Before 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
225ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
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:
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.
The latest issue of France magazine En Route has recently hit the newsstands across the Netherlands! Once again, this issue is packed with stories that will delight Francophiles — including my column on the history of caramel au beurre salé on page 77! Just when you thought you knew everything about this trendy French delicacy, I set the record straight by telling you about its real origins. Great reading for the holidays, so make sure to grab a copy! NOTE: the magazine is published in Dutch.
There is a saying I find very amusing. Perhaps you’ve heard it: “As American as apple pie.” But, you see, apple pie wasn’t always that American. Apples did not exist in America until they were introduced to the new land by Dutch and English colonists. Along with their apple and other fruit trees, they also brought recipes for richly-filled pies that were passed on from generation to generation and soon became part of American food culture. And although, it was probably the English who we can thank for making the first apple pies (the earliest recipe was found in an English cookbook dated 1381), it is actually the Dutch, in my opinion, who are worthy of the aforementioned phrase. Let me tell you why I think it should actually be: “As Dutch as apple pie.” Apple pie – though not the traditional one with a lattice crust – was the first thing I ate when I came to the Netherlands. My mother-in-law officially welcomed me to her home (and country) with a small, triangular-shaped apple pastry called ‘appelflap’. It was served with a very strong cup of coffee, and it was the first of many more apple pie experiences to come. You see, apple pie (and now I am referring to the thick variety served with whipped cream) is almost as synonymous with the food culture of the Dutch as their love for coffee, stamppot (vegetable and potato mash), beer with bitterballen (ragout-filled, deep-fried meatballs), and their almost iconic breakfast of ‘boterham met kaas…hagelslag…pindakaas…’ (bread with cheese… chocolate sprinkles…peanut butter). I can’t think of an occasion in which apple pie, or appeltaart, would be out of place. It can be served with mid-morning coffee or afternoon tea, it does exceptionally well as pastry of choice at birthday parties and all other kinds of celebratory gatherings and family reunions, and it can be found on the menu of almost every restaurant in the country. Ask my Dutch husband what his favorite dessert is when we go out to dinner and he’ll probably say ‘appeltaart’. By the way, for a proper Dutch apple pie, there’s no better place than Amsterdam, or more specifically, Café Winkel 43 on Noordermarkt. I have many fond memories of rounding off a stroll through the Saturday market with a thick slice of appeltaart and a glass of wine at this lively corner café in the city center. Their apple pie is everything it should be: thumb-sized chunks of firm and slightly sour apples, a buttery crust and a good dollop of whipped cream that isn’t overly sweet. However, you don’t have to travel to Amsterdam to taste a good apple pie. Keep reading! The first Dutch apple pie probably dates back to 1514 and can be found in the cookbook Notabel Boecxken van Cokeryen. It was quite different to the one we know today. The apples were baked under a thick layer of pastry, and after baking, some of this layer was removed and the hot apple filling was mixed with crumbledsuyckercoecken (sugar cookies). These small cookies, not sweetened with sugar as the name suggest, but honey, were flavored with warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom. After the cookie crumbs were mixed through the steaming apples, a drizzle of single cream would follow to give the pie a more refined flavor. By the 17th century, the Dutch cookbook De Verstandige Kok (1669) featured six different recipes for apple pies (accounting for one-quarter of all the pie recipes in the book) as well as a variety of other apple recipes. Apples were so much enjoyed that even poet Jacob Westerbaen wrote about common varieties back then such as the guldeling and the aagt:
“Mijn guldelingh en aeght, van liefelijcken aert (My guldelingh and aeght, of a sweet nature), Die geven lecker moes en spijse tot een taert (They make delicious sauce and can be used in a tart)”.
Most apple pies in the book featured a filling that was either made of applesauce or finely chopped sour apples, as the sweeter ones were eaten instead of being used in recipes. The apple pie recipes also called for currants, cinnamon and sugar. Paintings also attest to the appreciation for apples back in the Golden Age. Two beautiful examples are Pieter de Hooch’s A Woman Peeling Apples (1663) found in London’s Wallace Collection, and Cornelis Bisschop’s Girl Peeling an Apple (1667) found at the Rijksmusem.
A century later, apple pies were on their way to becoming an integral part of Dutch food culture, though at first they were a pleasure mainly reserved for the upper class. It was during this time that the tradition of serving apple pie with coffee (also a drink for the affluent) was born. Today, every Dutch household has their own favorite recipe for appeltaart, though sadly, in this age of convenience, many resort to the ease of ready-made mixes. My recipe is made from scratch, and I must say I am quite picky. The crust must be buttery without being stodgy or ever becoming moist from the apples. The apples must be tart and preferably goudrenet (golden reinette), and the apple chunks musn’t be too small. Finally, to serve, nothing but freshly whipped cream will do. But there’s a catch! My recipe for Dutch apple pie has been Frenchified! I’ve soaked the raisins in Armagnac and dusted the apples in French flan powder and pain d’épices spices. I’m sure you’re not the least bit surprised!
Frenchified ‘Hollandse Appeltaart’ Serves 8
2 tbsps Armagnac
300 g all-purpose flour
110g granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
180 g cold butter, diced
2 egg yolks
2 tbsps cold sparkling water
2 tbsps breadcrumbs
1 kilo baking apples
1 packet sugar-free vanilla flan powder (3.5g)
2 tbsps light brown sugar
2 tsps pain d’épices spices
freshly whipped cream, to serve
Rinse the raisins. Place them in a small bowl, add the Armagnac and allow them to soak for two hours. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and continue to press on the pulse button until the mixture starts to resemble coarse breadcrumbs or oatmeal. Add the egg yolks and water and continue pulsing until the dough comes together. Remove from the bowl and shape into a ball. Wrap it in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C and take the dough out of the fridge. Butter and flour a 22 cm springform pan and line the bottom with baking paper. Roll ¾ of the dough (leave the rest in the fridge) out on a well floured surface to a circle of about 32 cm. Press this into the prepared pan, sprinkle the bottom of the dough with the breadcrumbs and pop in the fridge. Peel, core and chop the apples into rough chunks. Put them in a large bowl and mix them with the flan powder, brown sugar, pain d’épices spices and the Armagnac soaked raisins. Tip them into the prepared pan. Roll the rest of the dough out to a circle of about ½ cm thick. Cut into strips of about 1 cm wide. Place the strips on top of the apples in a criss-cross pattern. Carefully trim the edges and brush with whisked egg. Bake the pie on the lowest part of the oven for approximately 60-75 minutes. If the crust is getting too dark, you may want to cover it with tin foil. Once the pie is ready, remove it from the oven and place on a wire rack. Allow to cool before serving with freshly whipped cream.