Dutch Baking

"Coffee with... homemade apple pie"
announces a sign for a café at
the Albert Cuyp market.
The Dutch have an incredible sweet tooth and a very fond affection towards all things baked, whether it's bread, cookies, pies or cakes: enter any grocery store and you will see shelf after shelf of cookies, cakes and sweet breads. For such a small country as the Netherlands, the variety of baked goods is incredibly large and rich in ingredients and history.

Traditional cookies are speculaas (spice cookies) or volkoren biskwietjes (whole grain cookies) for your standard run-of-the-mill four o'clock cookie. But if you have company or want to treat yourself to something nice, the options are endless. Buck feet, or bokkepootjes (meringue with creamy filling and almonds), froufrous (vanilla wafers) or Jodenkoeken (butter cookies), Arnhem girls, gevulde koeken.....

Cookies or a slice of pound cake are served at tea/coffee time, i.e. coffee at eleven in the morning, tea at four in the afternoon and very often, coffee again at eight o'clock at night. It is said that the Dutch are tight-fisted and will reluctantly offer you one cookie, slamming the lid on the jar as soon as you've made your choice. I have never experienced that, and it is most certain not a custom in my household.

For any festive occasion, the Dutch will celebrate with "koffie en gebak", coffee and cake. Birthdays, graduations, promotions, births....but also a morning shopping at the local market, or because company is coming over, or because it's a good hair day. Any excuse is good enough to sit down at a local café or at your own kitchen table with a carefully selected baked item! Neighborhood cafés usually specialize in making their own appeltaart, apple pie, which is proudly proclaimed on their street signs.

Cookies vary in shape, size, flavor, ingredients and price but they do tend to have one quality in common: they have to be dunkable. One out of three people dunk their cookie in their coffee or tea and it is commonly accepted. This is called "soppen". It's not that the Dutch have bad teeth, some cookies just taste better when dunked in hot tea or coffee!

Whipped cream cakes (slagroomtaarten) and a dazzling variety of mini-cakes called gebakjes such as Bossche bol, bananensoes, tompoes etc, are the traditional treat for celebrations. The more average pound cake, just called cake, is either vanilla or a light citrus flavor. Sometimes it's marbled with chocolate. Other cakes include schuimtaarten (with a meringue center).

Pies such as vlaaien, are often the specialty of one particular province in Holland: the most southern province, Limburg. These pies are flat, wide and use a yeast dough instead of a pastry crust. To show the fruit filling, most vlaaien will have a lattice of dough. Other vlaaien are kruimelvlaai (pastry cream and streusel), rijstevlaai (sweet rice pudding filling) or flavored bavarois. Vlaaien are sold either by the whole (divides into 12 slices) or by the slice as a small pastry with your coffee.

Holland's bread culture is huge. Two meals a day are pretty much considered "bread meals", traditionally that is breakfast and lunch. Two to four slices of bread, or a couple of rolls, and a wide variety of bread toppings, ranging from savory to sweet make it easy to have a varied meal. On the weekends, breakfast is usually a little more extensive, with perhaps some added raisin rolls, luxury breads and an egg or two.