5: Cookin’ in de Keuken — Poffertjies
There might be an overall shift in my tone and cursing frequency this week, because I’m going a tad sentimental on ya.
It was recently the 20 year anniversary of my father’s death. We lost him to cancer July 31st 1998, just months shy of his 40th birthday. Clearly too young; it strikes me more and more how very young he was the older I get. Here’s a curse for ya: Fuck cancer.
One of my favorite family photos from sometime in the mid-90s. After a series of Nice Family Photos, I wanted a crazy one. They all made fairly cute crazy faces; I go hard.
The reason I bring all this up is that my dad loved food. Beyond that, he loved to cook. Was that one of the things that got me super interested in food at an early age, seeing as I thought he was the coolest ever? Damn right it was.
Additionally, because of his job, we moved a lot when I was a kid. (No, not military; always everyone’s first guess.) And the first place we went was the Netherlands, where we lived in a town called Amstelveen, outside of Amsterdam, for a couple years. I was 3 when we got there and 5 when we left, so my memories of the place are pretty fuzzy and likely based on retold anecdotes at this point.
One of the things Dad brought back with him? A love of poffertjies, a pan in which to make them, and this quirky li’l cookbook…
The Assignment: Poffertjies from Cookin’ in de Keuken: American Cooking with a Dutch Accent by the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam (kind of)
(Yes, the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam is 100% still a thing.)
This book is a mind-boggling mishmosh of recipe collections from American expats (put forth in generally nonsense groupings) in addition to a slew of traditional Dutch recipes and a whole lot of cultural info, in which I am much more interested. It’s also held together with a 3-ring binder that kindly allows the book to lay open flat while you work AND would allow you to snag your favorite recipes and put them in the front and WAIT HOW DID DAD NOT ALREADY DO THAT YEARS AGO. DAD. (Fine, he probably had the formula memorized by a certain point, but still. I’m gonna go move the damn recipe to the front of the book the second I finish this post.)
One of the other things I picked up from my dad is my tendency to not follow a recipe, change it as I go, and make it near impossible for anyone to replicate exactly what I just made because I don’t remember exactly how I did it. But from the notes scratched in the cookbook, it appears that in addition to adapting the metric measurements to our traditional American nonsense units, he also tweaked the recipe. The printed version is a more traditional poffertjie batter, which I am absolutely going to try at some point now that I have buckwheat flour (leftover from my galettes) and… oh yeah.
I’ve got one of his old poffertjie pans.
He had a couple, and this is not the first one he had, which I strongly remember having much shallower divots. But it’s one of his two, and that’s pretty awesome. It also brings a whole additional challenge: Cooking in a cast-iron pan that may not have been used in over 20 years, especially considering I don’t have a lot of great experience with using batter on cast iron. (I’ve got this griddle top that I’ve unsuccessfully tried to use for pancakes so so many times…) However, the pan appeared to be in pretty good condition, not rusty or dirty, and with a decent (albeit mildly dulled) sheen of seasoning… I gave it a good scrub with salt and water, then dried it and hit it with coconut oil for good measure. I was in business.
The Recipe (directly from the book, which you cannot buy because it was a collection of recipes from the 80s):
from Cookin’ in de Keuken, adapted by Dave DeRuyck
(Do I also blame my dad for my terrible handwriting? I sure do. I certainly didn’t get it from my mom, who has the penmanship of the most mature and polite angel. I never stood a chance at forging notes from her as a kid, because I will never ever be able to write that beautifully as long as I live. However, as one who writes and edits for a living, it is physically painful for me to see the punctuation errors on this page, but we’re not getting into that. #igiveafuckaboutanOxfordcomma)
So I pull up this recipe, see the notes, and go “Oh, OK, I’ll just use Dad’s ingredients but follow the printed description. No sweat!”
Silly Dana. There’s ALWAYS sweat.
Things to Note About the Recipe:
I compared the two recipes for logic. After wrapping my brain around the dL measurements, I understood that a) his recipe called for a bit more liquid than the traditional one, but b) it still didn’t seem like a lot. 2 cups of milk to 2 cups of flour? Hmmm… it did have the eggs though, so maybe it would be OK. I just had a very vivid memory of him using a cyclist-style water bottle to dispense batter efficiently into the pan, and there’s no way that would have worked with a too-thick batter. Whatever, though. I rolled with it.
I puttered along, mixing up my batter clumsily; creating a well in the flour mixture, then completely pouring the liquid outside of said well. WHATEVER. No bigs. Keep going. “Scald the milk.” Scald the milk? Really? Do I have to? Fuck it, I’ll scald the milk.
I get to the point where I’m mixing the scalded milk into the batter, stressing about how un-batter-y it looks, when I realize… the eggs. I didn’t add the eggs. Since they’re not in the official recipe, I didn’t clock a spot to put them in. Probably should have been before I poured the scalded milk into the flour, creating the clumpy mess I was currently mixing up. DAMMIITTTTTTT. Nope, whatever, no time for despair. I whisked and added the eggs to the chunky batter, thereby making it a more batter-like lumpy batter.
GUH. Do I start over? Do I keep going? Do I scrap it all and lay on the floor with a box of wine?
I kept going.
After letting the batter rest and rise, I revisited its chunky mess, and decide to thin it out a bit. Especially since there’s a very good chance my dad also did this and just did not freaking write it down. I transfer some of the batter to my smoothie shaker bottle (since I could not find either of the squeezy water bottles that I know I have somewhere) with a bit of water, and shake it it on up as I preheat the poffertjie pan. I pour batter carefully into the divots of the pan.
The pan is RILL HOT and getting hotter by the second.
Note that the recipe says to bring the pan to high heat. That’s a lie. Don’t do that. That’s too high.
(The picture here is from my second batch. Lesson from Batch 1: Don’t fill the divots to the top. They’re not called poffertjies for their lack of poff, and that poff will send batter running all over your pan.)
Cooking ’em up, waiting for them to get solid enough to flip, stressing that the center of my pan is now so hot, I can see wavy lines above it… or is that just smoke…?
High is too high. Lesson learned.
But a few of those guys on the edges are actually looking pretty decent, and I’ve got lots of batter left. So I ditch the charred center pieces, and refill ’em.
Another thing to note: My first batch was also tragic because I was having a hard time flipping the little bastards in their holes. They weren’t fully sticking, but they did cling a bit too hard for comfort. (Don’t we all sometimes.) I figured this was all part of needing to get the cast iron’s seasoning back on point. As you can see in this picture, some of the pieces still got a bit collapsed in the process, but eventually, I got both the temperature and the flipping technique down. (I used a chopstick for the flipping; video demo to come.)
Oooh, now that’s more like it, right?
And once they’re all cooked up, you’re gonna reach for more of that melted butter and powder sugar and GO. TO. TOWN.
This is another one of those items that I could probably eat until my stomach split BUT since I don’t have time for that, I ate a whole bunch of the ugly ones, then brought a plate of the prettiest poffertjies up to my neighbor.
Oh, and the lumpy batter? Pretty much a non-issue. Way to not freak out, Dana. Serious high-five.
How did they taste?
Um, they tasted GREAT. Not just because of all the butter and powdered sugar, but the batter had a really lovely flavor to it. It tasted just the way I remembered.
Would I make this again?
Hell yes, only for the rest of my life. I’ll give the traditional version a try too, and will honestly probably tweak the batter to my own specifications and scrawl that version in the book as well. Aw. Plus, I gotta figure out exactly how much water needs to be added in here. (DAD.)
Do I recommend this cookbook?
Not really, because you can’t get it anywhere since it’s about 30 years old and not a professionally published book. But you should definitely make yourself some poffertjies if you can score a pan. (Additionally, there are places that randomly make the suckers, whether they call them by the right name or not. If you’re in the LA area, Sonny’s Amazing Italian Ices & Cremes in Sherman Oaks will make some for ya, along with some really stellar homemade ice cream.)
What’s the next recipe I want to make from this book?
Let’s be real, it’s probably gonna be the pannekoeken, a.k.a. Dutch pancakes. “JFC, you’re horny for pancakes, aren’t you?” MAYBE I AM. And maybe I’m now on the hunt for some real Dutch stroop.
Another damn recipe down, and this was an important one. Even better, the old poffertjie pan is now back in the game. Maybe I’ll get so good at making the suckers that I won’t be terrified that they’ll burn and stick in the pan and I’ll even be able to invite people over while I make them. But baby steps, people. This whole project is about baby steps. And with that…