Tag Archives: dutch food

{4} Speculaas

A couple of weeks ago I made a batch of speculaaskruiden. Now here is a way to use them up – Dutch speculaas cookies!

I feel I need to point out that these are not strictly Christmas biscuits per se, as you can get hold of them all year round, but the crisp buttery spiced flavour does suit this time of year particularly well. Imagine yourself sitting on a café terrace on an old market square on a chilly day in December, coffee or mulled wine in one hand, and one of these cookies in the other.

Now, this post has a number of interesting things related to speculaas. To start with, this is a very special recipe. It’s not one that I made up, nor it is one that has come from some random website. Nope, it comes from Het Haagse Kookboek (“The Hague Cookbook”). I am assured that this was, back in the day, basically the cookery bible of Dutch housewives. As you can see below, the version I have had access to is clearly from the 1970s, and I love the retro front cover.

Another interesting aside is that the origin of the word “cookie” also links back to the Dutch. It isn’t a British word – we have biscuits, cakes, tarts, traybakes and so on. But the cookie is an American “thing”. It comes from the Dutch word for a small cake. Cake is koek (say it like “cook” in English), then make it small by adding the diminutive ending -je – and that’s how we get to koekje (say “cook-ye”).

And finally…as another interesting aside, I come back charged with inspiration about all things from the Low Countries following a recent trip to Belgium. While in Brussels, I was persuaded to buy some classic moulds for speculaas – a man and a woman, a bird and, of course, a windmill. If these cookies are going to be Dutch, they are going to be very Dutch. Even if they were made with Belgian moulds…

My unwavering belief that speculaas is a legitimate festive bake is also supported by the fact that it appears in the window displays of lots of bakeries and chocolatiers in Brussels. These range from the size of your palm to the size of a small child (really). My favorite is from Maison Dandoy. If you are there, do go in and enjoy the aromas and flavours. You may also wish to buy something, mainly because you will go nuts thinking about speculaas after you leave there.

That’s the background, the theory and the linguistics lesson. How are they to make?

The recipe is pretty easy – put everything in a bowl, work to a dough, allow to chill and that’s it! OK, that’s not quite it. If you are making these in the proper way, you use a type of sugar the Dutch call basterdsuiker. Yes, very giggle-inducing, but it turns out to be a sort of brown sugar. I’m not sure there is an exact substitute in Britain, but I used soft brown sugar and they worked out a treat.

But…but…we just have to admit that the real fun is using the moulds. No messing around with a rolling-pin. Just press pieces of dough into the moulds, then flip them over and whack them on the table to release them. And there we have it – lots of little gingerbread people, birds and windmills!

I do have to admit that these cookies were the result of some trial and error. The moulds were new, and probably need to be “seasoned” or similar. At first the mixture stuck badly, but I think after a while, the butter made for some sort of natural non-stick, and combined with a light coating of flour, they started to come out very easily indeed. By the end, we were experts!

And…after all that…here are the finished biscuits. Not quite as perfect as they looked before going into the oven, but they taste great – crisp, spicy and buttery – and they do have a certain rustic charm.

If you are tempted to have a go but lack suitable moulds, then have a look at this great version of speculaas from a Dutch girl living in London (here).

To make speculaas:

• 100g soft brown sugar
• 100g butter
• 1/2 teaspoon salt, finely ground
• 200g self-raising flour
• 2 teaspoons speculaaskruiden or mixed spices
• cold water
• 25g flaked almonds (optional)

To make the dough:

Sieve the sugar to get rid of any lumps. Put the sugar, butter, flour and spices in a large bowl. Use your hands to rub the ingredients together until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add just enough cold water (1-2 tablespoons) until the mixture comes together into a smooth dough. Work in the flaked almonds (if using). Wrap in cling film and chill for two hours or overnight.

To bake the cookies:

Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

If using speculaas moulds: sprinkle the moulds with flour, tap out any excess, then press pieces of dough into the moulds. Then – in theory – they should come out of the moulds easily when you flip them over. Arrange on the baking sheet at least 2 cm apart.

If you don’t have the moulds: roll the dough out to 1/4 cm thickness and use cookie cutters to shape the speculaas. If you like, brush them with milk and sprinkle with some more flaked almonds. Arrange on the baking sheet at least 2 cm apart.

Bake the cookies for 25-30 minutes until the speculaas are firm, but have not started to darken.

Worth making? This is a very quick, straightforward recipe, and the resulting biscuits are great on their own, or can be used crushed over desserts, in crumble toppings or as part of a biscuit base for cheesecakes. You can also vary the spices depending on what is to hand and your own preferences – not bad for cookies made from simple ingredients you’re likely to have to hand!

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{2} Speculaaskruiden

If you’re going to make festive biscuits, you need to get spicy!

Hence the second part of the “Twelve Goodies of Christmas” is a traditional spice mixture from the Netherlands.

Last year, I made a batch of German Lebkuchengewürz. Rather than trying more of the same, this year I’ve taken some inspiration from further west, and made a batch of Dutch speculaaskruiden (speck-oo-lass-krau-den).

My last mixture served me well over the past year, in everything from biscuits to fruit pies and compotes. So if you’re a little apprehensive about making a batch of mixed spice on the basis you won’t use it all, don’t worry. A little pinch of these sort of mixtures will add a lovely gingerbread flavour in place of plain old cinnamon.

I know that you would not normally arrange spices on neat little paper squares, but I found it quite interesting to see how the colours of each spice vary, and as you work with each, the different aromas will fill your kitchen with the most wonderful warm, woody smells. The warmth of cinnamon and ginger, pungent cloves, fresh cardamom and coriander and aromatic nutmeg, star anise and mace.

In making this, I used ground spices for a number of the ingredients – I’ve tried to grind cloves before, but they are tough little fellows, so you end up using a coffee grinder, and frankly – you’ll never get rid of the smell! Fine if you happen to like spiced coffee, but I don’t. So for the really tough ones, I buy pre-ground. However, I did grind some of them myself – the cardamom seeds were tackled with a mortar and pestle, while the nutmeg and star anise got the grater treatment. Just be sure to pass them through a very fine sieve, so you get rid of any woody bits of spice.

What you will notice when you compare the Dutch and German recipes is that they use many of the same basic spices – cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg – but in different proportions. And just as with so many spice mixtures, there are dozens of recipes and many people have their own ways of making them. So treat the list below as a guide, and adjust the amounts as per your preferences. For the authentic flavour, you need to add the cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger, but add or omit anything else that takes your fancy.

Now, the big question – what to make with this mixture?

Well, speculaaskruiden is the typical flavour in a number of biscuits – speculaas in the Netherlands, speculoos in Belgium and Spekulatius in Germany. As the names suggest, these are similar types of biscuit – they’re crisp, buttery, sometimes with almonds, and with lots of spice. While they are eaten all year round, they do tasty particularly festive.

That, or add it to cakes, muffins, carrot cakes, crumbles, compotes…whatever your imagination can come up with!

To make speculaaskruiden:

• 7 teaspoons ground cinnamon(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground cloves(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground mace(*)
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger(*)
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds or star anise

(*) These are essential. The other spices are entirely optional

Put everything in a bowl. Mix well – that’s it! Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

Worth making? This mixture is fantastic – different notes come out from the different spices, and adds a pleasant spicy note to many recipes. If you’ve got this to hand, it makes for an easy way to add a rounded spiced flavour to just about anything. Really recommended.

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Boterkoek (Dutch Butter Cake) for Koninginnedag!

Whew! We’ve just had all the excitement of the Royal Wedding in London (congrats to Wills and Kate!), so now we look across the water to the Netherlands. Yes, we are celebrating Koninginnedag, the official birthday of Queen Beatrix.

And in honour of that, we’re also got a funky Dutch-themed header, with windmills and tulips in the Dutch national colour, orange.

Like our Queen Elizabeth II, Beatrix’s actual birthday is sometime in February January, but she wisely decided that if her birthday was to be a public holiday, it was much more sensible to stick with 30 April, the birthday of her mother, Queen Juliana, given that there is at least a sporting chance of nice weather, and a resulting happier population.

If Dutch food is something you’re not too familiar with, a selection of foods include anijsblokjes, poffertjes, appeltaart, muisjes and mini Queen Beatrix cakes. OK, that last one is made up. Possibly. And then there are the usual suspects – stroopwafels, fries with mayonnaise, plus gouda and edam cheese. But today we are looking at boterkoek, roughly translating as “butter cake”, which is a bit of a hidden gem of baking in the Low Countries.

Boterkoek is a traditional Dutch recipe, somewhere between a tart and shortbread. It’s got lots of butter and has an almond flavour, reminiscent of frangipane, and makes a great mid-morning treat with a cup of coffee. But given just how key butter is the flavour of this recipe, really, really try to use the best, freshest butter you can, and don’t even think of cracking open a packet of margarine or (shudder) non-dairy spread. If you’re trying to be healthy, make it properly, then just enjoy a small slice of the real thing.

It’s also simple to make, so perfect if you’ve got to produce something at short notice. Eet smakelijk!


To make boterkoek:

• 150g butter
• 200g caster sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
• 1 egg, beaten
• 200g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 20g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with greaseproof paper.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter, sugar and almond extract until light and fluffy.

Remove one teaspoon of the beaten egg and set aside. Pour the rest of the egg into the mixture, and stir well. Add the flour and baking powder, and mix until you have a smooth dough.

Transfer the mixture to a baking tin, and pat down with the back of a spoon until smooth (you might find it easier to use clean hands to smooth the mixture). Mix the teaspoon of egg with a teaspoon of water, and brush on top of the boterkoek. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds, and bake for 25-30 minutes until just golden and firm to the touch.

Worth making? Boterkoek is a really simple recipe with surprisingly good results for something so easy. I’m also happy to report that this recipe has been tested on real life Dutch people, who all agreed that it did indeed taste like grandmother’s version. Definitely give this one a try, and great to mix up in a hurry when you have surprise visitors.

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Dutch Apple Tart

I waxed lyrically a few days ago about the stunning sunsets which have marked the start of autumn in London. Something like this:

This also means that it is time for apple pie! I promised a while back that I would try my hand at making a Dutch version, so here it is! I’ve come across two types of apple pie in the Netherlands – either the deep apple-and-pastry mixture called appelgebak, or the more familiar appeltaart. This is the latter, so we’ll do appelgebak another day.

A lot of people are put off by making fruit pies due to a phobia of pastry. If you prefer to buy it, then by all means do so, but it’s actually very easy to make. Just be sure to use cold butter and very cold water, handle the pastry as little as possible, and let it chill fully before using. Apparently, this prevents gluten developing, resulting in a better pie crust. For the filling, I used green apples. The ones I had were quite sharp, which is what I like for a pie, as they give you a better tasting pie with more apple flavour.

In fact, the only tricky bit is making the lattice on top of the pie. As you can see from the picture, even I didn’t quite get this right, but all I can say is that I gave this a good try. If you are minded to give this a try and are a little bit obsessive about getting it right, then see detailed instructions here. Otherwise, rather than the lattice, just roll the reserved pastry out into a circle and use this on top of the pie instead.

To make Dutch apple tart:

For the pastry:

• 250g butter, cold
• 50g caster sugar
• 400g flour
• cold water

In a bowl, rub together the butter, sugar and flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add just enough cold water until the pastry comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

• 2kg apples
• 50g salted butter
• 100g light brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 3 tablespoons apricot jam, mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Butter a loose-bottomed flan dish (25-30cm diameter).

Peel and core the apples. Cut into slices of 1/2-1 cm thickness. In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the apples, cinnamon and sugar and stir well. Cook on a gently heat for 15 minutes until the apples are soft, but have not become mushy. Drain the apples, reserving the juice.

Roll out two-thirds of the pastry out into a circle, and use to line the bottom and sides of the flan dish. Leave around 1cm overhang at the edges. Prick the bottom with a fork, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, put the reserved apple juice in a saucepan, and cook gently until it reduces and becomes thicker. Turn off the heat, add the apples and stir well. Fill the pie shell with the apples.

Roll out the rest of the pastry into a long rectangle (at least as long as the size of the pie dish), and cut into eight strips. Use the pastry strips to make a lattice on top of the pie (see how to do this here).Use any remaining pastry to form one long strip to put around the edge of the pie shell (or cut out lots of little pastry leaves, and put these round the edge – warning, this takes a lot of time!).

Brush the pastry with a little milk, and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Once cooked, remove from the oven. Warm the apricot jam, and use to brush the top of the pie.

If you like an easier life, then forget the lattice and just roll out the remaining pastry into a circle and use to cover the pie. Make a few slashes in the top of the pie to let out any steam during cooking.

Worth making? Everyone likes apple pie. I think this is a good recipe, using lots of apple and not too much sugar. It’s great warm or cold, and is well worth the effort. Enjoy autumn.

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On Location: Stout! and Villa Zeezicht (Amsterdam)

I just got back from a fun long weekend in Amsterdam. Pandering to many Dutch stereotypes:

We were there for a wedding which took place in quite a curious location – the Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses). A fun little venue, made even more fun by the fact that during the reception, we were allowed to wander round and look at the exhibits with a glass of fizz in hand. As the weather cleared, we moved out into the garden to enjoy the sun, where the museum’s overly-friendly but moulting resident feline decided to rub itself against my new black suit. Cats!

Over the weekend, I was also at the arts festival De Parade in Utrecht. There are loads of little plays, songs and cabaret performances to attend, plus a great selection of food, from excellent Italian food to traditional Dutch street food. I also loved the art installation on the railway building in Utrecht. Looks a little like an alien invasion!

In the downtime in Amsterdam between weddings and culture, I hit upon two little foodie gems.

Firstly, I finally got some good appelgebak (Dutch apple pie) at Villa Zeezicht. Lots of nice fruit, lots of brown sugar and cinnamon, with nicely cooked pastry and a decent dollop of lightly whipped cream. In slightly chilly weather, this was just heavenly with a cup of coffee. They also offer this with a scoop of cinnamon ice-cream, which would be perfect when the weather is a little warmer.

Zeezicht also has a great (large) terrace by the Singel, where you can enjoy the sun, the apple pie and their tasty broodjes (sandwiches).

My other find was Stout! on the Haarlemmerstraat. This is a very up-and-coming street with boutiques, shops, delis and restaurants, just a few minutes walk from Amsterdam Centraal station. I passed it at lunchtime, still a little the worse for wear from the wedding the day before, and my eye went straight for the “Old Holland” sandwich. This was a whole grain roll, with ripe tomatoes, rocket, very mature Gouda cheese and truffle-infused mayonnaise. This was, by quite some way, the most delicious sandwich I have had in quite some time. The cheese was nice and strong, the bread excellent, and the truffle flavour just sublime. A gorgeous snack in a nice place, with friendly staff where you can watch the world go by. Should you find yourself with a little spare time while waiting for a train in Amsterdam, dodge all the tourists and check out the Haarlemmerstraat!

Villa Zeezicht, Torensteeg 7, Amsterdam 1016. Tel: +31 20 6267433.

Stout!, Haarlemmerstraat 73, 1013 EL Amsterdam. Tel: +31 20 6163664

LondonEats locations map here.

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Easy Poffertjes

Hup Holland Hup! Love it or loathe it, it is the final of the World Cup 2010 tonight in Joburg. Whether you are following Paul the psychic octopus (backing Spain) or Mystic Mani, the parrot who can see the future (backing the Netherlands) (seriously – see here), there is no getting away from it. Here at LondonEats, we are pinning our colours to the mast, and backing the Netherlands, hence today’s rather attractive header featuring all things Dutch. Clogs, bikes, tulips, windmills, cheese and Queen Beatrix. If you missed it, click here.

In honour of this occasion, I have revisited my recipe for poffertjes, but I have tweaked it to make it yeast-free. This is also a lot quicker, as you just add baking powder and go for it.

The result? While these poffertjes obviously don’t have the yeasty taste of the traditional version, I still think they are pretty good. They still puff up, and they still develop the characteristic holes on top while they are cooking. They also taste pretty good. I would just make sure to use buckwheat flour in this recipe, so that you are not moving too far from the original and you keep the “real Dutch taste”. Smothered in melted salty butter and icing sugar, these things are utterly delicious. Next on my list to try will be to develop a gluten-free version. Watch this space.

One more time – Hup Holland Hup!

To make poffertjes:

• 125g plain flour
• 125g buckwheat flour
• 1 egg, beaten
• 250ml milk
• 250ml water
• 3 teaspoons baking powder
• 50g melted butter, cooled
• pinch of salt

In a large bowl, mix the plain and buckwheat flours. Add the milk and the water to make a thick batter. You want something that looks like pancake batter – basically, the mixture should flow from the back of a wooden spoon, but should not flow too quickly. You may find that you don’t need all the water, so don’t add it all at once.

Now add the salt, baking powder, melted butter and the egg, and mix well.

To cook the poffertjes, lightly grease the pan with a little butter (if the pan is no-stick, you won’t need to do this). Heat the pan on a medium heat. Fill a sauce bottle (one with a small nozzle), and then squirt the mix into the pan (saves fiddling with spoons or a piping bag). The mixture will swell slightly as the baking powder kicks into action, so don’t over-fill. When the top of the poffertje is almost dry, flip over and cook briefly on the other side.

Once all the poffertjes are cooked, serve with melted butter and icing sugar.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! As with their yeasty cousins, they are fun to serve and are utterly delicious. Swapping the yeast for baking powder makes it even quicker to whip up a batch of these tasty little treats.

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Koninginnedag 2010

I was asked to prepare something to help celebrate the de facto Dutch national day, Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). The country goes crazy in a blaze of orange to celebrate Queen Beatrix’s official birthday (like our own dear Queen Elizabeth, she has two birthdays. She’s the queen, so it’s obviously okay). So what to do? Small orange cakes, with lurid orange icing, and some flags with Beatrix’s picture on them. Enjoy!

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Anijsblokjes

When I was in Amsterdam recently, I brought home a packet of anijsblokjes (literally “aniseed blocks”). These are sugar cubes infused with aniseed oil which are stirred into a cup of hot milk, thus making anijsmelk. Simple!

As tonight it’s a bit chilly, seems like the perfect time to try them. I expected a strong liquorice taste (given how much the Dutch seem to love the stuff), but it turned out the be quite mild and very pleasant. The taste is like milk with a little honey and a light fennel aroma, and seems quite soporific. A nice alternative to bedtime cocoa, and I’ll be picking up another packet next time I see them.

While this makes a nice drink, I can also see a few other possibilities too – surely where I would normally use milk I could instead use anijsmelk? I can imagine using these to make a custard, crème brulée or rice pudding, as the flavour is a perfect way to provide an extra dimension to these dishes.  Another one for the to-do list.

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Poffertjes (little Dutch pancakes)

We are keeping the Continental theme going here at LondonEats, but taking it up a level to something that does need a bit of specialist equipment.

One of the oddest looking items in my kitchen has the shape of a frying pan but with about 20 dimples in it. While I am sure this would offer a very nifty way to batch-fry quail’s eggs, this is in fact a pan for making poffertjes, aka mini Dutch pancakes. These are about 3cm across, and are served with butter and icing sugar. When I bought it, I actually had no idea what poffertjes were, but the thing looked so intriguing (and only cost 5 euro), so I went for it. When I told my Dutch friends what I had found and that I intended to make poffertjes, I was greeted with blank stares. This is the sort of thing you would get at fairs in the Netherlands (and somewhat bizarrely, increasingly in London), but they said that normally they would just buy them, pre-made (shudder), from the local store. As with many things, home-made is so much better, and I was resolved to press on regardless.

But how to make them? You could buy the mixture and add water, but that is (1) cheating, (2) less satisfying, and (3) you don’t really know what is in there. So I looked for a recipe. Some just involved a bit of flour, milk, egg and baking powder. This sounds like the usual pancake recipe and would be plausible, but then I learned about the secret – you need to use part buckwheat flour and include yeast in the recipe. This is a bit more work, but the taste is un-be-lieve-able. With the recipe I use, the poffertjes are in effect savoury, if not slightly salty, with a nutty wholesome flavour from the buckwheat. Once they are done, you could be sophisticated and dust over a little icing sugar and add a pat of butter, or do what the Dutch seem to do – drench them in icing sugar and then drown them in melted salty butter. Not perhaps the healthiest, but one of the most utterly delicious, buttery treats I have ever had.

If you can get hold of the right pan (the Dutch homeware store HEMA is a good bet, with branches in Belgium and Germany too), then these really are worth having a go at. Kids and Dutch people will love you all the more for making them.

To make poffertjes:

• 125g plain flour
• 125g buckwheat flour
• 1 egg, beaten
• 250ml milk
• 250ml water
• 15g fresh yeast or 1 packet dried yeast
• 50g melted butter, cooled
• pinch of salt

Dissolve the yeast in three tablespoons of lukewarm milk and put to one side.

In a large bowl, mix the plain and buckwheat flours. Add the yeast mixture, the milk and the water to make a thick batter. You want something that looks like pancake batter – basically, the mixture should flow from the back of a wooden spoon, but should not flow too quickly. You may find that you don’t need all the water, so don’t add it all at once.

Now add the salt, melted butter and the egg, and mix well.

Cover the bowl with a damp teacloth, and leave somewhere warm for at least half an hour until the mixture is covered in small bubbles.

To cook the poffertjes, lightly grease the pan with a little butter (if the pan is no-stick, you won’t need to do this). Heat the pan on a medium heat. Fill a sauce bottle (one with a small nozzle), and then squirt the mix into the pan (saves fiddling with spoons or a piping bag). The mixture will swell slightly as the yeast gets jiggy, so don’t over-fill. When the top of the poffertje is almost dry, flip over and cook briefly on the other side.

Once all the poffertjes are cooked, serve with melted butter and icing sugar.

Worth making? Absolutely yes! This might all seem like a bit of a faff, but they are fun to serve and are utterly delicious. It actually takes about 5 minutes to make the batter, and about 15 minutes to cook them. If you see a poffertjes pan on your travels, buy it immediately!

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