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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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