As you can imagine, I do a lot of reading. Cookbooks, history books, and anything else that can help me dig deeper into our Dutch food culture and our traditions. And very often I can find background information that helps me place a dish in a certain province or timeline. But the information for today's dish, Vijfschaft, eludes me. For one, there are as many variations as there are recipes. The only constant is the main ingredients: potatoes, carrots, onion, apple, beans. Secondly, it is said to be a typical dish from Utrecht...but I can't find the source. I've gone back as far as 1769 but there is no mention. Every recipe intro says the same thing: the name is unknown, it is eaten during the time of year when there was not much left of the foods stored over the winter, it was eaten during the time that there was not much farming to be done (i.e. winter), and the name "vijf" (five) either refers to the five main ingredients or dinner time, and the word "schaft" (worker's meal break) indicates the worker nature of the dish.

I can see why this dish would be suitable for workers: it is loaded with carbs which provide plenty of energy. The ingredients are also easily found and prepared: apples, onions, potatoes, and carrots are ingredients for many a stamppot, and brown beans are the main ingredient for a delicious soup. 

Because I can't really vouch for the recipe's origin, background, regional impact, or significance, there is a good side: we can make the recipe our own, and nobody can tell us we're doing it wrong :-)  The premise of the dish is that the five cooked ingredients are added to a deep bowl or dish, seasoned with salt and pepper. The two main variations seem to be that you can: 

- boil all the ingredients in bouillon or water.

- fry the onions and the apples in butter, boil the potatoes, beans, and carrots. 

From here on out, it's a free for all. You can mash the boiled ingredients roughly, with a bit of butter and some of the cooking liquid, warm milk, or appelmoes and eat it like a coarse stamppot. You can leave the vegetables whole and serve it with the cooking liquid (more like a stew), or thicken the cooking liquid and season it with mustard and pour it over before mixing it in. Or you can serve it with a dollop of butter or mayonnaise. You can also add rookworst, smoked sausage, and/or bacon. See what I mean? Many variations of the same dish - so it's all up to what you prefer! As for me, I like it two ways: either hot, with smoked sausage, with a mustard sauce, or cold the next day, chopped up and mixed with mayo, more like a potato salad. Below is the recipe for the hot dish. Serves 4. 

Utrechtse Vijfschaft

4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 vegetable bouillon cube

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 small can brown or red kidney beans (approx.8 oz/ 250 grams), drained and rinsed

1 smoked rope sausage

1 large onion

1 large apple

2 tablespoons (30 grams) butter

2 tablespoons mustard

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Salt, black pepper

Bring the potatoes to a boil in enough water to cover, with the bouillon cube for about 10 minutes. Turn to simmer, and add the carrots, the rinsed beans, and the smoked sausage and slow boil for 10 minutes more. Check to see if the potatoes are done, then drain, but reserve a cup (250 ml) of the cooking water. 

In the meantime, peel and slice the onion in rings, core the apple, and slice into 8 slices. Melt the butter in a skillet and brown the onions, for about ten minutes on low-medium heat. Add the apple slices and fry them brown on each side, for about five minutes. Turn off the heat and set it aside. 

Mix the cornstarch with a tablespoon of cold water. Bring the cooking water to a boil, mix in the cornstarch slurry and stir until it thickens, about a minute. Turn down the heat and stir in the mustard. Taste to see if you'd like a stronger mustard taste, if so add another tablespoon. 

Mix the potatoes, carrots, beans, fried onions, and apple in a large bowl. Taste and see if you need to adjust the salt. Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper over the dish. Serve the warm mustard sauce on the side, together with the sliced sausage. 


Haarlemmer Halletjes

This week's cookie falls knee-deep into the category of "koffiekoekjes": thin, crisp, spiced cookies that don't look all that special, but that make a cup of coffee or tea a memorable occasion: they dunk well, taste delicious, and make you reach for just one more. Sometimes they don't even get a name, they're just called "koffiekoekjes" or "theekoekjes", but today's cookie does have a name: Haarlemmer Halletjes. 

An advertisement in the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant from January 3rd, 1711, states that "Eymert van der Schee, who lives in Haarlem in the Korte Veerstraet in the house called "Het Halletje"*, where the Halletjes Biscuits were first baked, and from where they have received their name, announces that these Halletjes Biscuits are nowhere else as good as those obtained from him. They are soo delicate and durable lasting, good for 5, 6 and more years, without the slightest change; whereby they, after all, could be sent to all distant lands.  Those who want to purchase these Halletjes Biscuits can do so at the aforementioned house.”

It is fair to say that Eymert was no fool: by placing an advertisement claiming that his cookies were the real deal, all the other bakers in town were immediately labeled as copy-cats. However, it should be said that Van Der Schee was probably not the original inventor of the recipe, as one Claas Jacobs baked from that same house 150 years earlier cookies under the same name. 

Nevertheless, the Haarlemmer Halletjes became famous, were indeed shipped all over the world, and are still, to this day, a must-have treat when visiting the beautiful city of Haarlem. 

Fortunately, you can also bake these at home! The following recipe is good for about 30 to 40 cookies. They will not last as long as "5, 6 and more years, without the slightest change" per Van Der Schee's statement, mainly because everybody will be able to smell them a mile away and will be wanting to know what you're up to. Just do as I do: hand out 30, and keep 10 behind. Baker's treat ;-) 

Haarlemmer Halletjes

1 1/2 cup (185 grams) all-purpose flour

4 1/2 tablespoons (65 grams) butter, cold

3/4 cup (115 grams) brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup (60 ml) water

In a bowl, add the flour. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and mix in the flour with the brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves, and the baking powder. By hand, rub the mix together until it resembles wet sand, then add the water and knead into a pliable dough, for about three minutes. The dough should come loose from the bowl and your hands. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and rest in the fridge for 1 hour. 

Remove from the fridge. Let the dough sit out for about ten minutes, then break off a piece and roll it between two sheets of plastic (I usually cut up a large 2 gallon ziploc bag for this), or dust the counter lightly with a bit of flour and roll the dough out, to about 1/8 of an inch (3 mm). Use a cookie cutter about 2 to 3 inches in diameter (6 - 8cm) (or square, it doesn't really matter, pick a shape you like!), and cut out the cookies. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat, and place the cookies on the sheet. Heat the oven to 375F/190C and bake the cookies, about 12- 14 minutes, on the middle level in the oven. 

Cool on a rack, and they will crisp up as they cool. Do plenty of tasting unless you are home alone because they will be gone before you know it! 

Sources: Bakkers in Bedrijf, Delpher

*In Haarlem, houses were often named, like The Orange Flowerpot, the Scissors, The Three Sugar Loaves, or Het Halletje, as we saw here, so the people who lived there could say " I am Jan Janszoon from The Orange Flowerpot". I bet that, in a city with hundreds of Jan Janszoons, it would be a welcome way to determine who was who! The houses often showed their name through colorful placards hanging from the facade. It must have been quite a sight! 

Riefkook (Reibekuche)

When I was young, like many other Dutch families we used to stay on a camping in northern Limburg during the summers. It was a kid's dream, and we still talk about those times when I meet up with other campers of those days. We had a big swimming pool, a large play area with lots of equipment to climb on, in, or fall out of, miniature golf, and plenty of trees to get lost among. But the best thing about going to the swimming pool was not the swimming or the pool itself, it was the small fry shack right outside the fence. 

To this day, when I catch a whiff of french fries, it reminds me of that small frietkraam. Actually, what I remember is just a sliding window, with a hand sticking out, handing a cone of french fries to whoever was next in line. I couldn't tell you who worked there, what it looked like on the inside, or even what the color on the outside was. But I have one very distinct memory, one that hasn't left me since then. One day, I am on my way back from swimming. I am about 8 years old. I have enough change with me to get a cone of fries, and I am looking forward to getting my jaws around those hot, golden fries. Super excited I stand in line, waiting my turn to order and when I reach the window, I said "eine patat mét, astebleef" (one portion of fries with mayo, please), and hand over the contents of my sweaty little fist. 

"Det is neet genóg", says a voice. I freeze. What? Not enough? I must have lost some of the coins on the way! He must have had pity on me because he says "wach effe" and hands me a paper cone with something hot inside. I step aside and look. In the paper cone is a golden yellow disk, flat but big and round. A riefkook! And my disappointment turns into delight: one bite of that crispy, salty, shredded potato patty was like biting into a fistful of french fries at once: delicious!!! 

So strong are food memories that, forty-some years later, I still remember biting into that riefkook. It's an insignificant memory but still, it's there. Now, I suspect that if you did not grow up in Limburg, or on the border with Germany, you may not be familiar with riefkook. It's called reibekuchen in German, and they are fried potato patties, made from shredded potato, egg, flour, and onion. In Limburg, you can find these all over the frietkramen, the french fries places. They're not often served with anything, like mayo or mustard, but I can tell you that they're delicious with a dab of applesauce! Riefkook are usually eaten as a snack, but there is no reason why they could not replace your hashbrowns at breakfast time, or be a potato variation for dinner. Go for it!


1.5 lbs (750 grams) potatoes
1 medium-sized onion
2 eggs
1/4 cup (30 grams) flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and shred them on the side of the box grater with the large holes. Put the grated potato in a colander, and give them a quick rinse. Squeeze out the water and set aside to drain. Mince the onion. Get a large frying pan and add enough oil to cover the bottom. 

Squeeze the potatoes again and get rid of the liquid. Mix the potatoes with the shredded onion, the eggs, the flour and the salt and pepper. Mix well. Prepare a platter with a few paper towels on the side, and get two spatulas, and an ice cream scoop or two spoons. 

When the oil is hot, take a scoop of the potato mix and put it in the pan. Flatten it with a spatula and tuck in the edges so that it forms a round circle. Repeat until the pan is full, but with enough space around each riefkook, like the picture above. Fry for about three to four minutes on medium-high, then use two spatulas to flip it over. The bottom should be golden brown. Fry the other side for two more minutes, or until golden, Rest on the paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Keep warm until served. 

Makes 12 - 14 medium sized riefkook.

Laot ut och smaeke!

Gebakken Mosselen

 Last weekend, I was really craving fish: a fresh herring, a little bit of smoked mackerel, a lekkerbekje, or even a small tray of kibbeling (with remoulade sauce of course), would have satisfied my palate. Even a portion of smoked eel would have done the trick! It made me realize how fortunate we are in the Netherlands, where there are still specialized fishmongers in almost every town, right next to the cheese shop, the local bakery, and the butchers. Of course, I am well aware that slowly but surely these specialized shops are disappearing, as so many buyers prefer to shop and get everything from the local supermarket. The danger in that is, and that is not only in the Netherlands but everywhere else, that these specialists with their unique recipes, products, and knowledge, retire or close up shop - and that the knowledge is lost forever. 

But back to the fishmongers' store: here you can find a large variety of fresh fish and seafood, as well as prepared foods. Large platters with a variety of fish, seafood, marinades, and dipping sauces are available for the barbecue (grill) for those summer weekends, or for those gourmet evenings with friends and family. Soft white rolls are stuffed with herring, eel, mackerel, fish paté, or smoked salmon for a bite on the go. They sell shrimp, salmon, herring, or mackerel salads by the portion or by the kilo, for lunch, or for a party. I could go on and on about the amazing foods you can find at the visboer....and most of this is made in-house, and according to traditional recipes. 

After cooking up mussels the other day, I was left with about two pounds after dinner: a typical case of eyes bigger than my stomach....but not really, for I had a cunning plan; fried mussels!! These babies are scooped out of their shell, battered, deep-fried, and served with a dipping sauce. Delicious as a snack, with a cold glass of something or other, or served with a fresh spinach stamppot, for example, for dinner: these mussels are very versatile! 

If you prepare them from scratch, use this recipe for 2 lbs (1 kg) mussels, but substitute the cup of wine for beer, and cool them after steaming. Two pounds of mussels will give you approximately 8 ounces (225 grams) of meat. If you don't care for beer or wine, you can fish stock or plain water. Use seltzer water for the batter, if you can. You can also often buy already shelled mussel meat in the freezer section. 

I used the same mustard dipping sauce that I had for the steamed mussels, but you can also make a remoulade sauce or one of your own liking.

Fried mussels

8 oz (225 grams) mussel meat
1/4 cup flour (75 grams)
1/2 cup (100 ml) beer
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon paprika powder
1/8 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped finely (or 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley leaves)

1 lemon

Pat the mussels dry and look for any shell pieces or "beards", small tendrils that are attached to the mussel. Remove. Mix the flour with 3/4 of the beer, the egg, the baking powder, and the rest of the ingredients. Let it sit for five minutes, while you prepare the dipping sauce(s). The batter needs to be thick, like the consistency of thick American pancake batter. If it's thickened too much, add a bit more of the beer and stir. 

Heat the fryer to 350F. Set a large platter or a bowl to the side with a few paper towels to soak up the grease. With two spoons, dip each mussel in the batter, and shake off as much batter as you can. Drop them carefully in the hot oil. Fry the morsels golden brown, for about four minutes, and fish them out of the oil, and onto the paper towels. 

Slice the lemon in quarters and squeeze over the mussels. Time to dig in!

Serves four. 

Fries Suikerbrood (Fryske Sukerbole)

Frisian sugar loaf slices
or suikerbrood, sugar bread,  is a traditional bread from the northern province of Friesland, in Holland. Other provinces such as Limburg and Brabant have a similar recipe for sugary bread loaves but what sets the Frisian bread apart is the high amount of sugar. In comparison to other regional recipes, Frisians use twice as much sugar. It's therefore a sticky, sugary loaf, but oh so delicious! 

The sûkerbôle was often given to a new mother to celebrate the arrival of a baby girl; for baby boys, it was a raisin cake.

The sugar used for this recipe is called pearl sugar and is hard to find in a regular store, so I order mine from Amazon (here's the link)* Crushed-up sugar cubes are a good substitute: put them in a clean towel, fold it over, and give it a few whacks with t with a rolling pin. Not too hard! You want to have sugar lumps, not finely ground sugar. Handfold these lumps in the dough after the first rise.

Fryske Sûkerbôle
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (200 ml) milk
3 1/2 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons ginger syrup (optional)**
1 egg
5 tablespoons (80 grams) butter, melted
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (150 grams) pearl sugar, or crushed sugar cubes

For the pan: 
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon regular sugar

Add the yeast to the warm milk. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Pour in the milk and yeast and mix together. Knead in the ginger syrup if using, the egg, and the melted butter until the dough forms a soft and flexible dough. This will take a little while, as the dough at first seems scraggly, about a good ten minutes. Cover and rise until double its size.

On a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough in a rectangle (about the length of the pan) and sprinkle the cinnamon over it, and then the pearl sugar. Now roll the dough into a loaf shape (first fold the sides towards each other, covering the sugar and cinnamon, then roll up into a loaf). Some of the pearl sugar may fall out - just roll the dough over it so it gets embedded on the outside. 
Sugar and cinnamon filling

Butter the inside of a 9 x 5 inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf pan with the melted butter, but save a little bit for the loaf itself, about half a tablespoon. Put a tablespoon of sugar in the pan and tilt it forward towards each side so that the sugar coats the whole inside. Place the loaf inside, seam down. Cover and rise for about 15 minutes, or until loaf peaks out from inside the pan.

In the meantime, heat your oven to 375F (190C) degrees. Bake for 30 minutes or until loaf is done (measure with a digital thermometer: look for 190F or 87C). If the top browns too quickly, tent the loaf with aluminum foil.

As soon as the bread comes out of the oven, brush the top with the leftover melted butter. Cool the loaf for about five minutes, then carefully loosen the bread from the pan as some of the sugar may have caused the bread to stick. Remove the loaf and continue to cool on a rack. If you want a supersticky loaf, put the bread in a plastic bag when it's still lukewarm. 

Awesome with a curl of real butter!

Buttered sugar loaf on a plate

* this is my Amazon associate's link. If you purchase something through this link, I will get a few pennies (literally) at no cost to you. All the proceeds are used to maintain this website.

** If you don't have ginger syrup, don't worry. I soak a tablespoon (10 grams) of chopped candied ginger and one tablespoon of sugar in two tablespoons of hot water. Let sit for about a good hour, then remove the ginger and use the syrup. Or....if you like ginger as much as I do, add the chopped pieces to the dough. What's the worse that can happen? Exactly.