Merry Christmas everyone!

 Let's get through the next few days unscathed, so we can get ready for oliebollen time!




Korstjes


It snowed yesterday and today. There is something so gezellig about a good snow fall when you're safe at home, something that makes me want to curl up on the couch, grab a book and let the day be the day. Quite a while ago, a reader asked me about a recipe for korstjes. It was mentioned in a book she was reading to her grandchildren, and wondered if I had heard of that particular treat. At the time, I had not but filed it away on the to-do list, and ordered the same book, just in case. 

Fast forward to this year. I was poking around the Albert Heijn grocery store in the north of Holland, when my eye fell on a curious package in the bakery section. "Korstjes" it said, and at first I didn't make the connection. "Korstjes?", I thought, "who wants to buy korstjes?" thinking of the crusts you cut off sandwiches, but when I held the package in my hand I realized I was looking at something much more appetizing, and remembered the request of my reader. Of course they landed in my basket, and am I glad they did! They visually appear to be korstjes, crusts, as they look like they were cut off from something bigger, hence the name, but the flavor and texture is much more akin to taai-taai: a chewy, flavorful spiced type of honey cake. Perfect for this time of the year! 

When I came home, I immediately dug out the book to see where these korstjes are mentioned. The book is called "A Day on Skates" by Hilda van Stockum. I've posted the details on the Dutch Reading page under Children's Books. but here's the part where the korstjes come in. Read for yourself!

"As time went on more and more people came out on the ice, and here and there tents were being erected. Some of these tents had benches in front of them on which tired skaters could rest. There was also the smell of delicious hot cocoa and wafers, with one man calling from a tent door:

"Hot milk and cold cake:
 Sit down to partake."

"Yes, yes, let's," cried Afke. She was hungry, and besides her legs were getting shaky. Some of the boys and girls now complained that their skates were coming loose, so Teacher picked out a nice clean-looking tent and ordered them all to stop. This they did gladly, with a great scraping of skates, and falling onto the wooden benches, they looked at the food on the table with hungry eyes. A fat lady served them, smiling good-naturedly as she lifted the lid from a kettle of steaming cocoa. Everyone got a big cupful and a korstje, which is a little spicy Dutch cake, especially beloved by skaters. They munched, and warmed their hands on the hot cups, while Teacher lit his pipe and puffed away. "

Call it a sign, but with today's snow, the book and the korstjes, I decided it was high time to dig out a recipe, make myself a cup of hot chocolate and curl up on that couch! The dough needs to rest a day, so plan ahead.

Korstjes
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon water (80 ml), divided
1 cup honey (300 grms)
2 1/2 cup rye flour (350 grms)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (3 grms)
2  heaping tablespoons ground anise (15 grms)
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
1 scant tablespoon baking powder (12 grms)
1 small egg, beaten

Put three tablespoons of water aside, and heat up the rest with the honey in a small pan. In the meantime, put the dough hooks on the mixer, or prepare to use your muscles. Best to use a plastic scraper to mix the dough together. 

Mix the warm honey with the flour and the salt, until it comes together into a smooth dough. The dough is going to be pretty tough, so don't let the mixer run too long and strain the motor. Let it cool until it's comfortable to handle, then roll it into a sausage shape, wrap with clingfilm and let it rest for a day at room temperature.

The next day, break the dough into small pieces, put it back in the bowl of the mixer and use the dough hooks to mix in the anise, the rest of the water and the baking powder, until everything has come together. If necessary to make it into a pliable dough, you may need to add a tablespoon of water, but you're looking for something that has the consistency of putty, so don't overwater. This is a tough dough.

Dust the counter with a little bit of flour and roll the dough out into a square, approximately 10 x 10 inches (25 x 25 cm), and about 3/8th inch high (10mm). Cut the dough into three equal strips, and then make marks on the strips every inch or so, but don't cut all the way through the dough. 

Brush the dough with the beaten egg and bake on a silicone mat on, or a parchment covered, baking sheet in a 400F/200C oven in about 15 minutes, or until they're nicely browned. 

After they've cooled, you can break each of the pieces off into individual servings. 

Makes approximately 28 - 30 korstjes. Recipe adapted from Cees Holtkamp's book "Koekje".




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Pindarotsjes

It's the simple things that make life extra special. I was reminded of that again today when I kicked back with a cup of rooibos tea and a stack of Christmas cards, after working on today's recipe, pindarotsjes, chocolate covered peanut clusters. For a great snack, gift or little treat, all it takes is a handful of roasted peanuts, and a bit of chocolate. And patience, mind you, but it's worth the effort, and they make for a great gift. 

I tried to find out when peanuts first came to the Netherlands, but I was unable to find any specific information. The earliest reference I was able to find was in a book from 1866, where the author, Albert Helman, called them "olienootjes", oil nuts, which is a term I heard from the older generation when I was growing up. 

Nowadays we call them "pindas", and boy do we love them! A sandwich with peanut butter (with hagelslag!) is a kid's staple, the equivalent of the American peanut butter and jelly, and we love our French fries with a generous serving of hot peanut sauce. But even earlier than that, peanuts showed up on our collective tables in the form of confectionary. Pralines, toffee and candy bars, all made with peanuts, were very popular, as you can see here in an advertisement from Jamin from 1921, proudly announcing "Peanut Week", and offering a variety of peanut confections for purchase. 

The chocolate confection I made today is called "pindarotsjes". Its name literally translates to "little peanut rocks" and I can't say the imagery is amiss. A small handful of roasted peanuts is folded into tempered chocolate and set aside to harden. You can imagine that this must have been a special treat (and the most expensive one in Jamin's Pinda-Week!). 

Tempering chocolate is not difficult, but it takes a bit of patience, and a steady eye on the temperature. You will need a digital thermometer or candy thermometer to keep track of the temperatures, a bowl for melting and mixing, and a small ice cream scoop (#40) or a couple of spoons to form the treats. I've added some suggestions at the bottom of this post, in case you're looking to expand your kitchen supplies! 

If you heat chocolate too high, it will not set and you will end up with a sticky, gooey chocolate mess. If that happens, I would suggest to blend the whole thing into a paste, and use it on toast. But if you can muster the courage, I would highly recommend trying to master the technique, as it produces beautiful, shiny, snappy chocolate. 

And if you don't like peanuts or dark chocolate, not to worry. This can also be made with almonds, hazelnuts, or even a mix of nuts and dried fruits, as well as with milk or white chocolate - just make sure they're good quality chocolate, with cacao butter. 

Pindarotsjes

10 oz (300 grms) roasted, unsalted peanuts (or any other nut or nut combo you like)

15 oz (450 grms) dark chocolate, chopped and divided

Carefully melt 10 oz (300 grms) of the dark chocolate. You can do this either over a bowl of warm water (make sure no steam or water comes near the chocolate because it will seize up), or at short 30 second intervals in the microwave, stirring regularly. Keep your eye on the temperature of the chocolate but don't let it go above 120F/49C for dark, 115F/46C for milk and 110F/43C for white chocolate. 

Let the chocolate cool down to 82F/28C for dark, 80F/27C for milk, and 78F/26C for white, while stirring gently but frequently - stirring is an important step for the crystals to do their thing. While it cools, cover a baking sheet, or large cutting board with a piece of parchment paper and get your ice cream scoop ready. You can also use a couple of spoons.

When the chocolate has cooled down enough, add the remaining chocolate into the bowl and stir it in. We are going to bring the temperature up to 90F/32C (dark), 86F/30C for milk, 82F/28C for white, the same way you melted the chocolate before. Remember that this time we are only going to bring it up a little bit so use your digital thermometer to keep track! 

When you've reached the intended heat, fold the nuts into the chocolate making sure they're well covered, and scoop out servings onto the parchment paper. You have to work quickly, because the chocolate will set rapidly. 

Once you've scooped all the peanut clusters onto the paper, set it aside to harden. Just at room temperature, or in a cool area of the house, it won't take long to set. The hard part is going to be trying to hide them from the rest of the family ;-)

Makes approximately 24 pieces. 




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Kruidnoten Arretje's Cake

The combination of kruidnoten and chocolate is a winning one - and one that has not gone unnoticed by the Sinterklaas-focused food industry. You can buy chocolate (milk, white and dark) covered kruidnoten, chocolate letters and bars with chunks of kruidnoten, chocolate cheesecake with kruidnoten, kruidnoten tiramisu, and even whole kruidnoten chocolate pies. I am waiting for the kruidnoten chocolate body wash - you know it won't be long now!

But, all craziness on a stick, the sweetness and creamy mouthfeel of a good chocolate does combine really well with the flavorful spices and crunchiness of the kruidnoot, which is why today's recipe is such a no-brainer. For one, it is easy to make, and secondly, there is no need to use the oven so you will not be getting in anybody's way. Yay on both counts!

Kruidnoten are a crunchy little cookie associated with the Sinterklaas period. Arretje's cake is a no-bake chocolate cake that was popularized in the Dutch kitchen because of its easy preparation. Follow the links for more information!

Kruidnoten Arretje's Cake

2 sticks butter (225 grms)
1 cup sugar (200 grms)
7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (40 grms)
1/4 cup heavy cream (60 ml)
2 oz good quality dark chocolate(preferably 80% or higher), chopped into small chunks (56 grms)
About 2 cups kruidnoten (about 50 - recipe in the link)*

Melt the butter, sugar, cocoa, heavy cream and dark chocolate slowly in a sauce pan, until just melted, on low to medium heat. 

Make sure all the sugar has dissolved. If you rub a little bit of the mixture between your thumb and index finger and it feels gritty, the sugar has not yet dissolved.

Take the sauce pan from the stove and let it cool a bit. In the meantime, add the kruidnoten to a bag, or fold them into a clean towel, and roll your rolling pin over the cookies several times. You are looking to break the cookies into pieces. Not too big, not too small. I left them mainly whole for this cake and found it hard to get clean slices when cutting, so will definitely break them up next time. 

When the chocolate in the pan has cooled down, fold the cookies into the chocolate paste until they're all well covered. Line a cake pan with parchment paper or plastic film, spoon the mixture into the pan and flatten it with a spatula, making sure there are no air bubbles.

Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight. Lift the cake out of the pan, and cut into thin slices. This cake is very rich, and pairs best with a cold glass of milk, or some unsweetened tea or coffee.



*If you don't have kruidnoten, or don't have time to bake them, think about using speculaas (windmill) cookies or even stroopwafels, gingersnaps or those Lotus Biscoff cookies. As long as it's a hard cookie, it'll work great!

A creative Sinterklaas tradition!

As you know, the evening of Sinterklaas is almost upon us. December 5th is when the children receive their gifts, either straight from Sinterklaas's hand (the anxiety is almost too much!), or left behind at the front door in a big burlap sack because, you know, he's a busy man and he has so many more homes to visit! 

Dinner is often skipped, but the table will be set with coffee or tea, banketstaaf, and may even have worstenbroodjes (sausage rolls), a warm soup, potato or salmon salad, and other snacks. 
 
After the youngest ones have unwrapped their gifts, nibbled on kruidnoten, drank their hot chocolate and gone off to bed, the adults give their gifts to each other. And here is where it gets to be real fun! 

There are two parts to the gift: one is the surprise (pronounced "sir-PREE-suh") and the other one is the poem. The surprise part is where the giver has taken the time and dedication to build a fun and dedicated wrapping around the gift itself. Not just a piece of pretty paper and a bow, mind you, but a whole construction, sometimes even with moving parts, that hide the real gift. 

This surprise is often reflective of the receiver's hobby, interests or passion. I'll give you some examples: a bird-watcher might receive a handmade papier-maché bird, with a pair of binoculars inside, or a bird book. A fervent baker might find her gift hidden inside a cardboard cake, complete with candles. Here are some other examples I found on Pinterest:




Now, because you are probably a kind and considerate person, you would think that the swimming pool is for a dedicated swimmer, the toolbox for a gifted handyman, and the side-table disguised as a cat for a kitty-lover. Not so fast, reader! Knowing our love for ribbing others or poking fun at their misadventures, these could just as easily be containers for gifts for somebody who failed their swimming diploma for the fifth time, a toolbox for that neighbor that always borrows your tools but never gives them back, or a kitty for somebody who is highly allergic. Those among you who have experienced a Dutch Sinterklaas know what I mean!

The second part is the poem that accompanies the gift. It is usually signed by either Sint or Piet, giving certain anonymity to the writer. This is not a love poem, or a dedication to how well one's behaved over the year, but most probably a gentle fun-poking rhyme about what the surprise represents, or why the gift inside was chosen. The receiver of the gift has to read the poem out loud before opening the gift. 

For example, for the toolbox I found this one here in Dutch. I am posting the translation here: 

Everything neatly together 

A job here, a job there, 
you get to work and it's done. 
But sometimes you have lost the hammer 
and then it takes extra time. 
Or you can no longer find the pliers. 
It is difficult to tie it around your neck! 
Saint hears you cursing under your breath, 
because you're tired of searching! 
So, if you didn't know yet you get a tool box! 
Everything is neatly arranged from now on. 
From combination pliers to earth leakage circuit breaker.

Best,
Sint
 

Of course, this rhymes in Dutch! As you can imagine, the more the evening advances, the more fun is to be had. It is wonderful to see how much dedication and attention people have put into finding that one gift, making the decorations and writing the poem. Aside from the gentle fun-poking, it shows real care and love for the person who the gift was for. It's always nice to get a gift, but it is double so nice if every single detail about it is well-thought out.

If you haven't done gift-giving the Dutch way, maybe this year is a good year to start a new tradition! 


Pannenkoekentaart

It's interesting to see how traditions start out, and how they become engrained in national culture as soon as people run with it. Like this one, for example. On November 29th, many of us celebrate Sint Pannekoek, Saint Pancake. It started out as the brainchild of Jan Kruis, a writer and cartoonist. The story of Saint Pancake first made an appearance in a cartoon episode of the famous Jan, Jans en de kinderen (Jack, Jacky and the Juniors) in 1983, in Libelle magazine. 

Here's how it happened. In the cartoon, Grandpa Gert is staying for dinner, and, while they're cleaning the green beans, granddaughter Catootje confides in him that she doesn't really like beans, but that she loves pancakes. Cunningly, grandpa Gert (Jan's dad) asks Jans what the date is. When she says November 29th, Grandpa proudly proclaims that it's Saint Pancake day! 

According to him, it's an old Rotterdam tradition that they used to celebrate each year when Jan was still a boy at home. Jans exclaims that she loves old traditions and hurries back to the kitchen to start baking a pile of pancakes to surprise her husband. In the meantime, grandpa and Catootje rejoice because the plan succeeded: they are going to have pancakes for dinner instead of green beans! 

Grandpa then explains that, in order to celebrate the tradition correctly, each member of the family places a pancake on their head when the head and exclaims joyfully : "We wish you a happy and blessed Saint Pancake!".

Jan, coming home from work and never having heard from this made-up tradition, wonders if his whole family has gone mad. 

The cartoon has always had a great following, and it wasn't surprising that this new "tradition" was quickly adopted by its fans, and has since become a national movement! People meet up, put the first pancake on their head to wish each other a happy and blessed Saint Pancake day, take pictures and have a grand ole time.  And why not? 

As you know, pancakes are one of our favorite things to eat. Not the American thick fluffy pancakes, but flat, thin pancakes as big as your biggest frying pan, that you can sprinkle with powdered sugar, or smear with butter and jam, or apple syrup, or bake with apple and/or bacon. And we don't have just one pancake celebration day, but two! The other one is on a Friday in March. And of course, we also serve pancakes with split pea soup!

For today, we baked a pannenkoekentaart, a cake made of pancakes, for dessert, and used the remaining batter to bake a small pancake for our head :-). Sweet versions like this one are popular for dessert, filled with jam or fresh fruit. Savory ones can be eaten for dinner warm, where you layer them with caramelized onion, cheese or bacon.

Pannenkoekentaart
2 cups all-purpose flour (300 grms)
2 cups and 2 Tbsp milk (500 ml)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons (30 grms) butter, melted and room temperature
1 tablespoon (15 gms) butter for the frying pan

For the topping:
Flavored fruit yoghurt (I prefer skyr, if you can find it), fresh fruit.

Mix the flour and half of the milk together, whisking out the lumps. Mix in the eggs, then the rest of the milk, the salt and the melted butter, and give it a good whisk to blend it all together. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes. 

Heat the tablespoon of butter in a non-stick pan at medium heat. Pour in 3/4 cup of batter (depends a bit on the size of your pan, mine is an 8 inch) and swirl the pan so that the batter spreads thinly over the whole bottom of the pan. Bake one side for about 2 minutes, then flip over until both sides are golden. Stack them, as you bake them, on a plate. 

When they've cooled down, place the first pancake on the bottom. Slather a thin layer of fruit yoghurt or skyr and fresh berries in between and top with the next pancake. Repeat. At the top, dress with dollops of yogurt, add the rest of the fruit and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Refrigerate until serving. Slice wedges, like a pie, out of the cake. You can also try Nutella with fresh bananas, cherry yogurt with canned cherries, etc etc. Makes about 14 medium size pancakes: 10 for the cake, and four for your head ;-).

Happy and blessed Saint Pancake Day! 



It's also fun to do this for a kid's party: make plenty of smaller pancakes, lay out a table with different kinds of toppings and have the kids make their own pancake cake. In that case, five small pancakes per kid should suffice. 

Kruidnotenbavarois

 "Het heerlijk avondje is gekomen" - the delicious evening has arrived - is a sentence that ties directly back to the evening of the 5th of December, the evening where Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas, bestows upon the Dutch children carefully selected gifts, as a celebratory culmination of the past year's good behavior, songs sung with dedication in front of the open hearth (or central heating, it matters not) and treats left out for the Pieten and for Sint Nicolaas's horse. 

The deliciousness of the evening initially refers to the sweet joy of receiving gifts, and the anxious expectation that one may not indeed receive the "koek", but the "gard". If you were good, you get "koek", if you were bad, well....the "gard" which is another word for "roe", which is a bundle of twigs meant to sweep the chimney with. Nobody wants any of that, I can assure you!

But the deliciousness has also become an evening of sweets and candies, cookies and cake, and many other delectable things. The Pieten throw hands full of kruidnoten and hard candy, we get chocolate letters and probably eat a slice or two too many of the banketstaaf

These kruidnoten are delicious, crunchy little spiced cookies that you will find in abundance these times of the year. We love to snack on them by the handful (fortunately, they're easy and quick to make!) but also love them in more elaborate desserts. So if you're invited to a potluck, need to whip up something traditional Dutch during the holidays, or just want to do something special for yourself or someone you know, give this kruidnotenbavarois a try! Bavarois is a light and airy dairy treat. 

Kruidnotenbavarois

2 Tbsp water

1 envelope Knox gelatin (or 3 leaves)

3 cups heavy whipping cream (720 ml)

1/4 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp regular sugar (85 grms)

2 heaping teaspoons powdered sugar

2 heaping cups kruidnoten (approximately 50)

Put the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it (in case you use leaves, submerge them in bowl with cold water). 

Put two cups of heavy cream into a sauce pan, add the regular sugar and warm it up, just below simmering, while stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves. When the gelatin has bloomed, add it to the cream (or squeeze out the water from the gelatin sheets and dissolve the sheets in the cream), and stir until the gelatin has dissolved. Pull from the stove and let cool to room temperature. 

Whip the remaining cream to big, stiff peaks with the powdered sugar, in a big bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. Rinse out the form you will use, or individual glasses or bowls if you are not planning on inverting it, and place them in the fridge.

While you wait for the cream/gelatin mix to cool down, chop the kruidnoten with a knife into big
chunks. 

Carefully fold the whipped cream into the room temperatue cream/gelatin mix until well distributed, and then fold in the kruidnoten. Remove the mold or the glasses from the fridge, and carefully pour in the contents of your bowl. Cover with cling film, and stick back in the fridge. Will need a good six hours to set up, better overnight. 

If you want to pour out the bavarois, quickly dip the bottom of the mold in hot water, and invert the bavarois onto a plate. Put back in the fridge until you're ready to serve. Decorate with additional kruidnoten or Sinterklaas related treats.

If you use glasses, consider finishing the dessert with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of chopped kruidnoten



Makes about six to eight servings.


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.




Rabarbervlaai

Even though rhubarb has been around for over 5,000 years, it is a relative newcomer to Dutch vegetable gardens, having only been introduced in the early 1900s as an edible option. Before that time, rhubarb had a medicinal function - a strong laxative was made from its roots and stalks. In 1857's volume 7 of De Navorscher, a magazine dedicated to genealogy and heraldry, a small home pharmacy kit was described as containing salves, lavender and rhubarb. A guideline for sea faring folk also listed rhubarb as a strong laxative.

It wasn't until 1600 that they discovered that the stalks could also be eaten. It's not that surprising that it took people so long - anybody who's bitten into a raw stalk of rhubarb will probably remember the intense sourness of the vegetable, and the odd feeling it leaves in the mouth!

Fortunately, a bit of sugar and some heat turns this sourpuss into a delicious compote that can be used as a condiment/vegetable option with savory meats, or as a sweet filling for pies. The redder the stalk, the sweeter (i.e. less sour) the taste. Some varieties, like Victoria, will grow a combination of the two colors, which makes it a very versatile plant. Others like Strawberry, Mammoth Red or Valentine grow red stalks.

Rhubarb vlaai recipes (the Dutch equivalent of pie, made with a yeast dough and traditionally from the province of Limburg) are plentiful, but there isn't one specific, unique recipe. Some families make a crumble vlaai, others top it with a sugared lattice, and some families cut the tang even further by adding slices or chunks of strawberry, or putting the rhubarb filling on top of a layer of sweet custard. Try all the varieties, or come up with your own family favorite - any rhubarb pie is better than no pie at all!

The recipe makes one large pie, or five small ones. I used five 4.75 inch fluted individual pie forms, with a removable bottom, to make the small pies. For one large vlaai, I use a 9 or 10 inch fluted pie or quiche form, also with a removable bottom.

Rabarbervlaai
For the vlaai:
1 1/2 cup AP flour
3/4 stick butter
1/3 cup milk, lukewarm
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
4 cups rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1/2-1 inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup red berry juice, divided
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch

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 saucepan, add the rhubarb, sugar, and 1/2 cup red berry juice (water is okay, too). Stir once and let it come to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. The more you stir, the more the pieces are going to fall apart, so try to stir as little as possible if you want soft chunks. After about 20 minutes of slow simmering, the pieces should be soft. Now, mix the cornstarch with the remaining 1/4 cup juice to make a slurry, and carefully fold this into the pot. Turn up the heat until it boils, then turn it down and when it thickens, turn it off. Set it aside to cool, or save in a container overnight.

Punch down the dough, weigh it and divide the dough into five equal pieces. Roll them into circles large enough to line the pie forms with. Spray or butter the pie forms. Cover the pie forms with cling film and let them 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.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 400F. Spoon the cold rhubarb into the forms. Top with streusel, sliced strawberries or add a lattice from the dough scraps. Bake in the hot oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Remove, let cool and enjoy!




Champignonragout met rijst

A couple of different ways of eating have hit the media lately. I always wonder, with these new diets or food choices, how it is going to affect those of us who like to cook traditional Dutch foods. Fortunately, many dishes translate well: with a LCHF (low carb, high fat) diet you can still enjoy your stamppots, replacing the potatoes with cauliflower, and having juicy sausages, brats or gehaktballen, meatballs. We have good soups that don't need dairy or meat to taste great, such as groentesoep.  Even our national soup, the split pea, or erwtensoep, can be made with a vegetarian choice of smoked sausage.

More and more people are choosing to reduce the amount of meat they eat: whether for health reasons, the environment, their wallet or just because they're curious about trying different recipes or ways to cook. In the Netherlands alone, a 2018 news article from the national Nutrition Center announced that almost half of the Dutch (46%) were trying to eat less meat.

Of course, our cuisine did not always feature meat so frequently as it does now: as with other kitchens around western Europe, meat was only served once or twice a week during the early beginning of the 20th century and did not become more frequent until the 1960s. In order to find something that would meet my own imposed meatless recipe challenge, I went back into the archives of magazines, newspapers and cookery books from before 1950 to find something tasty, flavorful, and easy to make for a Meatless Monday evening.

I struck gold with an article in the 1936 news bulletin of the Women's Electricity Association, the Vrouwen Electriciteits Vereniging, whose aim it was to promote the use of electricity in the household through the publication of a monthly magazine, geared towards women. It featured articles on how to use electrical appliances, how to ensure safety when using multiple outlet extenders, and articles about the many benefits and advantages of electricity in the home. The magazine featured a mushroom ragout, a savory sauce dish, that sounded like just the ticket! I updated it with a few tips and tricks, and it was delicious.

For this particular dish, I chose cremini mushrooms, but you can make it just as well with white button mushrooms, or a mixture of both. You don't have to use regular white long grain rice, as I did: brown rice, wild rice or any of the more exotic black, red or Forbidden will serve just as well. Just follow their specific cooking requirements, as they differ from each other.

Champignonragout met rijst
For the ragout:
1 lb mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil (or butter)
1 shallot, or a small red onion
2 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
Thyme
10 parsley stalks
Cornstarch
Salt and pepper

For the rice:
1 cup regular long grain rice
2 cups water
Salt

If needed, rinse the mushrooms under running water (yes, you can) and slice off the little bottom of the stem if it's too dry. Slice, quarter or cut through the middle as you see fit: but not too small. You want to be able to stab the pieces with a fork.

Use a non-stick pan and heat it to medium heat. Don't add any fat to the pan, just the mushrooms. As we're not going to be using any meat-based stock to the mushrooms, we want to try and get the most "meaty" flavor out of the mushrooms as we can. Let the mushrooms toast in the dry pan, until they're golden and releasing a great flavor. If you're not comfortable with that, use a little bit of olive oil or butter (unless you are vegan) to help aid the process. Remove the mushrooms and set them aside, then add the oil to the pan, add the onion and stir until the onion is caramelized, about five minutes.

Wash the parsley, and cut the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems small and set them aside. Squeeze any water out of the parsley leaves with a paper towel and chop the leaves fine. Add the mushrooms back in the pan with the onions, pour in the stock and the bay leaf and a pinch of thyme. Add in the chopped parsley stalks. Give everything a good stir, and then turn it to low, and cover.

In the meantime, wash the rice two or three times and add it to a small sauce pan. Add the water, a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil on medium heat. Cover, turn to low and let it simmer for ten minutes, stirring once or twice to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. After ten minutes, turn off the rice an leave it covered (no peeking!) and let it sit for another ten minutes. I only do this with long grain white rice and have not tried it with other types of rice, so probably best to just follow directions on the other rices).

Taste the mushroom sauce - adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. To thicken the sauce, I sift a tablespoon of corn starch through a fine mesh strainer over the sauce while stirring. You can also dissolve the cornstarch in a little bit of cold water and stir that into the sauce to thicken it. Cornstarch is gluten-free.

Optional: a tiny splash of white wine, sherry or brandy will add additional flavor to the sauce, provided you let the alcohol cook out.

Right before serving, fluff the rice with a fork and fold in the chopped parsley leaves.

Makes enough for two as a meal serving, or four as a quick appetizer. This is also good over toast (HGHC: high gluten high carb LOL) for breakfast or brunch.






Preisoep

Growing up in the Netherlands, prei, or leeks, was the one vegetable that would show up in my grocery cart with just about every shopping trip. For one, it was a cheap vegetable to buy, and second it would flavor so many foods we made, especially as students. Thirdly, I absolutely love love LOVE prei! Leeks would feature in soups, salads, oven dishes, mashed through potatoes, or as a creamed vegetable by itself - it was filling, flavorful and most of all, affordable.

The only thing that annoyed me beyond belief was the fact that it would stick out of my shopping bag and get in the way of cycling! If you've ever ridden a bicycle in Holland with shopping bags on your stuur, you know exactly what I mean :-)

Leeks are predominantly grown in the provinces of Limburg and Noord-Brabant, as it needs a loose soil to grow best in. The vegetable is blanched as it grows taller by hilling up the soil around it - which also explains why so often leeks have sand inbetween its layers. Its flavor varies from onion-y, when raw, to downright sweet when cooked. It is very versatile vegetable!

Prei is also very healthy: it's loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals and has a slight diuretic effect. All good things, I'd say! For this wintery weather, a cup of hot leek soup with a sprinkle of smoky, crispy bacon bits might be just what you need. Best of all, it's a quick soup to make. With five ingredients, 5 minutes of prep and twenty minutes of cooking, you have a satisfying soup at your disposal.

Preisoep
1 lb floury potatoes
1 large leek
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon cube
4 cups water
8 strips bacon

Peel the potatoes and dice. Cut the root end of the leek, and remove the top dark green/blue layer. We are not going to use this today, but if you rinse, chop and freeze it, it can be used to make a great vegetable stock. Cut the white body of the leek in half, lengthwise, and slice into one inch pieces. Rinse any sand that may be hiding between the layers.

In a saucepan, add four cups of water, the potatoes and the leeks, and a pinch of salt. Add the bouillon cube to the pan, cover and bring to a boil, then turn down medium and boil for 15 minutes. In the meantime, put a skillet on the stove, add the slices of bacon and on a low fire render the fat out of the bacon so that it goes crispy.

After fifteen minutes, check to see if the potatoes are soft. If you like chunky soup, remove a couple of spoons of the vegetables, and add them back in after you've blended the rest. If you prefer it smooth, leave it in and blend the vegetables into a smooth, thick soup. Taste, and see if you need to adjust the seasoning. For a little bit of luxury, stir in one or two spoons of cream.

Drain the crispy bacon on a paper towel and cut into strips. Pour the soup into a bowl, sprinkle the bacon on top, and drizzle one or two teaspoons of bacon fat over the soup (if you want). I always like to give it a good sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, as well.

Makes four servings.