially for the evening of Sinterklaas, I had covered all the food traditions: gevulde speculaas, taai-taai, kruidnoten and chocoladeletters. Imagine my surprise when I learned yesterday that in the province of Brabant, more specifically in and around the town of Veghel, Sinterklaas evening is not complete unless anijskrollen appear on the table.

These anijskrollen, anise curls, are soft and tender white rolls, flavored with both ground anise and anise seed. People eat them buttered and layered with speculaas cookies, and with a mug of hot chocolate. Bakers in a twelve mile radius around Veghel start baking these krollen, presumably so called because the knot in the roll represents the curl in St Nicholas's crosier, right around the time the kermis makes it to Veghel in September, and continue to bake them until Carnaval, usually in February. The busiest time around these rolls is Sinterklaas, where local bakers sell thousands of the rolls a day. For many Veghel-ers and surrounding areas it's just not Sinterklaas without them!

It is not clear when this tradition began, or why it is limited to just this particular region. Some people say that the anijskrollen have been sold in this area since the middle of the 19th century and found their origin in Veghel, but I have been unable to verify that claim. But the fact of the matter is that it is a popular practice now, and that many of those that were reared in this region or with this tasty tradition, consider it to be an important part of their Sinterklaas celebrations. So be it then, that tomorrow on Sinterklaas eve, we'll be gathered around the fireplace, ready to unwrap our presents, with a speculaas stuffed anijskrol in hand and hot chocolate within reach. Because, just because we weren't raised in this particular region of the country, shouldn't mean that we can't embrace new traditions and add them to our family's customs. Especially when it concerns these lovely, soft fluffy buns!

If you can't find ground anise, just double up your amount of anise seeds, or crush one teaspoon of anise seeds in a mortar and pestle or your spice grinder. If you want a sturdier bun, you can also substitute 1 1/2 cup of all purpose for whole wheat flour.

4 cups all purpose flour (500 grms)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (7 grms)
1/4 cup sugar (50 grms)
1 egg
4 tablespoons butter (50 grms), room temperature
1 3/4 cup lukewarm milk (300 ml)
1 teaspoon ground anise
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Sprinkle the yeast on top of the lukewarm milk (<110F/43C), and let it proof. In the meantime, mix the flour with the sugar and the anise and cinnamon. Add the milk when the yeast is proofed, the egg and the butter and knead it into a cohesive dough. Cover and let it rise for 30 minutes. Punch the dough down, and measure out 3 oz pieces. Roll each into a ball. You should be able to get 10 -12 rolls out of the mix.

Now take each dough ball and roll it into a rope, about 7 inches long and tie it into a knot. Tuck one end of the rope under the roll, and have the other end come out on top. Grease a baking form (either square 9 x 9, or a 9 inch round springform cake pan) and place the knots in the pan. Cover and let them rise, at room temperature, for 50 minutes or until they are doubled in size and puffy. Heat the oven to 400F and bake the rolls for 15 minutes, or until their internal temperature registers 190F/88C and rising.

After they've cooled, wrap in plastic to keep them soft.

Recipe adapted from the Nederlands Bakkerijmuseum Het Warme Land - a must visit if you can!

Hemelse Modder

Today, we're making a traditional chocolate dessert that comes with a unique name. Hemelse modder, heavenly mud, is a name that evokes images of cute little piggies rolling around in unctuous, chocolatey pools of sweet sludge, chocolate clay, divine get my drift. Or maybe that's just me :-) but let's face it: don't those two words sound at least intriguing and worth exploring, spoon in hand?

Chocolate, in its many forms, is no stranger to the Dutch. It is rumoured that the Spanish Duke of Alva introduced chocolate to the Netherlands, during his stay from 1566 to 1573. At the time, it was only consumed as a beverage which the Dutch called "seculatie", and served in coffee houses. 

But chocolate never really left once it arrived, and although surrounding countries like England, France and Germany pioneered the implementation of the cacao bean into other products, Dutch merchants controlled virtually the entire trade in cocoa beans. Amsterdam developed into the most important cocoa port in the world and several well known chocolate companies, such as Blooker and Van Houten got their start during these times. 

This last one, Van Houten, made an extremely significant mark in the global chocolate history. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. Not satisfied with that development, a few years in 1828, he created a press to remove the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation introduced the modern era of chocolate. Known as "Dutch cocoa", this machine-pressed chocolate was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form. 

With such an important role in our own economy, and that of the world, it is no surprise that chocolate in its many forms plays an important factor in our food history. We have chocolate for breakfast, in the form of hagelslag, chocolate sprinkles, or chocolate paste on our morning bread, a cup of hot chocolate to warm us up during cold skating days, and chocolate vla for dessert after our warm evening meal. And that is without mentioning bonbons, chocolate bars, candy bars and many other candies and confectionery that includes chocolate. Who doesn't look forward to the chocolate letter in their shoe for Sinterklaas? According to Forbes, the Dutch consume at least 10 lbs of chocolate per year, right above Americans who clock in at 9.5 lbs a year.

Which brings us right back to our recipe: hemelse modder, chocolate mousse. It's a rich, creamy dessert that can often be found on the dessert menu of Dutch restaurants, or made at home for special occasions. The traditional recipe calls for egg whites and egg yolks to be mixed in with melted chocolate. Delicious...but also a bit of a health hazard, as the eggs are not fully cooked. This recipe omits the eggs and uses whipping cream instead - and is surprisingly light, moussy and chocolatey. And best of all, it will be safe to eat!

Once you've made it and tried it, see if you can make it your own: add a splash of vanilla, maybe some cinnamon, or a pinch of chili. It's good by itself but there is no reason why you can't personalize it. Have fun! Makes approximate four cups of mousse.

Hemelse Modder
2 cups (472 ml) heavy whipping cream, divided
8 oz ( 225 grm) semi-sweet or dark chocolate
2 tablespoons sugar (or more, if you like it sweeter)
Raspberries or other fresh fruit, optional

Slowly warm half of the heavy whipping cream with the chocolate on the stove, stirring, until the chocolate is just melted. There is no need to bring it up to high heat, just warm will be enough to melt the chocolate.

Set aside to cool. When it's cold, whip the rest of the cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the cold chocolate mixture into whipping cream, trying to not loose any air. Slowly pour the mixture into serving dishes (you can also use mugs, bowls or glasses), cover each one with plastic wrap or cling film and return to the fridge to set up. It should take about an hour and a half, to two hours, to set up.

Decorate with a dollop of whipped cream, fresh fruit or chocolate sprinkles, whip out your favorite spoon and enjoy!!!!

Rode Bessensaus

In a traditional Dutch household, as soon as dinner is over, the plates are cleared (although some families will also use their dinner plate for dessert, so as to save washing more dishes!) and the various cartons of vla, yogurt, pudding or pap make their way to the table. Very often, a variety of choices are available as each family member tends to favor one flavor of another: I for one loved hopjesvla, but could also appreciate a creamy vanillevla or chocoladevla!

Together with the dairy cartons, a smaller glass bottle will make its appearance. It contains a thick, red liquid. Now watch the people at the table. As the bottle is passed from one person to the other and makes its way around the table, those that have not yet been able to pour some of its contents on their dessert, guard it closely to make sure nobody takes more than their share, and that there is something left for them! And no wonder, because this small bottle holds Tova, a puddingsaus, also known as "toversaus", magic sauce, because of its name and its possibilities to change your dessert into something even better!

Image result for tova dessertsaus
Source: Albert Heijn
Nowadays, Tova puddingsaus is called dessertsaus, and is meant specifically for that: ice cream, vla, pap, yogurt and even pancakes. Tova has been around for almost a hundred years and is still popular today. It used to be produced by the De Betuwe fruit company from Tiel, where Flipje the mascot came from. Nowadays, Tova is produced by the international Hero company.

The sauces used to come in many flavors: strawberry, cherry, chocolate, banana.....but the most favorite sauce tended to be the red berry sauce, rode bessensaus. It was sweet and slightly acidic at the same time, perfect for cutting through sweet dairy desserts, and often specifically served with farina pudding, griesmeelpudding or buttermilk pudding, karnemelkpudding. Nowadays, Hero limits its production to strawberry, raspberry, caramel and chocolate.

Bessensaus is traditionally made from aalbessen, fresh red currants (ribes rubrum), but can also be prepared with a mixture of red currants, strawberries or raspberries, if currants are hard to come by.

4 cups freshly picked currants (about 450 grams)
1/4 cup water (60 ml)
1/4 cup sugar ( 85 grams)
1 vanilla bean (optional

Pick the stems from the currants, wash the berries and add them to a thick bottomed pan with the 1/4 cup of water, sugar and the vanilla bean. After ten minutes, remove the vanilla bean, split it down the middle and scrape the seeds out. Return the seeds to the pan, as well as the remainder of the vanilla bean. Simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, until the berries have softened and released their juice.

Remove the vanilla bean. Pour the berries and the liquid into a sieve and use a spatula or wooden spoon to squash the berries through the sieve into a bowl. The seeds and skins remain in the sieve, and you should have a thick berry sauce in the bowl. If the sauce is too watery, return it to the pan and reduce it, or thicken it with a little bit of cornstarch. If you dip a spoon into the sauce and are able to draw a line on the back of the spoon with your finger, it is thick enough.

Taste the sauce and decide if you want it sweeter. If so, add a bit more sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. You can now freeze* the sauce, or keep it in the fridge, but no longer than ten days. With any sign of spoilage such as mold, discoloration or bubbly foam, discard the sauce immediately.

Makes approximately 2 cups (500 ml) of sauce, depending on reduction.

* I split the sauce between several small freezer jam jars and keep the sauce in the freezer. I only pull a small jar at a time and let it thaw in the fridge before using it for dessert. This will help keep your product fresh.


Easter always leaves me with a number of boiled eggs in the fridge. They're either left over from the egg hunt, from Easter breakfast and brunch, or from me just boiling a bunch of eggs because...well, because it's Easter. And with Easter, we have eggs. Lots of 'm.

It's not entirely accidental that I end up with an overload of boiled eggs.....because I love, love, love egg salad! I eat it on roggebrood for breakfast, for lunch with slices of tomato, cucumber and with pickles, or if there is any salad left, as a midnight snack with a couple of crackers. It started out as a way to use up the leftover eggs (yay Dutch thrift!), and now it's become a tradition, a little treat, that I look forward to every year.

Of course, as a Dutch person, I am not unfamiliar with eggs. We eat boiled eggs with our breakfast, use eggs for our slagroom cakes, make eierkoeken from Brabant, and use the whites for Haagse bluf dessert. One of our traditional drinks, advocaat, is also made from eggs. Eggs also replace meat during Lent meals, and even is the main ingredient in dishes like Kamper Steur and uitsmijters. According to this article, the Dutch consume almost 200 eggs a year - and after seeing how many dishes involve egg, I am not surprised!

And we do love our prepared salads! Ham salad, celery, shrimp, chicken curry, egg salad....there's a large variety of ready made salads that you can buy from the grocery stores, supermarkets or even at the butcher's or the fish stall. It's considered gezellig if, in the evening, when everybody is gathered around the television, or playing a board game, to bring out a board with several salads, a piece of paté or liverwurst and several crackers to enjoy these treats!

If you are starting this recipe from scratch, add the eggs to a pan of cold water. Bring to a rolling boil, put a lid on the pan and shut off the heat. Leave the eggs in the water for a good 10-12 minutes, then pour off the hot water and shock the eggs with cold water. Place them in the fridge if you are planning on using them later: eggs can be boiled up to two days in advance and be kept in the fridge for up to a week. Boiled eggs can be kept out of the fridge for a maximum of two hours, according to the CDC.

8 eggs
4 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
1 spring onion
1 teaspoon mustard

Peel the boiled eggs and cut them down the middle, lengthwise. Pop the yolks into a separate bowl. Chop the egg whites into small cubes. Break up the yolks finely with a fork, then stir in the mayonnaise and one tablespoon of heavy cream or milk. Mince the white part of the onion, and a little bit of the green, and stir that into the egg yolk mixture together with the mustard. Give it all a good stir. Now taste, and decide how much salt and pepper you'd like to add, if any.

Carefully fold the creamy yolk mix with the chopped egg whites. Taste again, to see if you need to adjust the salt and pepper. If not, you're set! Finish with sprinkling a little bit of chopped green from your spring onion tops.

This is the basic recipe for egg salad. You can substitute the cream for yogurt, only add half the mayo and half sour cream, add chopped pickles, shredded apple, or dust it with paprika or curry, fold in tiny cubes of ham, add more mustard, put a splash of sriracha in's up to you!

Makes enough for four generous sandwiches.


Today, March 14th, is Pi Day. I usually pay little attention to all these "Today-is-Fill-In-The-Blank-With-A-Food-Name-" days. Should not every day be pie day?!  So, initially I had not planned to write about this mathematical merriment, until I realized there was a Dutch connection. If the pie part did not catch my attention, the Dutch link surely did. Read on!
So, the first calculation of  π was carried out by the Greek mathematician Archimedes somewhere around 250 BC, who determined it to be 3 and a little bit after the comma, more accurately speaking "less than 3 1/7 but greater than 3 10/71". Over the next several centuries, other digit crunchers added more numbers to his initial calculation. 

The big breakthrough happened in 1600, when Ludolph van Ceulen calculated the first 35 digits of  π. This mathematician and fencing instructor, a German-born Dutchman, spent most of his life calculating the numerical value of the number pi, and even having it named after him (Ludolphian number), and writing papers and books about it. His amazing 35-digit approximation to pi is even engraved on his tombstone in Leiden. 

How interesting is that! Not having enough to do with calculating numbers, raising kids and teaching fencing, Van Ceulen also spent time posing problems and solutions to other mathematicians. One of these challenged peers was called Goudaen (meaning from the city of Gouda), of which you can read more here.  

So while I was trying to figure out who this Goudaen is, I was distracted by something else. It appears that the city of Gouda happens to house the oldest herberg, or inn, known in the provinces of South Holland. The hotel is called De Zalm (The Salmon). It was established in 1522 and back then was called De Ouden Salm. It had a gilded salmon on the top of its roof that blew off during a storm but that has been restored to its former glory since.

Never mind the salmon....imagine my surprise when I learned that Kralingseveer, by Rotterdam, housed the busiest and largest salmon auction during the 1800s and 19th century. Apparently, our rivers were riddled with salmon during that time! Who knew?! After the industrialization, the rivers in the Netherlands became too polluted and the salmon pretty much disappeared, which was around 1890. The fish auction at the Kralingseveer was finally demolished in 1932 because there was no more salmon to auction off. Sad, sad, sad state of affairs.

So in honor of Pi day and as a tip of the hat to Ludolph van Ceulen I am celebrating with a warm, fishy salmon pie for lunch. It's different from Aaltje's recipe from 1857 which used pistachios and fresh salmon. Our salmon pie used to be an easy-to-make, safe standby for many long study nights during my college years, and was typical fare for many of us surviving on a budget during those years. Nowadays, it has practically disappeared from the student's culinary scene, much like the salmon from the rivers. Which is a shame really, it's worth a shot! Some people add pineapple and corn, but I prefer this rather simple approach. 

Zalmtaart is also good eaten cold for lunch, with a glass of cold milk.  

1 can of pink or red salmon (14.75 ounces)
1 package Boursin cheese with garlic and fresh herbs (5.2 oz)
1 small shallot
1 tablespoon bread crumbs
3 tablespoons red and green pepper dice (or small can of Southwestern corn)
3 eggs
1 sheet puff pastry
Fresh parsley

Drain the salmon and break the meat into big pieces, picking out the skin and bones. Beat eggs with half of the cheese. Chop the shallot and fold into the eggs. Roll the thawed puff pastry out in 9 inch pie form, poke holes in pastry with a fork, and cover with 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs or panko. Distribute the salmon chunks over the bottom, and pour eggs on top. Break the rest of the cheese over the egg. Lastly sprinkle the bell peppers on top, or the drained corn if you're using it.

Heat the oven to 400F and bake the salmon pie in 20 minutes until done (the egg will be solid). You may finish it under the broiler to add some color to the top. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley just before serving. 

Makes 8 slices.