IN SEARCH OF STROOPWAFELS

In Am­s­ter­dam, a tast­ing tour of a fa­vorite Dutch treat

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

My in­tro­duc­tion to stroopwafels, the gooey caramel waf­fle sand­wich from the Nether­lands, was in a small vil­lage in the south of Spain, where I live. A Dutch cou­ple had opened a small bak­ery tucked among the wind­ing cob­ble­stone streets. One morn­ing, I stum­bled into their store and watched as they cut a slab off a log of fra­grant dough, pressed it with a waf­fle iron, sep­a­rated the top disk from the bot­tom, spread the in­side with caramel sauce and put the halves back to­gether.

“What are those?” I asked. “These are stroopwafels,” an­swered the owner. “One of our coun­try’s fa­vorite treats.”

I was hooked. For weeks, I con­sumed a stroop­wafel ev­ery morn­ing — a cookie and a cup of cof­fee cost less than $2 — be­com­ing con­vinced that I needed to try these good­ies in the moth­er­land. I plot­ted a tast­ing tour with my sis­ter, who flew in from New York to meet me in Am­s­ter­dam.

On our first morn­ing, I roused her from a deep jet-lagged sleep. “It’s time to go find some stroopwafels,” I trilled.

Ven­dors were still set­ting up when we ar­rived at the Al­bert Cuyp Mar­ket and made our way to the Orig­i­nal Stroopwafels stand, where pro­pri­etor Den­nis Joink­ing, 41, was al­ready serv­ing a clam­or­ing crowd.

We joined the line, and I or­dered the clas­sic stroop­wafel. My sis­ter or­dered a clas­sic one and a choco­late one, say­ing it was in the in­ter­est of re­search.

My first les­son: Stroopwafels aren’t served on a plate. In­stead, the syrupy cookie is placed on a nap­kin and plopped right onto an out­stretched hand.

“It needs to be kept flat so the caramel doesn’t drip,” Joink­ing said. “Eat­ing stroopwafels like this is the Dutch way.”

I re­ceived the soft, warm cookie on my palm, its cir­cum­fer­ence en­tirely cov­er­ing my hand. Del­i­cately, I bit into the crispy wafer­like out­side and felt the cookie crunch as the caramel dripped down my throat. Joink­ing watched me ex­pec­tantly.

“Do you like it?” he asked, his face sheathed in a wide smile, a red ker­chief tied around his neck. Ev­ery Mon­day through Sat­ur­day, Joink­ing sets up two waf­fle irons to serve stroopwafels at his stand. The busi­ness was started 43 years ago by Joink­ing’s fa­ther, who ap­pren­ticed with a stroop­wafel maker in Gouda, where the cookie is be­lieved to have been in­vented, and brought his master’s se­cret recipe back to Am­s­ter­dam. Joink­ing took over the busi­ness in 2011, leav­ing his fi­nance job to serve the good­ies be­cause he loved how they brought peo­ple to­gether.

“We have peo­ple come here from all over the world to try our spe­cialty,” he said.

The sweet­ness was just right; it wasn’t cloy­ing or too sug­ary, and there was a dash of spice. (Nut­meg? Joink­ing won’t re­lease his recipe se­crets.) But what I re­ally liked about the ex­pe­ri­ence of eat­ing my stroop­wafel was stand­ing in a mar­ket on a sunny sum­mer morn­ing, watch­ing the crowds throng around me.

The Al­bert Cuyp Mar­ket is a tra­di­tional Dutch mar­ket in north­ern Am­s­ter­dam, by the fash­ion­able De Pijp neigh­bor­hood. The mar­ket is filled with shop­pers buy­ing pro­duce, fish, clothes and, of course, stroopwafels. There are sev­eral stands, but Orig­i­nal Stroopwafels’ is the most rec­og­niz­able, with its blue-and­white tiles and red counter.

Food his­to­ri­ans ar­gue over the ori­gin of the stroop­wafel, but all agree this clas­sic Dutch cookie was most likely in­vented around 1840 in Gouda, a city one hour south of the cap­i­tal that is also fa­mous for its cheese. Some say the cook­ies were made from left­over bak­ery crumbs dipped in syrup to give to poor chil­dren, but food his­to­rian Peter G. Rose, who re­searches early Dutch cook­ing and its in­flu­ence on Amer­i­can cul­ture, said the scheme was sim­ple. A Goudan baker de­cided to put two wafers to­gether to cre­ate a sand­wich­like cookie and fill it with syrup. The cookie was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess in Gouda, and ver­sions spread from mar­ket to mar­ket un­til it be­came a sta­ple of the Dutch diet.

“Al­though we are a small coun­try, our food is very re­gional, and dif­fer­ent towns of­ten have their own cookie or baked good,” Rose said. “But the stroop­wafel is dif­fer­ent, as it is pop­u­lar all over Hol­land and ev­ery­one eats them.”

When the Dutch im­mi­grated to the Amer­i­cas, they of­ten brought their waf­fle irons with them, and a ver­sion of the cookie made its way into the Amer­i­can kitchen. But, Rose cau­tioned, these new va­ri­eties were not the same as the orig­i­nal treat. The wafer shells are hard, un­like the stroop­wafel, and the Amer­i­can ver­sions of­ten were served with­out the caramel syrup be­tween them.

Now, vari­ants of the stroop­wafel can be found all over the world, and in the U.S. you can buy pack­ages of the cook­ies at Tar­get and Wal­mart and on Ama­zon. But noth­ing com­pares, Rose said, to eat­ing the cookie as the lo­cals do: hot from the grid­dle or warmed by be­ing placed atop a cup of cof­fee or tea.

“To eat stroopwafels is to taste the coun­try,” Rose said.

Mikal Bos­ton, 32, a Texan whom I met while she was wolf­ing down a pip­ing-hot cookie, agreed. “I smelled it from down the street, and I had to try it. It’s so good, crispy and warm.”

In­spired by my mar­ket suc­cess, my sis­ter and I headed to­ward the city cen­ter, where Lan­skroon, a 110-year-old bak­ery on a quaint canal street, is touted as hav­ing some of Am­s­ter­dam’s best stroopwafels. The se­cret to its recipe is that it bakes the wafers, said Maartje Braak­man, 21, who has been work­ing at the bak­ery for three years. It serves two types, honey and cof­fee caramel, and most pa­trons buy a cookie and warm it over their bev­er­ages.

These stroopwafels had a dif­fer­ent taste and tex­ture from those at the mar­ket. They’re pale and round and flat as plas­tic dessert plates, less crispy and less gooey — though the fill­ing is still caramel syrup.

Our last stop was in the heart of the city’s shop­ping dis­trict, where a newer, hip­per ver­sion of the stroop­wafel was born. Van Won­deren Stroopwafels, which opened last year, adds a va­ri­ety of top­pings to the typ­i­cal crispy cookie, dip­ping them in choco­late and sprin­kling them with good­ies such as marsh­mal­lows, rasp­ber­ries, nuts and co­conut. Jars of add-ons cre­ate an en­tic­ing rain­bow ar­range­ment along the counter of the shop.

The two 20-some­thing shop work­ers talked about half-Dutch model Gigi Ha­did tout­ing stroopwafels on Twit­ter as they read­ied their grill to make me a cus­tom cre­ation. I or­dered the choco­late ver­sion with a nut top­ping, and the cookie ar­rived warm and loaded. I sank my teeth into the con­fec­tion, and the syrup and choco­late raced to the back of my throat. They waited for my re­ac­tion.

“It’s good,” I choked out, wish­ing I had a glass of milk. “It’s very sweet, though. I’m not sure if the cookie needs all the top­pings.”

One of the work­ers, Do­minique Di­justza, nod­ded know­ingly. “Ev­ery­one still loves the clas­sic.” Cara Tabach­nick is a writer based in Spain.

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