Originally written as part of the World Cup 2014 cooking project.
Surely the Netherlands (or Holland as the football team is widely known as) are the best footballing nation never to win a World Cup. The inventors of total football have wowed and mesmerised footballing fans throughout the years but have yet to land that big prize they so eagerly desire. In the 1970s Holland made two finals, the first under the influence of the majestic Johann Cruyff, only to get beaten both times. That period was at the height of what the Dutch called total football; the ability for any player on the pitch (except goalkeeper) to be able to slot in to any other position as required. Such football is highly effective but can only be played with players with technical excellence and those that are very fit. Cruyff’s team had this in spades, but could not get over the psychological hurdle of winning a final.
I am transported to 1988 and the re-emergence of total football and the Euro Championships, where under the name of Holland the orange army won the trophy. There were some incredible players in that winning team, including the iconic Ruud Gullit. The stand out moment of the tournament was worthy enough of any final, and indeed it did grace the Euro final that year. I remember Holland were 1-0 up from a Gullit header but the Soviet Union (as it was back then) were pressing hard and looking likely to equalise…and then the moment of magic. A cross came in from out on the left wing and it drifted past the goal and seemed to be heading out. From seemingly nowhere Marco Van Basten ran on to the ball and volleyed it back across the goal and in to the far top corner. It was a shot that seemed to defy physics, but it’s a shot that I am still in awe of 26 years on. Holland won the game 2-0 and broke their ‘finals’ hoodoo.
For this World Cup? Well, when you start a World Cup campaign by drubbing the current World and European champions 5-1 then one must take note. Last night the Netherlands completed its group match with a win over Chile making it 3 out of 3 wins and is looking ominous for a great run in the tournament. Can they break their World Cup hoodoo? With Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie up front anything is possible.
Is there anything more idiosyncratic of a nation than the porcelain top of Holland – flip it to hear the fizz and pop as it reveals the hoppy delights of Grolsch. It has provided some crazy times for me over the years.
When I was younger I worked for a couple of companies that had offices/ labs (I used to be a chemist) over in the Netherlands. Regularly taking the 6am shuttle from Heathrow to Schiphol and spending much time in Mijdrecht, my experience of the Dutch are a folk that are straight down the line and this comes over in their food and beer – no pretences, just simple and very tasty. Memories of thick pea and ham soup, cheeses such as smoked Gouda and Edam, apple cake and a wonderful pancake house in a quaint town called Breukelen (After which I believe NY’s Brooklyn was named) endeared me at an early age to the delights of this nation.
An iconic dish which I have yet to eat is Hollandse Nieuwe Haring, New Dutch Herring. The 15cm long fish is taken from the freezing North Sea waters in summer and then lightly salt-cured. It is eaten as is or at most garnished with raw onion and sweet pickle. I love the simplicity of it; and raw fish, but its difficult to get at the other side of the world.
The dish I have cooked however is that of poffertjes; the pancake puffs served with chilled butter and icing sugar. As a Dutch mate said to me,
Under no circumstances serve these with lemon!
It is essential that a poffertjes pan – that’s a dimpled pan – is used to get the right shape and height for these little beauties. Eet smakelijk!
Poffertjes - The NetherlandsPrint
- ■ 250ml whole milk |
- ■ 1 tsp. dried yeast |
- ■ 1 tbsp. whole milk |
- ■ 100g buckwheat flour |
- ■ 100g plain flour |
- ■ 2 large eggs |
- ■ 2 pinches white sugar |
- ■ 1 pinch sea salt |
- ■ 2 tbsp. melted butter |
- Icing sugar and a great quality butter to serve the pancakes with.
First off you will need a poffertjes pan to make these. Secondly, I recommend a squeezy bottle with a nozzle for delivering the batter to the pan.
For the batter: bring the 250ml of whole milk to a near boil then allow to cool slightly. In a small bowl mix the dried yeast with the 1 tablespoon of milk until a very wet paste is formed.
To a big bowl add the buckwheat flour and plain flour making a well in the middle. To the well add the eggs, sugar, sea salt and yeast/ milk paste, and whisk. Now add the warmed milk whilst whisking in the flour. Keep whisking until a smooth batter is formed. Place a wet cloth over the bowl and leave in a warm place for an hour to prove.
Heat the poffertjes pan over a medium heat. Brush each dimple with melted butter. Squeeze some pancake batter in to each dimple until each is ¾ full, making note of the order in which you fill them. Once the batter starts to bubble use a couple of wooden skewers (or forks) to turn over the pancakes starting with the one you first poured. After no more than a minute remove the poffertjes from the pan and serve hot with a good sprinkling of icing sugar and some chilled butter. Repeat for the rest of the batter, brushing the pan with melted butter only when required.
A poffertjes pan is usually made of cast iron and has a number of small circular indentations, each of which is used to make one pancake per batch.