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Tuesday, January 25, 2011


It's not until you bite into one that you realize that not all waffles are equal. Some shine, some just eh...waffle, I guess. The batter-type waffles that we serve during St. Maarten's have their own charm; they're fluffy, tender and can be outfitted with the most exciting bursts of flavor: whipped cream, fruit, chocolate syrup...you name it.

But it's the suikerwafel, or sugar waffle, that sets itself apart. The dough is yeast-based, vanilla-infused and eggy and creates a beautiful chewy, heavy waffle that holds delicious pockets of crumbly sugar. It is a waffle that you can hold with both hands. It does not need any decoration or external frills to be best at what it is: a sugar waffle.

These waffles were originally known as Luikse Wafels, waffles from Liège (Belgium). Just like the stroopwafels vendors in Holland, you can find small food trucks throughout the various cities in Belgium that sell suikerwafels. They (the waffles) made their way to Holland and are now a standard fare in the cookie aisle, but are also sold at the oliebollenkramen during the wintertime.

4 cups of flour, divided
2 heaping teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 cup of milk, warm
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 sticks of butter, room temperature
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1/2 cup of pearl sugar*

Put the flour in a bowl, saving one cup for later. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk, set it aside for a couple of minutes, while you add the salt to the flour. Pour in the yeasty milk, stir until the dough comes together, then add an egg at a time. Carefully stir in the soft butter, slowly adding a tablespoon or two from the cup of flour to help everything blend, you may not need the whole cup. When all has come together beautifully, put the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let it rise until it's doubled in size.

Punch down the dough, then knead in the pearl sugar so that it's well distributed across the dough. Cut and roll 2oz pieces of dough. Place a ball of dough on the griddle, push down the lid and bake until they're done. Depending on the waffle iron, this can take anywhere from two to 5 minutes. I happen to have a two rectangles kind of waffle maker. If you have a round one that breaks the waffle into four sections, measure your dough out to 6 oz so that it'll make four smaller waffles at once.

Place a dough ball in the middle of the iron, push down the lid and bake as usual. Be careful, as the melted sugar is extremely hot and can cause severe burns. Let the waffles cool on a rack before eating, and cool the waffle maker (the machine, not you!) before cleaning. The burnt sugar is best wiped off with a damp cloth.

Makes approximately fifteen waffles.

*If you can't find pearl sugar in the store, take the equivalent amount in sugar cubes, put them in a towel and give them a couple of good whacks with your rolling pin. Same thing!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Zeeuwse Bolus

"Come and eat poop? What an invitation!" my friend Naomi joyfully exclaims when I ask her and my friend Ann to come over for coffee and a Zeeuwse bolus. This Dutch baked delicacy from the SouthWestern province of Zeeland is colloquially called "turd", as the shape reminds one of eh...well....a turd, pardon my Dutch. Ofcourse the pastry's name stems from the Latin word for ball, referring in this case to a ball of dough, and the nomenclature was adapted afterwards to describe the eh...other stuff.

Bolussen are traditional for various regions, mostly Amsterdam (a ginger bolus) and Zeeland (the cinnamon bolus). These Dutch bolussen were originally baked by Sephardic Jewish bakers in Holland and date back to the first half of the seventeenth century.

Since 1998, on the Tuesday of the twelfth week of the year, Zeeland holds baking competitions for their kind of bolus, and professional bakers strive for the famous Bolusbaker of the Year Award.

Bolussen are best consumed slightly warm and are a great substitute for cinnamon rolls or sticky buns. They are sticky and gooey but their tender texture makes up for the heavy sugar. Some eat their bolus with a thick layer of butter on the bottom (flat) side of the bolus.

Zeeuwse bolussen
Ready to rise
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of powdered milk
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 1/4 cup of milk, warm
1 tablespoon of active dry yeast
6 tablespoons of butter, melted and at room temperature

For the sugar
2 cups of the darkest brown sugar you can find
1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon, ground

Mix the flour, salt, powdered milk and sugar together. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and add to the dry mixture. Knead the dough for a good couple of minutes, then drizzle in the melted butter. Continue to knead for fifteen minutes, then place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for fifteen minutes in a warm spot.

Punch down the dough carefully and divide into 2oz pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and roll each ball through the sugary mix. Place the dough balls back into the bowl, cover and rise for another fifteen to thirty minutes.

Take each dough ball and carefully roll out to a rope, about 7 to 8 inches long. Roll each rope through more sugar and cinnamon, until fully covered. Pinch one end of the rope between your thumb and index finger and with the other hand roll the rope around your index finger in a circular fashion. Tuck the end of the rope underneath the bolus and place them on a sheet of parchment paper or on a silicon mat on a baking sheet. Leave about an inch and a half or two between the rolls. Sprinkle the rolls with more sugar. Cover and rise for at least an hour or until doubled in size.

Sprinkle the rest of the sugar on top of the rolls. Preheat the oven to 450F and bake the rolls puffy and done in seven to eight minutes. The sugar tends to burn rather quickly so keep an eye on the rolls, they will be gooey and sticky.

Enjoy with a good cup of coffee either by themselves or with a nice layer of butter spread on the flat side of the bolus.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Beauty lies in simplicity. One of the many things I've learned on this quest to map the Dutch kitchen is that, quite often, the best dishes are the ones with just a few ingredients. Less is more, so to say.

I've mentioned before that the Dutch have an incredible cookie culture. The grocery stores stock shelves of the most amazing combinations, shapes, ingredients and flavors. Coffee and tea are consumed throughout the day and, preferably, in combination with a cookie. Or two. Because that's so gezellig.

Coconut macaroons, or kokosmakronen, are found in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are small and high, others piped in a circle and flat. Some are yellow (depending on whether you include the egg yolk), others plain white, but the flavor and texture is always moist, coconutty and sweet. Kokosmakronen are usually baked on circles of edible potato starch paper, that I have not yet been able to locate, but they bake equally well on parchment paper or on a silicone mat. Make sure you keep the temperature low enough that the bottom of the cookies does not burn or get too toasted. Burnt coconut will leave a bitter taste and spoil the overall flavor of the cookie.

When you bake kokosmakronen, the smell of coconut will permeate the air and all, except for those who abhor this fibrous drupe, will wait with coffee in hand until the long, agonizing wait until you pull these golden beauties from the oven, is over. And that would be all of fifteen minutes, so go figure....The key is to wait until the cookies have cooled down sufficiently to allow the flavor to come forward. Better ofcourse is to eat them the next day, when the cookies have achieved that typical chewiness.

2 egg whites
3/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cup of shredded coconut
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of self-rising flour

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then slowly add in the sugar. Keep beating until the sugar has dissolved. Pinch some egg white between your fingers and rub them together. A little bit of grain is fine, but you want most of the sugar gone. Carefully fold in the coconut and the pinch of salt, then fold in the flour.

Heat the oven to 300F. Place small heaps of dough on a silicone mat or parchment paper, place it on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approximately fifteen minutes or until golden. The cookies will still be a little bit soft in the center but will set after you remove them from the oven.

Makes about twenty small cookies.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, is traditionally celebrated on January 6th. It's supposedly the day that the three Magi, Balthasar, Melchior and Caspar, guided by a star, presented their gifts to Christ in the manger.

Driekoningen is not a very traditional or widespread holiday in the Netherlands anymore but it used to be one of the most celebrated ones, akin to Sinterklaas. The famous painter Jan Steen reflected this festive holiday in numerous works: scenes of blissfull family gatherings with food and drink, music and singing. 

Jan Steen, Driekoningenfeest (1662),
Oil on canvas, 131 x 164.5 cm.,
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
 Captain Alonso Vazquez noted the tradition in his writings of 1614,
" On the day of Three Kings, and the night before, they (i.e. the Dutch) crown someone in their household as king, by luck, and they obey him and serve him as such, and when he drinks they encourage him and praise him in loud voices, and from Christmas Eve to Three Kings, a period which they call Thirteen Evenings, they place in remembrance  thirteen burning candles, of white wax, on the window sill, in a single line behind the curtains, to remember the thirteen nights from Christmas to Three Kings, and each night they will get together and party and get drunk." Well, that's lovely. No wonder the Calvinistic movement in the 17th and 18th century forbade to host or participate in such festivities. No fun!

Nowadays, pockets of predominantly Catholic areas such as Brabant and Limburg do still celebrate it, albeit in a more moderate form. Children will dress up as magi and will, illuminated by a burning star-shaped lantern, go door-to-door and sing songs in hope to rake in the candy.

On the eve of Driekoningen, January 5th, or early morning on the 6th, Driekoningenbrood is served. It's a sweet bread, flavored with almond paste and lemon zest, that holds a small surprise: hidden in the bread are three uncooked beans. Two are white beans and one is dark, to represent the three Magi. Whomever gets the slice with the dark bean will be "king" for a day, being allowed to set the pace for the day, or at least decide what's going to be for dinner. No mention of drinking is made.

4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1/3 cup of milk, warm
1 teaspoon of salt
Zest of one lemon
1 stick of butter, melted
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup of almond paste
Two white beans
One black, red or pinto bean
1 tablespoon of melted butter
1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and proof, then add to the flour mix. Break pea-sized pieces off the almond paste and add with the egg yolks to the dough. Knead, then add the melted butter. Knead the dough for a good five to eight minutes or until it's smooth and flexible. Set aside in an oiled bowl, covered and let it rise for an hour or until doubled in size.

Carefully punch down the dough and shape into a round. From the bottom, stick the three beans in the dough, each at a fair distance from each other. Place the round dough on a baking sheet or in a round baking pan, cover the dough, rise for 45 minutes or about 2/3s in size.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 375F. When the bread is ready to be baked, cut a star shape in the top of the dough with scissors, to resemble a crown. Bake the bread for about forty minutes or until done. Note that, because of the high sugar content, the bread may brown prematurely and might acquire a bitter taste: tent the bread with aluminum foil during the last ten to fifteen minutes to avoid any burning.

Brush the bread with melted butter when it comes out of the oven, let it cool and dust richly with powdered sugar. Slice in pieces and serve with hot chocolate and coffee: make sure you check to see if you have the dark bean!

If you want to leave the bread whole, you can also cut out a star or crown shape out of paper and dust the bread with powdered sugar after it's cooled.