Dutch Currant Buns: From Funeral Food to Breakfast Treat

 

bunsBefore moving to the Netherlands, breakfast was a solemn affiar. When I lived in the United States, on my way to work or school, I often stopped at the local Dunkin’ Donuts (can’t believe the first one has just landed in Amsterdam — and no, I’m not so sure I’m still a fan) for a cup of weak, milky coffee to wash down a bagel with strawberry cream cheese, If I had time to eat at home, it was usually a toaster waffle and instant coffee. You can imagine my amazement and delight when I was introduced to the wonders (trust me, certainly wonderful compared to what I was used to!) of the Dutch breakfast table by my very traditionally Dutch mother-in-law. Breakfast was a beautiful and abundant affair with everything from fresh fruit to various types of hearty carbs. Luckily, gluten intolerance wasn’t fashionable back then…
Out came the pretty damask tablecloth, and while the kettle was put on for tea and the scent of filter coffee filled the air, eggs were boiled and a variety of Dutch breakfast icons slowly started to appear on the table: hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), beschuit (rusks), ontbijtkoek (spice cake), appelstroop (apple syrup), three types of cheese (aged, young and cumin), a plate of cold cuts, Calvé peanut butter, sliced whole wheat bread, soft white rolls, crackers and krentenbollen.
I was especially charmed by the latter. The tender, currant studded buns enticed me with their aromatic scent of vanilla. I would split them open, generously butter each half and layer them with a few slices of sharp, aged cheese — a sweet and savory treat all in one. And we all know the thrill of sweet and salt. Salted caramel is a prime example of this deliciousness.
But krentenbollen, I later found out, did not originate at the breakfast table. In fact, they were first called ‘leedbollen’ (sorrow rolls) and were a staple at non-Catholic funerals, much like the still popular ‘plakje cake’ (slice of cake). Catholic funerals, on the other hand, gave preference to things like gingerbread (rouwpeperkoek) and cookies.
Today, krentenbollen are also served on less somber occasions. They travel well and are a popular choice for packed lunches, day-trips and picnics. I always had one in my bag during my days as a student at the University of Leiden, and my daughter still loves them for lunch. It’s their taste and texture that makes them so appealing as an ‘on-the-go’ food. A squashed ham or cheese sandwich isn’t really something to look forward to, yet for some reason, a slightly flattened krentenbol doesn’t lose its charm it only gets better.
Unfortunately, the ridiculous fear of carbs has made many Dutch wary of their krentenbol these days. Empty calories. And all that sugar! Might as well scoff a chocolate bar! It’s interesting to note that a decade or so ago, krentenbollen were part of the weight loss plan designed by Dutch diet guru, Sonja Bakker. Times (and diet insanity) sure have changed. The calories in a krentenbol, however, remained the same: a modest 150 or so, unless you opt for the larger variety, a reuze krentenbol’. In that case you can tack on an additional 100 calories.
For those who are unconcerned about restrictions or are craving a Dutch krentenbol after reading this blog, my recipe follows. Keep in mind that unlike the shop-brought variety, these are a bit more substantial and less ‘wodgier’. They also keep much shorter:  I would eat them within two days. Make them for brunch (lovely on your Easter table), and serve them warm out of the oven with royal lashings of butter and slices of aged Gouda. The recipe makes twenty. Freeze what you won’t be eating. Though freezing always affects taste. But don’t fret too much, and remember the Dutch saying that goes: “Het leven is net een krentenbol, met af en toe een hard stukje” (Life is like a currant bun, every once in a while there’s a hard bit)!

Krentenbollen (Dutch Currant Buns)
Makes approximately 20 currant buns

  • 250g currants, rinsed
  • 100g butter
  • 225ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 600 g all-purpose flour, plus some extra
  • 2 packets yeast (7 g per packet)
  • 70g light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt

For the glaze:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsps milk

Put the currants in a pan with hot water and allow them to plump for about 15 minutes. Put the butter and the milk in a small saucepan, allowing the butter to melt into the milk on a low fire. Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat and add the vanilla extract and the eggs. Whisk gently. Drain the currants. Sift the flour over a large bowl. Add the yeast, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir well. Add the currants and stir again. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well with a wooden spoon. If the mixture is too wet, add a little more flour. You don’t want to make the mixture too dry either! Flour your hands and knead the dough while it is still in the bowl. Flour your work surface and knead the dough there for about five minutes. The dough should be soft. Not too wet and not too dry. Shape the dough into a ball and sprinkle with a little flour. Wash and dry the bowl. Transfer your dough to the bowl, cover with cling film and a clean tea towel. Put your bowl in a warm, draft-free area and allow to rise for an hour and a half. Punch down the dough, transfer to your work surface and knead for a minute or so. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Make dough balls the size of prunes and put them on the baking sheet, leaving a little space between each one. Cover the buns with cling film and the tea towel and allow to rise for another 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Whisk the egg and the milk and brush a little of this mixture over the buns. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t brown too quickly. In that case, you can cover them with a sheet foil. Serve warm with the best butter you can find and stuff with Dutch cheese.

Herbed Spelt Couscous with Grilled Asparagus & Halloumi

couscous

Every once in a while I decide to put my prejudices aside and try out a recipe from a magazine. Well, to some extent…
I know this may sound a little arrogant, but good recipe writing is a rarity these days. Even well-known food writers are increasingly publishing books (written by ghost writers, may I add) with recipes that simply do not work. As a recipe writer myself, I question whether or not the recipes are tested before publication. I know how disappointing it is when a poorly written recipe ends up in failure and a waste of ingredients, so my recipes are always tested before being submitted to an editor or published on this blog. I want people to gain confidence in the kitchen, not be turned off by disasters that are a result of crappy recipe writing.
Anyhow, to get back to my point…
This past weekend I picked up a copy of the newest Allerhande, a magazine published by Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn. While I prefer to shop at exclusively organic supermarkets and markets (geez that also sounds snobby!), I regularly visit the supermarket for their organic line. I usually leaf through their magazine quickly, but rarely make one of the recipes. This issue, however, featured a really tempting couscous dish I knew I would have to make. It was really my intention to follow the recipe, yet as I was cooking I decided to give it my own twist. The original version (found on page 64 of the April issue) also looks very appealing, though if you’re making it, use 480ml of water to cook the couscous and broccoli rice. The specified 350ml simply isn’t enough!
Here’s my variation, to what already looks like a great recipe:

Herbed Spelt Couscous with Grilled Asparagus & Halloumi
Serves 4

  • 300g spelt couscous
  • 400g broccoli rice
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanout
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • 480ml boiling water
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • fleur de sel
  • 15g mint, leaves chopped
  • 15g chives, chopped
  • 15g parsley, chopped
  • 350g green asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 400g halloumi, in 8 slices
  • handful of almonds, chopped

In a large bowl mix the couscous, broccoli rice, ras el hanout and pepper. Pour in the boiling water and close with either a lid or plastic wrap. Allow this to ‘cook’ for 10 minutes. Make a dressing by whisking the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Pour this over the cooked couscous, add the chopped herbs and stir well. Divide the couscous over 4 plates. Grill the asparagus for approximately 4-6 minutes in a lightly oiled grilled pan. Season them with salt at the very end. Divide the asparagus over the couscous. Grill the halloumi for 1-2 minutes per side and divide the slices over each plate. Garnish each plate with chopped almonds and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

pavlovaYesterday was the first real day of spring here in the Netherlands. The temps hit 18C and a coat was no longer necessary. Hubby and I even had our first glass of wine in the garden! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love the two seasons ahead! Spring and summer mean outdoor meals, crisp wines and markets overflowing with color — not to mention trips to France! We’ll be headed to the beaches of the north in just a few weeks, and I’m hoping we’ll have great weather. I am so looking forward to walks on the beach, seafood and sea air!
The gorgeous weather had me craving one of the most beautiful and light desserts ever: a crisp pavlova topped with crème fraîche, berries and shaving of chocolate. The best thing about this dessert is that it is so easy to make! Whisking those egg whites in a standing mixer is the hardest part — and you’re not even doing the work! Another wonderful thing about this dessert is that you can top it any which way you please. Try different fruits or whipped cream instead of crème fraîche. You’ll love it!

Here’s my recipe:

Heavenly Pavlova
Serves 6

  • 200ml egg white (I used Two Chicks liquid egg white ) PS: not sponsored!
  • 250g sugar
  • 250g crème fraîche
  • 125g fresh raspberries
  • 125g fresh red currants
  • dark chocolate
  • few leaves of fresh mint

Preheat the oven to 150C. Whisk the egg whites in a mixer on medium-high speed. Once they start to hold their shape, gradually add in the sugar. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Use a bit of the beaten egg white to hold down the paper (place a small dollop on each corner). Spread the egg white on the baking tray in a rough circle of about 33cm. Bake for an hour and a half at this temperature. After that, reduce the heat to 90C and give the pavlova an extra 15 minutes with the oven door slightly open. Allow to cool. Spread the crème fraîche over the pavlova and garnish with the fruits, shaving of dark chocolate and mint leaves.

Cake with ‘Boerenmeisjes’ & Raspberries

 

FullSizeRender (18)I finally had a day off yesterday. The next issue of DUTCH is pretty much on its way to print, my next column for En Route only needs some polishing, and I have rounded off a few interesting translating assignments. So what did I do during my ‘breather’? I started with a long run. It was fabulous weather, so I really went for it. It felt like I was flying! Unfortunately, I think I need to cut down on my sessions a bit because later that evening my knee was killing me. I honestly don’t know how I slept. Major bummer. It’s better today but still not 100%. Good reason to schedule an appointment with the physiotherapist, which is what I did this morning.
Before the knee pain hit. however, I had a chance to give the house a good scrub. The French doors were filthy! As I was scrubbing them I wondered why I had gone running — it was one heck of a workout! But all my efforts were well worth it. By the end of the day, the house was tidy again, the floors were clean, I had done several laundries… and I even managed to squeeze in baking a cake! One with booze!
For those of you who aren’t Dutch or don’t live in the Netherlands, the cake has brandy-soaked apricots, known as ‘boerenmeisjes’, which translates to ‘farmer girls’ . It is a popular treat in the north of the country and usually enjoyed in a small glass on special occasions. It i also used to top pancakes or ice cream. For added color, I added in some fresh raspberries. The cake has a lovely tender crumb and is perfect with tea in the garden on a sunny day… or scarfed on the couch with one’s feet up after a long day playing Cinderella! Enjoy!

Cake with ‘Boerenmeisjes’ & Raspberries
Serves 6

  • 100g soft butter
  • 130g raw cane sugar, plus 2 tbsps for sprinkling
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g boerenmeisjes (brandy-soaked apricots), chopped, plus 2 tbsps brandy
  • 150g Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 220g all-purpose flour
  • 125g fresh raspberries

Butter and flour a round 20cm springform tin and preheat the oven to 180C. Cream the butter and sugar with a standing or hand-held mixer until pale and creamy. Add in the brandy from the boerenmeisjes and the eggs one by one while continuing to beat. Fold in the yogurt using a wooden spoon. In a bowl, combine the baking powder with the flour. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet. Fold in the boerenmeisjes and raspberries and pour the batter into the tin. Sprinkle with the 2 tbsps sugar. Pop into the oven and bake for approximately 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before cutting.

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