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Friday, December 31, 2010

Appelbeignets (Dutch Apple Donuts)

Sometimes, things just don´t go as planned. I know, I know....one of those ¨"such is life" things... But I had really planned on making Sugary Snowballs tonight. Snowballs are made of a light choux dough, fried in oil, then filled with whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar. Yep, a real killer, but what a great way to wrap up the old year with something that has at least two out of the five funky food groups (i.e. fat and sugar)!

I started late and a little hurried, couldn´t get the right consistency and the snowballs turned out to be little golfballs instead. Very dark brown with a raw center, yuk!!! So after another batch and still getting the same results, I decided that it was too late for snowballs and too late for oliebollen (the yeast dough has to sit and rise for a while). Hurray for never-fail-favorites, because I made appelbeignets instead and they were fabulous, as always. They´re apple slices, dipped in batter, then fried in oil. Technically not a donut at all, but the cored apple slices do give it a donut-esque appearance.

It´s hard to mess up an appelbeignet. Also known as appelflappen, these are a favorite treat. The apple brings some lightness, albeit subtle, to the oily batter and adds a pleasant sweetness. Any apple will work except for the Granny Smith: too tangy, too juicey and it doesn't hold up well. I used Golden Delicous for this recipe.

1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ground
2 apples, peeled and cored
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Slice the apples in rings, about 1/4 inch thick. Stir the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the apple slices. Set aside. Mix the flour, milk, salt and baking powder together for a batter. Put the slices in the batter and coat them on both sides, then drop each slice of apple carefully into the hot oil. Turn over when they're golden brown on one side and fry the other side, remove when both sides are done. Drain on a paper towel to capture the excess oil and transfer to a new plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat while warm.

This batter is a very neutral one and can be used for a variety of fruits. Try bananas (cut a small banana in half lengthwise and then each part in half), pineapple rings (drain on a paper towel before adding to the batter) or add some cinnamon or flavoring to the batter itself. There is no sugar in the batter to avoid excessive and premature browning.

I wish you all a very happy New Year, with lots of love, good food and dear friends!

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Kerstkransjes, or cookie Christmas wreaths, 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.

Most often, they are part of the initial decorations in the tree as soon as it´s set up, but will be eaten slowly and sneakily by the kids, the husband or the family dog, only to feign utter dismay when the whole tree is empty and all you find is empty ribbons. Smart moms usually have several packages at hand to replace the empty spots in the tree, but ever smarter moms (or dads, or anybody else for that matter) bake their own!

The recipe is as simple as can be, and would be a fun project to do with kids or friends on these cold, blistery days. I´m posting a simple, straightforward recipe but you may consider making it your own. Sprinkle with colored sugar, add some chocolate or cinnamon to the recipe, or you might even dip the cookies in chocolate before hanging them in the tree. Just make sure you hang the chocolate ones higher up in the tree so Fido can´t get a nibble, chocolate is presumably bad for animals....

1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of butter, cold and diced
1-2 teaspoon of baking powder
1-3 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
2 tablespoons of milk

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. If the mixture is too dry, add in a 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. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place a piece of parchment paper 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 them with egg and sprinkle sugar, cinnamon, sliced almonds or colored sugar on top. Bake on the middle rack until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Cool on a rack. Cut ribbons and thread through the hole, then put a knot in it and decorate your tree as you see fit.

I wish you all a wonderful, magical Christmas time!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Sometimes a smell will trigger memories or initiate thoughts of a particular season: the air will smell like "fall" or "summer", a plate of steaming mussels may remind you of a holiday at the coast, the aroma of roast turkey will take you back to Thanksgiving.

The smell of worstenbroodjes baking in the oven remind me of Christmas. You can eat these meat-filled rolls all year, but they seem to be favored during the colder months. They are perfect to hold you over from dinner to midnight on New Year's Eve, to give you a little something to eat after First Christmas Day's hefty lunch if you are too full for dinner but still want to eat something....

Worstenbroodjes are typical from Brabant, a southern province in the Netherlands. Both Brabant and Limburg are the more gastronomically exciting provinces in Holland. Brabant is proud of its koffietafel, a lunch or brunch served with a large variety of rolls, breads, toppings, meats, cheeses and jams and copious amounts of coffee, and the Limburgers can boast about their many pies, vlaaien. Brabant is from old also the province that excelled in producing large amounts of pork, hence anything made with pork often received the adjective Brabants, meaning "from Brabant". It did not need necessarily be a traditional product from the region.

In this case, Brabantse worstenbroodjes are indeed traditional from the area. In other parts of the country, the saucijzenbroodje is favored, but worstenbroodjes fit in perfectly with the koffietafel and aren't as rich.

For the rolls
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of warm milk, plus two tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
2 teaspoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of butter
1 egg

For the filling
1 lb ground beef (preferably half-om-half i.e. half beef, half pork)
1/2 cup of panko or breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley (optional)

For egg-wash
1 egg
2 tablespoons of water

Activate the yeast by stirring it into the warm milk. In the meantime, mix the flour with the salt and the sugar. When the yeast has proofed which takes about five minutes (it's now all bubbly and smells great), add it to the flour and mix it in. Drizzle the melted butter on top, continue to mix and finally add in the egg. Mix briefly until it all comes together, then take it out of the bowl, and knead for about five to ten minutes by hand. Grease the bowl, add the dough, turn it over so it's coated, and cover. Let rise for approximately thirty minutes or until 2/3s larger in size.

In the meantime, mix the ground meat with the spices, the breadcrumbs, the eggs and the milk. Cut off 2oz portions and roll into a small ball. Set aside while you do the rest. When they're all divided into 2oz portions, carefully roll each ball out into a sausage shape, about five inches long. Cover.
Carefully punch down the dough. Divide into 2oz pieces and roll each piece into a ball. While you work on the rest, keep each one covered underneath a tea towel or plastic wrap, you don't want them to dry out.

Now, with a rolling pin, roll the dough into an elongated oval, slightly larger than five inches long. Place one sausage on top, fold over the short edges, pull over the long edge and carefully roll the sausage into the dough, pinching the seam.

Place each sausage roll on some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cover and let them rise, at room temperature, for forty minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the sausage rolls with the egg wash and bake for approximately twenty to thirty minutes.

Don't stick with just the traditional salt, pepper, nutmeg combo. Have fun with it and add some paprika, some all-spice, you may even add some small chopped onion or garlic. As with everything, recipes are just a guideline!

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Taaitaai is an age-old typical delicacy that's eaten during the Sinterklaas days. Taai (rhymes with "I" and means "tough") may well refer to the chewiness of the sweet dough. It is similar to speculaas, with the added flavor of aniseed, but misses the typical speculaas crunch: instead its dough is taai: tough and chewy.

Saint Nicholas grew out to be the protector of small children: in one story he brought back to life three young boys that had been killed. In another, he prevented three poor sisters from having to go into prostitution by throwing three bags with money into their home, one bag for each girl for her dowry. This may have sparked his status as protector of marriages, or matchmaker, and might have started the tradition of giving a taaitaai doll, a "vrijer", to an unmarried girl.

Taaitaai is usually baked in human shapes: often it's an image of Sinterklaas himself. The smaller versions are eaten as a treat or a cookie with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. The larger size taaitaais are called "taaipop", i.e. taai doll. But in older days, as I learned by reading Dutch writer and poet Jan Ter Gouw (1814-1894), "Taaitaai, sweet as syrup, tough as leather and as brown as old sealing wax, was baked in a variety of shapes". Male and female dolls for the young people, shaped as a church for the religous folks, large hogs for grandpas and cat-shaped for grandmas, all richly decorated and sometimes even covered in gold leaf. Young men would gift a decorated taai-taai doll to a girl they were interested in marrying. The doll would be carved in the dough before baking and outfitted with elements and symbols referring to the pursuer's trade. These dolls were called "vrijers" or "lovers". The young man would return the next day: if the "vrijer" had been eaten, the girl accepted the proposal. If not....well, move on to the next one!

Most children that celebrate Sinterklaas are too young to be bothered with vrijers, but as adults it might be a fun tradition to continue.

Prepare the dough preferably a couple of days beforehand: the spices will be able to blend and provide a wonderful flavor. As with so many Dutch recipes, the ingredients are few so top quality is key!

2 cups of self-rising flour
1/3 cup of honey
2 tablespoons of pancake syrup
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground aniseed
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 egg

Warm the honey and the pancake syrup until they are easily pourable. Add all the spices and the salt to the flour, pour in the honey/syrup mix and knead into a flexible, non-sticky dough. (You may have to add some water, one tablespoon at a time, to achieve this.) Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for several hours or, preferably, a day or two.

Lightly dust the counter with flour. Roll out the dough about half an inch high and cut out the shapes. I used gingerbread men. Heat the oven to 350F, place a silicone mat or parchment paper on a baking sheet and transfer your cookies. Brush with beaten egg and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Taaitaai dolls, the Dutch "Chewy Louies"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gevulde Speculaas

Three nights from now, Holland will be celebrating Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas. About a week before December 5th, children all over the country will place one of their shoes, filled with hay, a carrot or a handwritten letter, by whatever heating system the house possesses: a fireplace, gas furnace or central heating system. Why? Because at night, Saint Nicholas is supposedly roaming the roofs on his white horse Amerigo and has his helpers, Black Petes, go down the chimney to retrieve the gifts for the horse or the letter addressed to him. The letter usually contains the customary requests for presents and the assurance that the writer of the epistle had been an obedient, kind and pleasant child all year long. In exchange for Amerigo's goodies and the letter, Black Pete usually leaves a small piece of candy or fruit.

Courtesy of Sint.nl
On December 5th, the family gathers in the living room after dinner, children sing Sinterklaas songs at the chimney and at one particular time of the evening, there is knocking on the door. Knock-knock-knock! Any child that has been a pain in the neck to his parents all year and has a minute bit of a conscience will now be, if not fully in tears, at least in some type of panic. The person knocking on the door is ofcourse Sinterklaas. He is here to deliver presents to the kids that have been good all year. If you're lucky, the old saint is so busy that, upon opening the door, all you find is a big bag of wrapped gifts. But if you have vengative parents or a miffed neighbor, you will find the actual saint standing there with his helpers. At this point, any kid worth his weight will regret all the mischief from the last year: after all, Saint Nicholas has a big book that has every thought, action or word recorded and there will be no point in denying it. Oh boy!

Children that have been naugthy will be put in the, now empty, gift bag and taken to Madrid in Spain, where Sinterklaas lives the rest of the year. What happens to them there is unknown. Many a smart alec will try to trump Sint and say that he'll be glad to go to Spain: the weather is nice year round and he wouldn't have to share a room with his sister.

I honestly don't know why we believed such drivel as children: any kid will at one point in time wonder how the horse gets up on the roof, much less stay there, how Black Pete can climb down the gas furnace, get all your stuff and then make it back up again without leaving any kind of charred evidence, why Sinterklaas bothers to travel all the way from Madrid on a steamboat and doesn't take an airplane like everybody else (and even more, how does he do it, since there is no direct waterway connected to the ocean from there) and why Sinterklaas looks and sounds so much like Uncle Steve. It must be because, eventually, we figured out that the adults amuse themselves so much with the anticipation, the hiding of the presents and the playing of Sinterklaas, that as a child, you don't have the heart to tell 'm that they're insulting your intelligence. You''ll play along as long as you get what you asked for. And you know you will, because it's been weeks since you found the wrapped gifts hidden away in the hall closet and you've undone one corner of each package to see what you were getting. Score!

In the meantime, grandma and granda sit back on the couch, drink a cup of hot chocolate or something stronger, and help themselves to another slice of gevulde speculaas. It's the traditional baked good for these festive days and although it is pretty much available year round, it still seems to trigger that Sinterklaas-feeling around this time of year.

Gevulde Speculaas
For the dough
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons speculaas spices
1 cup brown sugar, packed
Pinch of salt
1 stick and 2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk

For the filling*
1 cup of almonds, whole
1 cup of powdered sugar, packed
1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon of almond flavoring

Pour two cups of boiling water over the almonds and let them sit for about fifteen minutes. Rinse the nuts with cold water, and slip off the brown skin. Save twelve half almonds for decorating. Put the almonds in a blender and pulse several times until they have a wet sand consistency, that should take only a few pulses. Place the almond meal in a bowl, stir in the sugar, the egg white and the almond extract. You should have a creamy, spreadable consistency. If not, add in a little bit of the yolk (beat it first) at a time until you do. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mix the flour, the speculaas spices, the sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with two knives until the butter is reduced to pebbles and the flour feels like wet sand. Add the milk and the egg yolk and knead the dough until it comes together. Pat into ball, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight.

Divide the dough in two parts. Grease a 9" pie pan or springform and roll out the first dough. Cover the bottom and the sides of the pan. Spread the almond paste over the dough, roll out the second dough and cover the filling and the edges of the pie form.

Brush with the remaining egg yolk, place the 12 almond halves on the pie and bake at 325F for about 35 minutes until done. Let it cool before taking it out of the spring form, then carefully slice into 12 pieces and serve.