I realised today that this is my 300th post! It sometimes seems like I’ve only just started this blog, but then I look back at all those posts and realise just how much I’ve done. You forget a recipe or some special event, and then you see the post and it all comes back. Ah, memories!
Anyway, I promised a few days ago that I would try something from my new Dutch book of biscuits (which was a gift from Ria – thanks!). But which one should it be? I looked at several recipes, but in the end went for Utrechtse spritsen that my friend Sunshine had already spotted in my picture of the book. So that seemed about as good a way to start as any, and I decided to go with that one.
These are very rich butter biscuits which are named after Utrecht. It’s one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, blessed with lots of history and impressive architecture and beautiful canals. The name means “Utrecht shortbread” but from what I have been able to find out, the name originally comes from German spritzen (to spray) which makes sense when you know that the cookies are formed by squeezing the dough though a nozzle to get the distinctive ridges.
This was a new technique for me – you cream butter and a little egg, then add sugar, and finally work in the flour. The trick is to get a very light, smooth, soft dough that you can then squeeze through a star-shaped nozzle. You then make a wave pattern and bake. This leaves you with a long “strip” of cookie that can be easily cut while hot, but which hardens as it cools.
If you’re interested to see how to make them, there is a video here, but be warned that it’s only in Dutch. However, I think you get the idea of how to do it.
I found making these cookies quite easy, with two small wrinkles that it would have been nice to have known about before I started!
First, the mixture requires quite some muscles to squeeze the bag! The answer to this is probably to use a larger nozzle, but I did not have one to hand, so I just relied on sheer brute force. Also making sure that the dough is sufficiently light and smooth should make it easier to get spritsing.
Second, you need to cut the long strips of baked biscuit into pieces as soon as they come out of the oven. As soon as they come out. The biscuit starts to cool and harden very rapidly, and if you’re not quick enough, you get crumbly cuts instead of nice clean slices. This can be easily overcome by baking one long strip at a time, so that when it comes out of the oven, you can cut immediately with a very sharp knife.
The resulting biscuits are delicious – very simply, but perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. They’re about an inch wide and two inches long (3cm x 6cm) so they’re quite small, but I think that sometimes less is more. They’re the sort of biscuit you often get in a cafe with a cup of coffee – something small to nibble on. And when made yourself, they’re even better.
To make Utrechtse spritsen (makes approximately 30):
• 1/2 egg (30g), beaten
• 160g butter
• 100g light brown sugar
• 3g salt
• 15g vanilla sugar or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 250g plain flour
1. Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
2. In a bowl, beat the egg and butter until fluffy – keep beating, it will happen! Mix in the sugar, salt and vanilla sugar or extract and beat for another minute.
3. Add the flour and mix well – towards the end you might find it easiest to mix with your hands. The mixture should be quite soft and light.
4. Put a star nozzle into a piping bag. Fill with the dough, then start to pipe a wave pattern – but there should be no gaps in the strip of dough. If you find that the piping is not working well, just scrape off the baking sheet and put back into the piping bag and start again.
5. Bake the spritsen for around 15 minutes until golden brown (turn the sheet if necessary to ensure even colouring).
6. Remove from baked spritsen from the oven and immediately cut into 3cm (1.5 inch) pieces with a very sharp knife