Baking is a true science and for me baking is my passion, I put love into the things that I make. This makes a difference in the product, both in appearance and the way it tastes. My friends tend to say to me, ‘boy this is so good and tastes better than when I make it, what is your trick?” and my answer to them every time is one word…. Love. If you love what you do it will shine through your product and people can literally taste the difference.
My all time favourite Dutch dessert is Boterkoek (Dutch Butter Cake). This traditional Dutch dessert is somewhere between a tart and a shortbread. It has lots of butter, an almond flavour, a reminiscent of frangipane and makes a great afternoon treat at coffee/tea time. Oh my goodness my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
As for my Oma’s recipe, now that is a secret but I will share another recipe with you all that I found to produce a delicious product.
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.
Baking always starts with one common denominator, ingredients, and for me I enjoy using the freshest available product. Some critics will say, “We are what we eat”. Now lets be honest, we all know baking isn’t always the “healthiest” choice to make. As a baker I try to incorporate healthy ingredients into my baking. We only live once so we may as well enjoy it and my rule of thumb is, everything in moderation. Adding fresh, healthy ingredients make every bit of difference to our diet.
Shopping local is a wonderful thing, not only do you know where your ingredients come from but the flavour is undeniably fresh. The best part is not having added preservatives or chemicals sprayed onto them. I will support my neighbour who grew the fruit and vegetables themselves, rather than some big corporation that just sprays their food full of preservatives because this cannot be good for our bodies.
For me personally, I enjoy planting, caring for, and harvesting my very own fruits and vegetables. When you desire some carrot cake there is no comparison to walking over to go to the garden, pull a few carrots from the soil, wash them up and turn them into a stunning carrot cake. One of my favorite fruits that I grow and harvest is strawberry. Strawberries are so versatile and to name a few ways that they can be used is fresh to make a strawberry shortcake, or boil them down and make jam to spread on your toast.
With that being said, there is a ton of hard work that goes into gardening, from strategizing where to plant what seed, to determining what fruits and vegetables are going to thrive next to each other. This is really important in order to produce a beautiful crop to harvest in the fall. Not only do you have to worry about planting, now comes the big factor, relying on Mother Nature to provide adequate rain and sunlight to produce a lush garden and plentiful fruits. With a lot of patience, weeding, and love, some years are very plentiful and others not so much.
You take what you get and you harvest it, either by preserving through canning, freezing, dehydrating, refrigeration or using the fresh ingredients as they come. In the middle of winter there is no feeling like going down to the freezer and grabbing some shredded zucchini for a delicious loaf, or some rhubarb for a crisp. Also there is the option of opening up the cold storage, grabbing a can of peaches to make a peach cobbler, or a jar of applesauce to spice up my muffins, or pumpkin puree to make pumpkin roll for my family and friends to enjoy. The possibilities are endless and oh so satisfying.
Also I have the privilege of harvesting goods from my sister-in-laws orchard. For this I am forever grateful and blessed to be able to use the fruits from her orchard. This is due to the fact that in Northern Alberta it is extremely difficult to grow fruit and I have never seen an orchard so plentiful as my sisters in the North. Here I can pick apples to make yummy pies and of course harvest the rest into applesauce or apple pie filling, there are plum trees to pick from to make a tasty German plum cake. There is a Saskatoon bush to harvest from and make pie. She has a huge grapevine, black current bush and chokecherry tree to harvest and make jelly that is to die for on a slice of fresh bread. Now when we haven’t quite had enough there is also a hazelnut tree that I can harvest from if I beat those darn squirrels to the prize!
Nonetheless baking starts with fresh ingredients and for me that means everything. Fresh ingredients produce an incomparable product. To know where your ingredients come from and how they are treated, this is a huge win. Therefore we are not consuming harsh chemicals and pesticides that are used on commercial fruit and vegetables. There is nothing more satisfying than planting a seed, eventually harvesting the fruit or vegetable that produces from it and transforming it into a delicious baked good for someone to enjoy.
To implement the love that I have for baking, I try to stay true to my roots. I am proud of my heritage and one part of that is Dutch. My Opa and Oma immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands, settled and started a grain and hog farm in Northern Alberta. One thing to know about Dutch people is that they hate to see anything go to waste. When judgment day came at my grandparents farm, it was time to butcher a pig. My grandparents use every part of the pig possible, as times were tough and this includes the hock, so why not turn it into something delicious!
Growing up, one of my absolute favourite dishes that my Oma would make is called balkenbrij (pronounced balken brie). The best way to describe this is to call it a Dutch pancake. Traditionally balkenbrij was prepared on farms at the end of the pig-slaughtering process. It is generally made from the stock left over from boiling the hock, and the meat rendered off of the bone. Boil the stock, add the meat, flour and a special spice mix of cinnamon, clove, ginger and some other spices that I cannot spill the beans on! Finally it is poured into a pan or mold and cooled off to achieve the form of a loaf. Once cool, slice the loaf very thin (1cm), dust each slice with flour and fry in lard. Once cooked sprinkle sugar on top to add the finishing touch. If sugar doesn’t hit the spot for a topping, you could add anything that you wish.
One of my favourite traditional Dutch desserts is oliebol (pronounced oliebollen). Oliebol means, “Oil ball”. In English these tasty treats are most commonly known as Dutch doughnuts. The dough is made from flour, eggs, yeast, salt, milk, baking powder and usually sultanas, currants, raisins and occasionally candied fruit or apple. Once the dough is made you then drop an ice cream scoop full of dough into the deep fryer to make a nice sphere shape. Fry until golden brown on both sides, then remove them from the oil and place on a rack to let the oliebol cool. Once cool dust the oliebol in powdered sugar and add some cinnamon if that tickles your fancy. Yummy in my tummy!
These sinfully delicious doughnuts are traditionally served around Christmas time. In my family we made it a tradition to make oliebol on New Years Eve, as there is always so much good food at Christmas and this was a real treat to have.