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