Thursday, April 4, 2013

Windmills in my Oven


Some time ago I picked up this baking book because of the intriguing title-author combination. A book on Dutch baking, written by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, whose roots are in British Guyana, India as well as The Netherlands, where she married and settled down with her Dutch husband.

remarkable
The story behind the book is remarkable. Once moved to the Netherlands, and very much interested in anything food, Gaitra started asking around for the culinary highlights of her new home. Invariably her friends would respond that no such a thing exists in The Netherlands. A bit startled by this collective expression of low self-esteem, she set out to prove them wrong.

In her quest she found out her friends were right. In cooking there is hardly anything worthwhile to be found in The Netherlands. There are some national dishes that involve mashed potatoes and veggies with a big sausage (stamppot) and sure, there is a Dutch pea soup we all eat whilst ice-skating around the windmill, on wooden shoes of course, throwing cheese and tulip bulbs at each other. But that's it.

thorough
Being as thorough as she comes across in her book, Gaitra looked further. Probably further than the average native Dutch ever has. She found the treasure trove of culinary goodies she was looking for, when she turned to baking instead of cooking.

Initially the book was written for the British market under the title 'Windmills in my Oven'. Ten years later (!) it has been re-edited and published in Dutch under the title 'Het Nederlands Bakboek'. It was elected cookbook of the year in 2012. And rightfully so.

This book is all about connecting the recipe to its origins. Every recipe is put in historical and cultural context. For me, as a born and bred Dutch country boy, the book reads like a parade of dear memories coming back to me. Knieperties, Bossche bollen, Zeeuwse bolussen, chipolata cake, cookies, everything is in there, and it is indeed  as Dutch as it gets.

almond rondos
The look and feel of the book are great. The art work is honest and plain. No bells and whistles, just the way the Dutch are supposed to like it. It makes the book accessible to both beginners and more experienced home bakers. The latter will probably pimp up their cakes, the beginner is getting exactly what the pictures promise.


So far all the recipes I have tried from this book, have delivered wonderfully. My personal favorite so far is the 'Rondo', a small cake filled with almond paste. It is one of these very Dutch baking goods that no one makes themselves any more. The difference in taste between the supermarket version and the home made version is, of course, phenomenal. Nothing better than home made almond paste!

almond paste
And it's is the easiest thing to make! Just take equal parts of ground blanched almonds and sugar. Add lemon zest to taste and make the mixture come together with just a little bit of well beaten egg to make it smooth out. Use fine sugar and finely ground almonds for a smoother paste. For the intermediate bakers: try and get your hands on some bitter almonds, or bitter almond oil, to dramatically increase the  depth of flavor of your almond paste. Just add a few drops of oil, or a small handful of bitter almonds. Leave the paste to ripe for a few days before using, it will have a more developed taste to it, especially with added bitter almonds.

11 comments:

  1. I have a favorite Dutch dish: Poffertjes! What a nice book, I'll check it out (fasting, as I am right now is the right time for food porn.

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    1. "poffertjes, zijn poffertjes zijn poffertjes zijn net bordkarton" is a famous line a colleague thespian once had to utter on stage :-) (=poffertjes taste like a card board box) Which is entirely untrue of course, because I LOVE my poffertjes. Lately the "ableskiber" (like poffertjes on steroids) have gained a foothold here in the house (ever since a friend borrowed us her ableskiver-machine)

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    2. I brought an aebleskiver pan from Denmark, and made them several times, they are very nice.

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  2. Do you know that the English title costs between 400 and 2000 Dollars at different amazons (US, Germany, UK)? Sadly, I don't speak Dutch. :(

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    1. Yes I saw it... :-| I really hope it will get a reprint in the slipstream of the Dutch version's succes. On the other hand... this might be one of those books that suddenly sits there on that book stable, on a sunny sunday afternoon stroll...

      the last release is in english though, but i havent studied that one yet: http://amzn.to/YKRJAt

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  3. Yes, but that is "Sugar and Spice - Sweets and Treats from Around the World", not so interesting as the Dutch baking book.

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    1. With your German background I'm reasonably confident you would be able to work with the Dutch version. It is a pretty straightforward book; no frills and complicated techniques. The wonder of the book is in the choice of baked goods; recipes for all those very Dutch goods that have become so common that we dont make em ourselves anymore (stroopwafels, roze koeken, tompoucen) etc. Either way; you know you can always knock on my door for help :-)

      xxx freerk

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  4. Would you be willing to share the Rondo recipe from Windmills in my Oven? There was a Dutch bakery in Greenville, MI, USA in the mid 1980's. Unfortunately they closed and I have been trying without success to duplicate them. Perhaps this will be the recipe. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the book as it is out of print. Thank you!

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