VanderBaking

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.

DSCN6122

DSCN6124

DSCN6128

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.

DSCN6134

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)

Pastry:

  • 1 lb. cold butter
  • 4 c. flour
  • 1 c. cold water

Filling:

  • 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.

DSCN6136

DSCN6139

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.

DSCN6142

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.

DSCN6144

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.

DSCN6154

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!

My new favorite book (+ cupcakes)

Way back when, my hometown newspaper used to run a column called “Cooks Around County” (no idea why there is no “the” in that title). Later, it became “Cook’s Corner”. Every week this column featured some pillar of the community who had agreed to share some juicy tidbits about their life and a few of their favorite recipes. Not too long ago, my mom found a couple of binders in which my grandma had saved dozens and dozens of these columns, dating back to the late fifties. She made archival copies of the best ones and organized them into a little spiral bound book. It is, in a word, magnificent.

It’s not so much that I want to make a lot of the recipes. They do not really comport with my general cooking style (i.e. no animals, minimal Jello).

DSCN6073

DSCN6076

DSCN6079

Also, this is as close as the Cooks Around the County ever got to “vegetarian”:

DSCN6080

No, it’s not the food that makes this such a magnificent compilation. It’s the retro charm, the photos, and the insight into people’s lives through their comments about what they cooked for their families.

DSCN6075

DSCN6078

My Grandma Neva appeared in the column, and shared her no-fail recipe for pumpkin bread.

DSCN6072

Here’s the photo from my mom’s column…

DSCN6094

…and my dad’s, after the world realized men can cook too!

DSCN6090

I wanted to make something straight from one of the columns for this week’s post, but the recipe that sounded best to me used a cake mix and I’m generally not a cake mix kind of girl. So, I put on my retro baking spectacles and did some adapting.

DSCN6082

DSCN6084

RSCN6115

Here’s what I came up with, and the recipe. See you all next time, friends!

DSCN6108

Applesauce Cupcakes (makes a dozen)

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c. butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1 c. applesauce (unsweetened)

Preheat the oven to 350, and grease a 12-cup muffin tin or fill with liners. Using an electric mixer, whip the honey and the butter together for about two minutes. Mix in the applesauce, and then the dry ingredients. Spoon the batter into the pan, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in one of the cupcakes comes out clean.

At this point, you have perfectly wholesome applesauce muffins. If you wish, add some cream cheese frosting after they’re completely cool, and CONGRATS! You have slightly-less wholesome applesauce cupcakes. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts if you’re into that. I just eye-balled the ingredients when I made the frosting (sorry), but you’ll need cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, and confectioners sugar. The vast and mighty internet can give you measurements, I’m sure.

Notes:

  • There are no eggs in this recipe, so I would think these could be easily vegan-ized if you wanted to–swap Earth Balance (or maybe coconut oil?) for the butter and agave nectar or maple syrup for the honey. (And vegan cream cheese frosting for the regular stuff, obviously.)
  • If you’re looking to go the muffin route instead of the cupcake route, consider mixing some chopped walnuts and/or raisins into the batter. You could also swap out some of the white flour for whole wheat.