Dutch stamps of traditional Dutch treats

If you receive mail from the Netherlands, you may soon see some tasty postage stamps on the envelope. The Dutch mail service, PostNL, has recently released a new sheet of stamps called "Nederlandse Lekkernijen", or Dutch treats. The stamps have pictures of Bossche bollen, kersenvlaai, stroopwafels, and Zeeuwse bolus, as well as other regional specialties.

What a great way to promote regional products!

What is your favorite lekkernij?


"Ouch!" I sucked the drop of blood off my finger. Sharp thorns dug into my flesh every time I reached for the fruit I wanted to pick. A less determined person would have given up already, but a distant childhood memory of a sweet and tangy vlaai fueled my stubbornness. I had only enjoyed kruisbessenschuimvlaai once but it left such an impression that I was willing to sustain a couple of painful punctures to taste it again!

Kruisbessenschuimvlaai (what a great word for hangman!) is a traditional Limburg pie, with a mixture of slightly sour kruisbessen, or gooseberries, and a topping of meringue. A popular name for kruisbessen can also be stekelbes (prickle berry), knoeper or kroesel, which explains the Limburg name for this pie: "krosjele vlaai". It is possible that the English name for this berry, gooseberry, may  have been a derivative of the Dutch word kruisbes. Who knows!?

Kruisbessen do grow in the wild in the Netherlands, but are also grown commercially, albeit in small quantities. The fact that they are not easy to pick may have something to do with it, but it's also a rather old-fashioned, almost forgotten fruit. Nevertheless, it is fairly easy to plant a small bush or two in your own garden, and they provide generous gatherings, enough for a couple of pies per plant!

Now, typically the meringue will be soft and baked with the pie, but I prefer a crunchy meringue topping, so I baked the top separately. I've posted instructions for both variations. I hope you enjoy this lovely vlaai - it was worthy every pinch, scratch and drop of blood!

For the vlaai dough:
1 1/2 cup AP flour (175 gram)
1 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup milk, warm (110F/43C)
3 tablespoons butter, soft
1 tablespoon sugar
2 egg yolks, or 1 egg
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the filling
2 lbs of gooseberries, washed
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon of corn starch

For the meringue
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar

Knead a dough from the flour, yeast, milk, butter, sugar, egg and salt. Place it in an oiled bowl, cover it and let it rise at room temperature. In the meantime, mix the cinnamon with the breadcrumbs and set it aside.

Remove the stems and the blossom ends of the gooseberries. Place the berries in a saucepan, with just enough water to cover the bottom layer, and slowly bring to a simmer. Carefully stir in the sugar, making sure not to break too many berries. You may want to taste and see if it's not too tangy - if it is, add a bit more sugar. After all, it should be fun to eat this pie, not a punishment!

When the berries are warm and juicy, add a little bit of cold water to the cornstarch and make a slurry. Stir that into the berries and bring the pan back up to a boil, give it a couple of stirs until the whiteness of the cornstarch has disappeared, then turn it off. The cornstarch will thicken the juice and make it easier to use as a pie filling.

Heat your oven up to 400F. Knead the air out of the pie dough, roll it into a circle and line a greased pie pan with it. For this recipe I used a 11 inch wide, one inch high, scalloped pie dish. If your dish is slightly smaller and higher, the recipe will accommodate easily. Dock the dough (use a fork to punch little holes in it) and cover it again for its second rise.

When the dough is puffy and risen, spread the panko mix over the bottom of the dough, and then fill it with the berries. Place it in the oven and bake.

Beat the egg whites and the sugar into a shiny stiff meringue. If you want to have a soft meringue, pull the vlaai out of the oven after 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 300F, spread the meringue over the filling and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the meringue as it colors fast! Pull the vlaai and let it cool.

If you prefer a crunchy meringue like I do, you will need to take one additional step. Let the pie bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 400F, then pull it out of the oven. Lower the temperature of the oven to 175F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper where you've drawn a circle that matches the circumference of the pie pan. Spread the meringue within the circle on the paper, making sure to make it slightly lower in the center. Bake the meringue at 175F for at least an hour, checking toward the end to make sure it has fully dried. If not, leave it in the oven for another 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and let the meringue dry.

When the meringue has cooled and dried, place the disk on top of the pie, cut into slices and serve! Depending on how you generous you cut your slices, this pie will give you 8 to 10 slices.


The dark days before Christmas, my grandmother called this time of the year. The days are short, and the nights are long. But even though we're lacking daylight outside, shouldn't mean we can't make it gezellig, cozy, inside - a cup of hot tea, a couple of cookies....it's easy to do! It's also probably a good day to finish writing those last Christmas cards, if you haven't done so yet. Last year, the Dutch sent 115 million cards for the holiday season. Several of those may have come your way if you still have family and friends in the Netherlands!

Christmas is also linked to great food. Kerststol, gevulde speculaas and a wide array of cookies are served during this time of year, usually accompanied by a good cup of coffee or tea. One of those traditional cookies are kerstkransjes, or Christmas cookie wreaths, which are a typical sight in Dutch Christmas trees. Sprinkled with sugar, decorated with slivered almonds, round, scalloped, chocolate,...they come in a variety of shapes and flavors, but always with a little hole in the middle so you can tie it to a branch of the tree.

For today, I baked some kerstkransjes with slivered almonds, called amandelkransjes. Some will go in my tree on a pretty red ribbon, but I've primarily made them to give to a neighbor who could use some extra cheer this time of year.

The dough is easy and quick to put together, and the cookies bake in fifteen to twenty minutes. These happen to be scalloped, but you can cut out stars, trees, or snowmen - and it's an easy and fun project to do with kids.

Sprinkle with colored sugar, add some cocoa or cinnamon to the recipe, or you might even dip the cookies in chocolate. They also make a great gift during these holiday times. The recipe makes approximately twenty cookies.

1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons butter, cold and diced
1 sachet vanilla sugar (or 2 teaspoons vanilla essence)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 to 3 tablespoons cold milk
1 egg, beaten

For decoration: slivered almonds and granulated sugar

Mix the flour with the salt, the sugar and the baking powder. Carefully knead in the cold butter, then add in the vanilla, lemon zest, and two tablespoons of milk. If the mixture is too dry, add in another tablespoon of cold milk at a time. Knead everything into a pliable dough, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for an hour, to let the flavors blend.

Roll the dough out on a lightly dusted counter, to about a quarter inch, or half a centimeter thick, thicker if you like chewy, thinner if you like crisp cookies. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place a piece of parchment paper or a silicone mat on a baking sheet. Use a drinking glass, or a cookie cutter of any shape, to cut out the cookies. Use the end of an apple corer or a large straw to poke a hole in the middle of the dough. When all cookies are cut and cored, place them on the parchment paper, brush lightly with egg and sprinkle sliced almonds and sugar on top. Bake on the middle rack until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool on a rack. Now you can either pack these cookies in a cute cookie tin, or cut ribbons (10 inch) and thread through the hole, then put a knot in it and decorate your tree or wreath.

Merry Christmas everyone!


The early days of December always hold much joy and excitement in the heart of the Dutch, old and young - it is Sinterklaas time! A full twenty days ahead of Santa Claus, on December 5th, Sinterklaas delivers presents and goods to all, and the days are filled with plenty of sweets. This is the time of year when you may get speculaasbrokken or a piece of banketstaaf with your cup of coffee, or if you're really lucky, a piece of gevulde speculaas!

Sinterklaas time is also the time that the children get to "set" their shoe by the fireplace or backdoor. The shoe is filled with straw and a carrot for the horse Amerigo, and often has a written letter to Sint with a request for presents. The shoe is always set out right before going to bed. As you can imagine, the next morning is a mad dash to make it to your shoe first, so that you can see what Sint or his helper Piet have left you in return! It's often a small token - a mandarin orange, a small gift or, if you're lucky, a chocolate letter.

In the old days, according to this source, gifts would be covered with a sheet, instead of individually wrapped. A letter made from bread would indicate what presents would be for which child. Later, these letters became chocolate letters and can still be found in all the letters of the alphabet, so that there is a letter for everybody.

The most popular letter is the letter M, not in the least because the perception is that it has the most chocolate....but one look at the weight of both an I and an M reveal that both letters hold exactly the same amount of chocolate. For some reason, the facts don't matter: an M still seems like a better deal than an I!

For those of us that live abroad, it can sometimes be difficult to find chocolate letters so that we can continue the tradition with our families, or the stores we order from have run out or don't have the letters we need anymore. So let's make our own!

Making your own chocolate letters* is really very easy: all it takes is chocolate, a little bit of butter ( 1 oz per 4 oz of chocolate) and all the sprinkles and edible cake decorations you can find. It would be a great afternoon activity to do with the kids and let them decorate their own letters.

Chocolade letters
For approximately 8 small letters
Chocolate, 1 lb
Butter, 4 oz (room temperature)

Melt 12 oz of chocolate over a pot with warm water, or in the microwave, but be careful to not overheat or burn the chocolate. Dark chocolate should not surpass 118F (48C) and milk chocolate should not get hotter than 113F (45C). Remove the pot from the heat and stir the remainder of the chocolate into the melted chocolate to bring down its temperature to between 86F and 88F (30 to 31C). Be careful to not have any water or steam get to the chocolate - it will seize up. (More info on tempering chocolate here).

When all the chocolate has melted, whip the butter airy and fluffy until it turns white, then stir in the chocolate. Place a piece of parchment paper on the back of a baking sheet, and tape it down. Slide your printed letters under the paper. Prepare a piping bag with a star tip, and fill the bag.

Now pipe the letters onto the parchment paper. You can pipe high or double for thicker, higher letters, or do a single pass. If you don't like how you piped it, you can remove the chocolate and add it back to the bag. If the chocolate spreads too much because it's still too warm, put it back in the bag and wait a little bit longer.

You have a bit of time before the chocolate starts to set. Decorate the letters with edible glitter, kruidnoten or chocolate chips for the kids, or go for grownup flavors like a dusting of chili powder, pistachios or sea salt. Place the letters, after they're done, in a cool area to set up: it will take about two hours. You can then wrap them, or eat them :-)

*The easiest letters to pipe are the S and the O, but if you're adventurous or experienced, definitely try different shapes. I printed out the letter S in Calibri font at 520 points so that it would match the traditional small chocolate letter of 4.5 inches by 3. The large letters measure 6 x 4 inches.