After four years of living in Holland, after four years of speaking just basic Dutch, the decision was made. S and I started taking Dutch language lessons. Better late than never.
It's not hard to get by in Holland with only English, at least in cities with an international character like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, where we live. Most people speak English and unless your work demands it, you don't have to learn Dutch. Besides, it's a difficult language.
But now is the time for us to learn it. Perhaps because we're tired of not understanding what's been said on the news about Greece (especially during these past months), perhaps because we want to be able to socialize more with Dutch people rather than only with other expats from Europe or elsewhere, or maybe because we realized that with everything that's been happening in Greece, we are better off living in Holland.
Thoughts of moving back to Greece no longer cross our minds, at least not until further notice. That is until we are able to find a decent job there without having to kiss someone's ass, until we are not obligated to bribe a doctor to take care of us when are in need of his services, until the thought of starting a family in Greece doesn't scare us to death, until people start reading history and stop voting the way they have been voting for the past couple of decades, until we can live with dignity and feel that we have a future in our own country, until, anyway, all the things that made us leave our home in the first place four years ago, actually change.
But I digress.
I may have only just started learning the Dutch language properly, but I have already managed to delve into Dutch cuisine. Granted, it's not the most celebrated cuisine in the world nor is it exceptionally imaginative or unique, but it has some very good characteristics, especially in the baking/pastry department.
Case in point, the Dutch apple pie (Hollandse Appeltaart), Holland's magnificent national pastry. It dates as far back as the Middle Ages and it is said that during that time, because ovens with temperature control didn't exist, baking time was measured by the number of prayers a person had to say until the pie was ready.
The Hollandse appeltaart is displayed in the windows of every café, bar and bakery in Holland. It is famous the world over and the Dutch are very proud of their sweet, apple creation. Quite rightly so, I'd say. Even though I'm not a fan of fruit pies and tarts, I must confess that this apple pie is amazing.
It differs from apple pies from other countries in many respects, mainly in that the filling contains raisins, cinnamon and lemon juice and that the crust is not your basic tart crust, but one reminiscent of Pasta Frola (or Pasta Flora as we call it in Greece), which is something between pâte brisée and cake.
You line the bottom and the sides of a spring-form pan with the dough, which is a cinch to make, and then you fill it with small pieces of apple that have been mixed with raisins, sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. Thin, round strips of dough are latticed on top, decorating the pie, but leaving the apples still visible underneath. The pie goes in the oven and when it comes out, it is brushed with an apricot glaze, which gives it a beautiful shine.
It is eaten preferably warm, straight out of the oven, and is always served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. The Dutch apple pie is not very sweet, since it doesn't contain much sugar and the apples used in the filling are of a tart variety, and it has a very unique flavor.
As expected, the apple flavor is prominent yet it is accompanied by small taste explosions of juicy, sweet raisins. The cinnamon complements the fruit perfectly and the crust is crumbly and at the same time soft and light. If you want to get a real taste of Holland, then all you have to do is make this Dutch apple pie.
Dutch Apple Pie - Hollandse Appeltaart
Adapted from Dutch Cooking
Traditionally, this apple pie is made with a Dutch variety of apples called Goudrenet, which is a tart (but not too much) apple. If you can't find those, use Granny Smith apples or any other kind of tart apple. Be careful though, you don't want to use apples that are too tart, otherwise you'll end up with a sour-tasting apple pie.
Yield: 1 apple pie / 8-10 pieces
for the filling
1 kg tart apples, like Goudrenet (which I used) or Granny Smith
Juice of 1 medium-sized lemon, freshly squeezed
70 g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
50 g raisins (I used sultanas)
for the dough
175 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
175 g all-purpose flour
175 g self-raising flour
175 g caster sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp lemon zest, freshly grated
1 Tbsp water
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp dried breadcrumbs
for the glaze
70 g apricot jam
30 ml (2 Tbsp) white rum (or water)
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling over the top
Special equipment: 22 cm spring-form pan (7 cm deep), fine sieve, stand or hand-held mixer, pastry brush
Put the raisins in a small bowl along with a cup of hot water and let them soak for 15 minutes.
Prepare the filling
In the meantime, in a large bowl, add the lemon juice. Start peeling, coring and cutting the apples into small pieces, placing them in the bowl as you go. Stir them around in the lemon juice every once in a while, so that they don't discolor.
Drain the raisins, squeeze them with your hands and add them to the bowl along with the sugar and cinnamon. Mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula. Set bowl aside.
Butter the bottom and sides of your spring-form pan generously.
Preheat your oven to 180-185 degrees Celsius.
Prepare the dough
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), beat the butter on medium speed with the paddle attachment (or with your hand-held mixer), until softened and creamy, for 1-2 minutes. Sift all-purpose and self-raising flour directly into the bowl and add the sugar, salt, lemon zest, water and the egg. Mix all the ingredients with your hands and knead until you have a smooth, shiny, soft yet pliable dough that's not sticking to your hands. It will come together very quickly and easily. If it's too dry, add a teaspoon of water and if it's sticky, add a little bit of all-purpose flour.
Cut off a third of the dough and leave it aside.
Take the rest of the dough, shape it into a ball and place it in the middle of the spring-form pan. Using the back of your hand, press the dough over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. The dough should come up to 2/3 of the height of the pan. Try to spread the dough as evenly as possible.
Sprinkle the base of the pastry case with the dried breadcrumbs, which are used to soak up the juices from the apples, so that the base doesn't become soggy.
Mix the filling once more with a spoon or spatula and empty it into the pan. It should fill the whole pastry case.
Take the piece of dough you left aside and divide it into smaller pieces. Roll each piece into long, thin round strips and use them to decorate the tart, lattice style. See photos below.
Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the crust takes on a golden-brown color.
Prepare apricot glaze
Ten minutes before the pie is ready, prepare the glaze by putting the apricot jam and the rum (or water) in a small saucepan. Heat the jam over medium heat, until it comes to the boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
When the apple pie is ready, take it out of the oven and immediately glaze it, using a pastry brush. Allow the pie to slightly cool inside the pan and then remove the sides of the pan. Allow to cool completely and if you want, move the pie onto a platter or cake stand.
The pie is eaten either warm or at room temperature. Serve with a dollop or two of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and sprinkled with a little ground cinnamon.
It is best eaten the day you make it, as well as the following day.
It can be kept at room temperature, covered, for 2 days (3 tops) but as the days pass, the crust will become softer and more cake-like.