Heyo! I forgot I had a blog for awhile there. Myyyyyyy bad.
On a lazy day a couple of weekends ago, my mom and I made a spontaneous trip to Pella, a charming little town not too far from Des Moines that is full of windmills, tulips (only in the spring, obviously), and people named VanderSomething.
The flowers were pretty but I was mostly in it for the baked goods. Yes, I’m talking about DUTCH LETTERS!
Now, I don’t know if Dutch letters are an actual, authentic Dutch thing, or if they’re exclusive to small Dutch-y towns in Iowa. (I could look this up, but I think I’ll just be lazy instead.) If you’re not familiar–the Dutch letter is an S-shaped, flaky pastry, filled with almond paste and sprinkled with sugar. They require a lot of butter.
Really, a lot. You should plan to share with many friends.
The recipe I used to create these Pella delicacies produced a pretty much spot-on end product. But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that it involves quite a few steps, and it’s pretty tricky. All of the following occurred during my Dutch letter project:
- The kitchen filled with smoke.
- There was much swearing and carrying on.
- I declared I was “PULLING THE PLUG” on this blog.
- I loudly blamed Bob VanderPlaats for my failures (that’s a Dutch name, right?).
- I sustained a rolling-pin injury. It’s day-to-day.
What I’m saying is–you might just want to buy these. But, should you choose to accept the challenge, steel yourself and get out some butter!
Dutch Letters (makes about 10, each of which can likely serve 3 or 4)
- 1 lb. cold butter
- 4 c. flour
- 1 c. cold water
- 4 oz. almond paste (Mine came in a can. Kinda hard to find, ask your friendly grocery stock-boy or girl.)
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
You’ll also need:
- beaten egg whites to brush the tops of the letters before baking
- sugar to sprinkle on top (coarse sugar is recommended–I used turbinado)
DAY 1: Make the pastry dough by cutting the butter into the flour until it’s in very small pieces (roughly the size of peas). I used a hand pastry blender (and a lot of womanpower) to do this. You could also use a fork (which would be more difficult) or a food processor (which would be easier, but be careful to not over-process and lose the small pieces of butter). Then stir in the water until the dough comes together. Work as quickly as you can and keep this stuff cold! Tiny pieces of butter will = little air pockets when it bakes, which will = flakiness. Cover and chill the pastry dough overnight.
To make the filling, beat the almond paste with an electric mixer for a minute or so. Then add the egg, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Cover and chill.
DAY 2: Preheat the oven to 400 and apron up. You will be messy. Grease a couple of cookie sheets with raised edges. (There will be melted butter. Be smarter than me and use the raised edges so that melted butter doesn’t drip onto the bottom of the oven and nearly cause a call to the fire department.)
Divide the pastry dough into ten sections and put one section on a floured surface. Put the dough you’re not working with back in the fridge to keep it cold. Roll, cajole, and coax that dough into a roughly 14″ x 3″ rectangle. (I found it worked best to roll it into a log with my hands and then use the rolling pin to widen it.) Spread a layer of the almond filling down the center of the rectangle.
Fold the long sides of the rectangle inward to cover the filling and crimp the edges so that almond-y goodness won’t escape. Curve the rectangle into an “S” shape, and place it on a greased cookie sheet, seam-side down. Then repeat the whole process until the cookie sheets are full. (Do you see why I slept like the dead the night after I did this?) Before baking, prick the letters with a fork every few inches to let steam escape. Brush the tops with beaten egg white, and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.
THERE, I think that’s it. Or, like I said–drive to Pella. The tulips are lovely, and the pastries are readily available.
Farewell for now!