NOT happy little vegemites
I was discussing Vegemite with some online friends recently. It’s quintessentially Australian, an icon even if it is now owned by an American company. Unlike the happy little Australian Vegemites of my generation, I didn’t like the stuff at all. It had the colour and consistency of axle grease and tasted worse. We didn’t grow up with it, you see. I’ve acquired a taste for it, but it took a long time.
Mind you, the Australians had their doubts about what we ate, too. You eat raw fish? Yes, yum, roll mops. And as for salted liquorice… at least if I had that with me on school excursions, I had it all to myself. I remember one friend asking to try it. I told her she wouldn’t like it, but she insisted. The look of dawning revulsion on her face was a picture.
Mum, of course, cooked the meals she and Dad were used to in Holland at home. She got a job as a cook at a school for nurses not all that long after we moved to Shenton Park and she had to learn a whole different cuisine. But we ate Dutch food, or at least, food prepared in a Dutch way. Potatoes formed an absolute staple and some of my favourites were variations on ‘stamppot’ – basically potatoes mashed with other vegetables, with some added bacon or some such. I loved hutspot, which is potatoes, onions, carrots mixed with chopped fried bacon. But really, stamppot can be made from potatoes and anything – sauerkraut, leeks, cabbage, whatever. Served with Dutch smoked sausage and mustard. Or there was hashee, which is basically a cheap cut of beef cooked slowly with lots of onions and served with potatoes and veg. Soup was another staple, often made with little or no meat, such as bruine bonen soep (brown bean soup) or Dutch pea and ham soup, thick enough to stand your spoon in.
Then there were the cakes. I’ve mentioned in my piece about Sinterklaas how the Dutch used marzipan for chocolate letters or filled pastry but it also had pride of place in lots of every day cakes like gevulde koek. The first time I went back to Holland for a brief visit I walked along a street past a few patisseries – I don’t know what else you’d call them – and they were just putting out the freshly made cakes. The smells were incredible. You don’t get that from packets of imported cakes bought from the supermarket.
Mum always used to make soesjes for birthdays. They’re profiteroles, not specially Dutch but quite delicious. I used to watch her make up the choux pastry, half cooking it on the stove top. Then she plopped shapeless lumps onto a baking sheet and after half an hour in the oven out would come these golden brown shells of nothing, ready to be filled. I got to smother the tops with chocolate icing and spoon cream (whipped with a smidgen of sugar and a hint of vanilla) into their middles. And then… and then I got to lick the cream off the beaters, and use my fingers to wipe off the mixing bowl for the chocolate icing.
Two other very Dutch favourites were boterkoek and appeltaart. Boterkoek is sort of like a shortbread except it is soft in the middle. It’s very yummy but I can feel my arteries hardening just talking about it. Here’s the recipe:
* 2/3 cup butter
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
* 1 egg, beaten (reserve 1 tsp)
* 1 1/2 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* sliced almonds, for garnish (optional)
1. In medium bowl, mix together butter, sugar and almond extract.
2. Add beaten egg except for 1 teaspoon.
3. Sift flour and baking powder, and add to bowl, mixing with wet ingredients.
4. Put dough in greased 9 inch pie plate.
5. Mix the reserved 1 tsp of beaten egg with 1 tsp of water, and brush over dough.
6. Sprinkle with sliced almonds, if desired. (My Oma always used the almonds, it looks pretty and adds a nice touch!).
7. Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until done (firm to the touch).
8. This is a dense cake, but should be soft on the inside and hard on the outside, but not too hard!
Dutch apple tart was another all-time favourite. I got this off the web, but it looks pretty right to me. Note the cinnamon. It gives the apples and raisins a lovely flavour.
for the dough
* 300g self-raising flour
* 180g butter
* 150g brown sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla essence or 1 (8 g) packet vanilla sugar
* pinch salt
* 1 egg
* 3 tablespoons semolina (to absorb the juices)
for the filling
* 1kg apples
* 100g raisins (washed and dried)
* 40g granulated sugar
* 3 teaspoons cinnamon (or more to taste)
* 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice (or more to taste)
To make the dough:.
- Sieve the flour, brown sugar, vanilla and the salt into a bowl.
- Cut the butter into small cubes and add these to the flour mixture.
- Beat the egg and add 3/4 of it to the flour mixture (you will need the rest for the top).
- Using two knives, mix the butter and the flour mixture.
- Using one hand, kneed it to form the dough – you should be able to form it into a ball (this may take quite a long time).
- Put the ball of dough in the fridge for about an hour, in the meantime, make thefilling.
For the filling:.
- Peel the apples and cut them in cubes (allow the sizes to vary–it’ll taste better).
- In a (large) bowl, combine apple, raisins, (granulated) sugar, cinnamon, the lemon juice and half of the semolina.
- Mix well and allow the flavors to blend, stirring occasionally.
- Butter a 9-inch round springform cake pan
- Line the pan (bottom and sides) with about 3/4 of the dough – as long as the pan is covered, the layer need not be very thick.
- Cover the bottom with the remaining semolina.
- Add the filling, but try to leave the juices out.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining dough until it’s less than 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick.
- Cut the dough into strips and layer them over the apple pie to form a raster, covering no more than one third of the surface–you should be able to see quite a bit of the apple pieces (see picture).
- If necessary, use (some of) the remaining dough to make the edges a bit higher.
- Use the remaining egg to coat the dough strips.
- Bake the pie at 175°C / 340°F, just below the middle of your oven, for about 75 minutes.
- Remove the springform only *after* the pie has cooled.