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De Zeeuwse Knop

What, you may be wondering, is a Zeeuwse Knop?

The names translates as the “Zeeland button” and is a traditional piece of jewellery from Zeeland, the most south-westerly provide of the Netherlands. The button could be worth either as a collar tie for men, or in the hair of women. The shape is also very distinctive – a central ball, with fine metalwork and a ring of smaller balls around it, but with myriad variations on the basic design reflecting different regions. While it isn’t seen very much today, it does appear in more modern guises, either as cuff-links and jewellery, or in more unexpected places like the tops of bottle stoppers or baking trays. Yes, baking trays, of which more later.

I’m telling you all this because I was recently in Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. The city is wonderfully preserved, with much of the ancient centre still intact. It has the typical ornate buildings on the main squares, but one feature that I found particularly charming was that most of the old houses had the name of the occupant painted on the front, as well as some sort of symbol to identify the house. Perhaps this was for a time when people didn’t know how to read and write, but they would be able to offer directions based on the “golden sheep” or “red rose” or my particular favourite, the “pomegranate”.

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During my visit, I popped into a shop called De Keukenkroon (meaning “The Kitchen Crown”). They had a vast array of culinary delights, from pots and pans to cutlery, tea-towels and crockery, but one thing really caught my eye. Yes, it was the knop reinterpreted for the modern age in the form of a cake tin. I was determined to come away from the city with something local and rather special, and this was going to be it.

I’m generally not a big fan of moulded tins, mainly due to a fear that the cake will stick and I’ll never get the thing out in one piece. However, the lady in the shop assured me that rubbing the tin with lots of butter before baking should do the trick. I asked what sort of cake the pan was good for, and she gave a very direct (typically Dutch!) reply: oh, make a boerenkoek – just mix 200g of butter, sugar and flour, and 4 eggs. Flavour according to taste. So there we had it – a tin and a set of instructions. I was on my way with everything I could need to make my very own edible Zeeuwse Knop.

A few days later and back in London, I stood in the kitchen, just me and the pan. We were going to make this work. I had the pan, I had the recipe, I had….well, I realised I had no clue how to approach the cake, no method, no baking time. However, that recipe rang a vague bell – the idea of equal weights of things made me think of pound cake, so I used that method. I got busy creaming the butter and sugar, added the eggs, then some self-raising flour. For flavour, I used vanilla and some fresh lemon zest – I wanted this to be something quite simple.

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However, before all that beating, I had done as the lady in the shop instructed. I got the pan ready by popping it into a warm oven for a moment, then removed it and started to rub generously with butter. After a light sprinkling of flour to coat the butter, and a shake and a bang of the tin to remove the extra flour, we were ready to go.

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The batter went into the tin, and I smoothed the top, being careful not to disturb the lovingly-applied butter coating that was going to ensure this cake come easily out of the pan. We were taking no chances here!

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With the batter done, I popped the cake into the oven and waited patiently. Once it was baked, I let the cake stand for fifteen minutes to cool, and then came the moment of truth – when I turned it out, would it look perfect or would it split in half, with part of the cake clinging to the inside of the pan? Nervously, I lifted the pan…and…out it slipped, intact! Perfectly intact! I’ve had mixed  experiences with “non-stick” pans in the past, but this was an absolute dream. The surface was a golden colour and the details of the pan were clearly visible.

To serve the cake, I dusted it very lightly with icing sugar – and there you have it, a boerenkoek (farmer’s cake) in the shape of a Zeeuwse Knop!

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If you’re keen to buy this tin for yourself, you can contact De Keukenkroon here.

To make boerenkoek:

• 200g butter
• 200g caster sugar
• 4 eggs
• 200g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• zest of 1/2 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Prepare a tin (either butter and flour a shaped mould, or line the base of a 20cm diameter (8 inch) round tin with greaseproof paper and butter the sides generously).

2. Cream the butter until soft, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Fold in the vanilla and lemon zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, and mix until just combined.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared tin. Bake for around 45 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top is darkening too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil.

4. Remove the cake from the oven, and leave to stand for 15 minutes, before turning out onto a plate. Serve as is, or dust lightly with icing sugar.

Worth making? This is a nice easy recipe that yields a simple but delicious cake. If you want to make it into something fancy, you can split it and fill with jam, cream, buttercream or lemon curd.

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Little book of Dutch baking

I love to travel. A chance to switch off, slow down, and spend most of your time eating, drinking and sightseeing. It also provides lots of ways to get new ideas to take home with you.

So it was that during my recent visit to the Netherlands, I became the proud owner of a new cookbook, called simply Koekje (“cookie”). After a brief introduction, it then gets straight into the serious stuff of recipes written by two Dutch bakers, Cees Holtkamp and Kees Raat.

Dutch baking is probably most famous for the stoopwafel, two pieces of wafer filled with caramel syrup. And then…well, there is not a huge amount of recipes that spring to mind. Sure, there is speculaas, but versions of it also appear in France, Belgium and Germany, so a little tricky to claim it as unique. And that is where these gentlemen come to the rescue. Cees Holtkamp runs Patisserie Holtkamp, a traditional bakers which makes tempting treats that you can buy throughout Amsterdam. Kees Raat runs the Unlimited Delicious chocolate shop and patisserie in Amsterdam’s trendy Haarlemmerstraat. So basically…they know their stuff. They really know their stuff.

This means Koekje has a perfectly formed selection of 100 biscuits – 50 Dutch classics from Mr Holtkamp and 50 recipes with a modern twist from Mr Raat. The traditional cookies include some spectacular names like arnhemse meisjes (“little Arnhem girls”), utrechtse spritsen (“Utrecht sprays”), taaitaai (“tough-tough”) and haagsche wind (“wind of The Hague”), with recipes ranging from simple butter biscuits to those rich with nuts, fruit and spices. The contemporary recipes include javaanse jongens (“java boys” made with hot sambal sauce!), zeeschuim (“sea foam”) and zeeuws profetenbrood (“Zeeland prophet bread”). It’s fair to say that there is something in there for everyone, even if it does mean that you have to learn to pronounce names that often seem to contain an impossible pile-up of vowels.

I think this is a lovely little book – it’s been put together to look stylish, but each two pages have a clear picture of the finished item, and a simple recipe. Lots of these recipes look delicious, but none of them (yet) look like they would be too hard to make. It’s a good guide to just peruse when looking for inspiration, and it’s great to see traditional recipes and contemporary variants collected in one place and presented so well. A concept that would be great to see for the baking of other countries, perhaps?

It probably doesn’t take a genius to work out that I’m going to be making extensive use of my new Dutch baking bible. While there are a lot of recipes that are interesting, I am drawn to those that use more unusual ingredients – aniseed,  sesame, rye or sambal hotsauce – or those which are very different from British biscuits, such as “tough-tough” biscuits or the haagsche wind meringue recipe from 1880.

That’s the good news. Now for the bad news. As far as I’m aware, Koekje is not yet available in English, which is a shame, as I think it would be a great seller. So for the time being, it’s a case of even geduld alstublieft (patience please)!

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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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