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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Arnhemse Meisjes

Arnhem is, no doubt, mostly known for its role during the Second World War. The movie "A Bridge Too Far" with some of the world's best actors (Sean Connery, Michael Cain, James Caan, Anthony Hopkins, Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman) and directed by Richard Attenborough, chronicles the events around Operation Market Garden.

But even before the bridge, and the actors, and the movie and that horrible war, there was something else that was unique to Arnhem: its girls. Noooo, not those kind of girls. A light, sugary, flaky cookie called Arnhemse Meisjes, or Arnhem Girls. Maybe because the girls were sweet and eh....flaky? I don't know. I've never met anybody from Arnhem, to my knowledge, so I have no opinion on the matter.

Its cookies however....They became famous because Roald Dahl, the writer, once stopped in Arnhem on a book signing tour. While he signed away, he was offered coffee and a cookie. He kept eating and eating (thereby dispelling the terrible myth that the Dutch are so tight-fisted that they will only serve you one cookie and then hit the lid on the cookie jar), and fell in love with the cookie. When he was done (signing or eating, I'm not sure) he expressed his admiration for the cookie and said it was the best cookie in the world. Well! Either way, he obtained the recipe from the local baker and it was published in his book  "Roald Dahl's Cookbook".

Nowadays, there is only one official Arnhemse Meisjes baker: bakery Jurjus in Arnhem. These cookies stem from 1829 when baker Hagdorn was busy inventing new cookies that would do well at parties and festivities. One day, he made a cookie in the shape of a shoe sole, sugared it and baked it, and hey presto! the Arnhem Girls were born. The slightly flaky yeast dough pairs nicely with the sugary topping. It is an easy cookie to make and will delight many!

Arnhemse Meisjes
1 full cup of all-purpose flour (approx. 150gr)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of milk, warm (but not hot!)
1/4 teaspoon of active dry yeast
4 drops of lemon juice
1 stick of butter, room temperature

Mix the flour and the salt, stir the yeast in with the warm milk and let it sit for a couple of minutes so the yeast can be activated. Stir the milk and yeast into the flour, add the lemon juice and stir again. Now add the butter in small amounts while you knead/stir until everything comes together. Shape the dough into a sausage, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Take out the dough and divide it into equal pieces, little less than 1oz or 20 gr each. The recipe above should give you approximately 16 cookies. Roll each piece into a small ball. Pour several tablespoons of sugar on the counter and roll the dough balls through the sugar. Wrap and refrigerate. Turn on the oven to 350F.

Retrieve the sugary dough balls from the fridge. Place a dough ball on top of the sugary counter and use a rolling pin to roll each ball into an oval shape, about 3 inches long. Turn it over and press the cookie into the sugar, making sure that both sides are well covered. Place each cookie on a silicone mat or parchment paper on a baking sheet. When all cookies are made, sprinkle the remaining sugar over the cookies and bake them golden in approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

The cookies will puff up, the sugar will caramelize and you will have a wonderful and unique cookie to serve with coffee.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Schoenlapperstaart (Cobbler's Pie)

De Verstandige Kock’ ("The Sensible Cook") was first published in 1667 in Amsterdam. A rather thin cookbook, it contained recipes for the average citizen, not wealthy but not overly poor either. Its last print was from 1802. For those that do not read Dutch, there is help as the book was translated by Peter Rose in 1998. It contains a myriad of recipes and historical facts about the way the Dutch cooked and how it impacted the Dutch settlements in the Hudson Valley.

I've copied below the original text that belongs to the recipe I made today, a centuries old but still popular dish in the Netherlands.

"Om een schoenmakerstaert te backen: Neemt suere Appels, schildtse, aen stucken gesneden en gaar gekoockt, wrijft die kleyn, neemt dan boter, Suycker, en Corenten, yder na zijn believen, en dat samen met 4 à 5 eyeren daer in gheroert, neemt dan geraspt Tarwenbroot, en doet dat onder in een schootel, daer op u Appelen geleght, doeter weer geraspt Tarwenbroot boven over, en deckt dan toe met een decksel van een Taertpanne, en vuur daer op gheleght, maeckt een goede korste."

(To bake a cobbler's pie: take sour apples, peel them, cut them in pieces and boil them until soft, mash them, take butter, sugar and raisins as much as you please, and mix this with 4 or five eggs, take shredded wheat bread, and put it on the bottom of a dish, put the apples on top, cover it again with shredded wheat bread and cover it with the lid of a pie dish, on which you place coals, makes a good crust).

I guess punctuation was not that big of a deal in the Middle Ages. Nowadays, we use rusks (beschuiten) or in my case, panko, the japanese variant of breadcrumbs, instead of "shredded wheat bread". I much prefer panko for sweet dishes like these, as it's lighter, a little sweeter and is closest to the rusk crumb. To this dish you can add raisins if you wish, or a pinch of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom....it's a great dish to experiment with. For those that don't want the sugar, the pie holds its own made with a sugar-substitute as well.

Now, why is it called a cobbler's pie? Many have ventured a guess, but nobody so far has been able to give a valid explanation. But it's a wonderful, light dish to finish a meal with, or to accompany a hot cup of coffee or tea, mid-morning. And maybe that's something a hard working cobbler can appreciate as well.

4 small apples
1/2 cup of water
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of brown sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla
3 eggs, separated
1 cup panko or breadcrumbs

Peel, core and cut the apples in small pieces. Place them in a saucepan with the water, the butter, sugar and vanilla. Bring to a boil, stir well, then simmer until the apples are done and you can mash it into apple sauce.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Mix the egg yolks and the panko with the apple mixture, then carefully spoon the egg whites through the mix. Don't overmix it, as you want to keep the air in the egg whites!

Grease a pie pan, heat the oven to 350F, carefully pour the apple batter into the dish, and bake for about 50 minutes. Cool, dust with powdered sugar (if you like) and cut into large slices.

Friday, November 19, 2010


The Dutch have a huge cookie culture. The shelves in the grocery store are loaded with sugary breads, cookies, tarts and every other product that can be eaten with a cup of coffee or tea. It is said that the Dutch will only offer you one cookie with your hot beverage, as they are so tight-fisted, but I have yet to experience that. Most hosts just leave the cookie jar on the table and invite you to help yourself.

A traditional Jodenkoeken cookie can.
Beside the coloring, flavors and shapes of the cookies, the most memorable are without a doubt their names: bokkepootjes (billygoat's legs), kletskop (bald head or chatterbox), Weesper moppen (blobs from Weesp), Arnhemse meisjes (girls from Arnhem), ijzerkoekjes (iron cookies), lange vingers (long fingers) or kattetongen (cat tongues). Another cookie with a huge following is the so-called "jodekoek" or Jewish cookies.

The story goes that Davelaar, a cookie baker, bought a bakery from a retiring Jewish baker in the early 1920. The bakery was famous for these large, sweet and buttery cookies and Davelaar continued to bake them, selling them in metal cookie cans and charging a deposit. During the seventies, the name of the cookie was considered not-politically-correct and Davelaar changed it for the export cookies, but never did for the national market. To this day it's called "Jodekoek" or Jewish cookie.

The size of the cookie is most remarkable, it measures a whopping 3.5 inches across. Not very impressive for an American cookie, but most certainly for a Dutch one. The ingredients are few but come together wonderfully as a sandy, buttery cookie: do make sure you use top quality ingredients.

1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 cup of self-rising flour, packed

Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the milk, the cinnamon and the sugar. Knead the flour into the mix, blending all the ingredients. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Dust the counter with flour and roll the dough thin, about 1/4th of an inch or less. Cut out the cookies with the help of a canning ring for widemouth jars, it's the right size. Place the cookies on parchment paper on a sheet pan and bake for approximately 15 minutes until golden brown. The last few minutes you may want to keep an eye on the cookies as they "over-brown" rather quickly.

Enjoy with a cup of hot tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sint Maarten Wafels (St Martin Waffles)

November 11th is an important date in Holland. For children, it marks St. Maarten's day, the day kids venture out in the evening carrying small candles in paper lanterns to sing songs at each door and get candy or fruit in return.

Prince Carnaval 1973
For the grownups, "the eleventh of the eleventh" at 11:11am initiates the beginning of the famous Carnaval season. It is the day that the new Prince Carnaval is elected, who in turn announces his "adjudant" or helper, and the "Raad van Elf", the eleven organizers who will be tasked with setting up parties, parades and ofcourse, determine the theme of this year's carnaval. The number 11 has, since old times, been the number for fools and simpletons.

But back to St. Maarten, one of the most recognizable saints in Catholicism. For him November 11 wasn't such a good day, as that is the day he was buried. On his way to somewhere, St Maarten saw a poor beggar by the side of the road who needed protection from the cold. St. Maarten cut his coat in two and gave the man one half, later having a vision about Jesus wearing half of his cape. The next day, when he woke up, the cape was miraculously restored.

Whether this ritual was originally pagan (carrying lit candles or "holy" fire around the neighborhood at dark was part of a fertility ritual that was a widespread custom in Western Europe at the time) or traditionally religious in nature (on November 11, the reading of the Bible is verse 11:33 of the book of Luke, ""No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light."). Either way, it is a begging fest, much needed during the lacking winter months. It was definitely a festivity for the poor, as one song indicates:

Hier woont een rijk man,
Here lives a rich man
Die ons wat geven kan.
Give us something sure he can
Geef een appel of een peer:
Give an an apple or a pear
We komen ’t hele jaar niet meer.
We won't come around for another year

As with many things, these festivities usually find place in the southern, mostly Catholic, region of the country. The kids in the northern regions however have caught on to this free candy thing and now, too, stroll the dark nights. After having collected enough candy the kids gather with their parents at the town square where a huge bonfire is lit to celebrate the end of the evening. Most paper lanterns end up in the bonfire, and children are handed hot chocolate and waffles to warm up.

St Maarten Wafels
2 cups of self-rising flour
2 eggs
1 cup of milk, warm
1/2 stick of butter
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon

Mix the flour and the eggs, melt the butter in the warm milk, add the salt and cinnamon and beat everything together into a smooth batter. Heat up the waffle iron and bake waffles golden. Sprinkle with some powdered sugar and serve warm.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Honingkoek (Honey Cake)

Breakfast is always a treat in Holland. The amount of cold cuts is amazing, the cheese is fabulous and the large variety of breads always makes it difficult to choose from. If you're not in the mood for bread, you can pick a beschuit, a cracker or a large slice of "breakfast cake" or ontbijtkoek.

Rye flour adds flavor and
color to peperkoek
Ontbijtkoek is a spicey cake-like bread. The enticing mix of cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg is the basis for a large variety of ontbijtkoeken, not all of which are solely for breakfast.  It can be sliced and eaten by itself or improved with a dab of real butter as a snack or with a cup of coffee. The texture is slightly moist and sticky. Ontbijtkoek is also known as peperkoek if it contains white pepper besides the traditional ingredients, honingkoek if it has an additional amount of honey, gemberkoek if the cake is studded with candied ginger or kandykoek when the top of the cake is covered in sugary pearls.

Today I was in the mood for honingkoek. It's an easy cake to bake, it fills the house with lovely smells and it's a perfect afternoon snack for a cold, wintery day such as today. Instead of baking a large loaf, I made two small ones. One goes in the freezer for later and one....eh...is gone already. If you wish to bake a large cake, just double the recipe but stick to one egg.

2 cups of self-rising flour (250gr)
1/2 cup of brown sugar (75 gr)
1/2 cup of honey (75 gr)
1 cup of milk (120 ml)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground aniseed
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 egg

Grease a cake pan. Preheat oven to 350F. Add all the ingredients to a bowl and mix until you have a smooth batter, approx. 2 minutes. Pour into the pan, bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack. Slice, butter and enjoy!
Best saved in a plastic bag at room temperature, will keep for several days.