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Saturday, 01 September 2012

The Best Apple Pie in Amsterdam


The first Dutch recipes for apple pie appeared in the late 1400's; that's way before Rembrandt van Rijn and the old masters. In Amsterdam, Dam Square and the Single existed, but none of the other main canals had even been thought of. Apple pie beat them all to it. Of course it was a little different then. The case or 'coffyn' as it was charmingly known as was no more than a casing – a container of whatever was within; a way of carrying it around. Because there were no baking pans, the crust was probably – well crusty and horrible. It's said that baking time was measured by the number of prayers a person had to say until a pie was ready. But gradually, with changes to cooking methods and ingredients, pastry - and the pie as we know it - came into its own.

Pie1

Pie in the making. De Laatste Kruimel


Nowadays every self respecting cafe serves Hollands appeltaart even if it's not on the menu. These pies are towering edifices, a cake-like crust at the bottom and sides shoring up chunky bits of apple – visible through a lattice work of golden brown pastry on the top. It's the cinnamon and lemon juice that makes Dutch apple pie different from its English and American cousins. It's often warm and nearly always served with a great dollop of whipped cream. But with every bar, bakery and cafe offering apple pie, how do you know if the one you're getting really is as good as your Grandmother’s?


I decided to test my tastebuds, and following my nose, scoured the city for an appletaart Amsterdammers could truly be proud of.


When Bill Clinton visited 'Papeneiland', a brown cafe on the Prinsengracht, he took an apple pie home with him. Apple pie fit for an ex-president? Seemed like a good place to begin my search. I asked the owner, “What makes a good apple pie?” “We use lots of apple, lots of apple”, he repeated, “because the apple sinks when cooking, and if a recipe says to add a pound of sugar, you should always add a bit more, and we put a crust on top – a closed crust, not lattice like all the others – that helps to stop the apple slumping.” Clinton made a good choice. The pie was sweet – and I'm not just talking about the sugar.

Pie2

Good enough for Bill Clinton. Papeneiland pie. 


But when I asked my Dutch friends, all of them said Winkel 43 on the Noordermarkt was the place to get apple gebak in Amsterdam. As I took a seat on the terrace I noticed that all around me people were eating thick wedges of apple pie, whipped cream cascading over pastry like a waterfall shimmering over rocks. Large, thick slices – no, not slices, lumps, of apple – firm but still soft, and sweet but with an edge. It was warm, so the cream slipped and slid, it was almost a work of art. This was seriously good. I asked again, “What makes a good apple pie?” The staff looked at each other. “Don't tell her – it’s a secret recipe,” said the be-stubbled barman. The young waitress laughed, thought for a moment, and then said, “Our pie is just simple, and the pastry is nice and crispy.” They've been making pies from the same recipe for 35 years! Obviously they're doing something right. On market days slices of pie are lined up in rows on the counter. They sell like hot cakes. Seriously – Winkel 43 sells 100 pies – that's 600 slices - every Monday and Saturday and another 150 pies during the rest of the week. That's a lot of apple tart.

Pie3

Simply the best. Winkel 43. 


At Latei, on the Zeedijk, a retro cafe, where everything has a price-tag – you can buy the table and chair you're sitting at if it takes your fancy – we tasted another monster apple pie – this time studded with walnuts. The chunks of apple were huge – maybe even a little too big. Again, they make the pies themselves, and of course, they too, have an opinion on what makes a good apple pie, “lots of apple and not so much pastry.”

Pie4

Lots of apples. Latei. 


At De Laaste Kruimel the chef made an appletaart right before my eyes. The apple slices were as broad as the apple but paper thin, and still wearing their peel when he pressed them down into the pastry case, ramming them in, using his body-weight to wedge in more and more pieces – “Elstar,” he said – “it's got to be Elstar.” He leaves the peel on simply because it looks good – tiny specks of red highlighting the pale lemon-green of the cooked apple. No top crust – the apples do it for themselves. Delicious.

It's got to be Elstar. De Laatste Kruimel. 


Villa Zeezicht with its cuckoo clocks, chandeliers and even a stuffed stag's head also serves a great slab of appeltaart; chunks of apple, firm, but not too sweet, and doughy but somehow still crisp pastry. The price - at Euro 5 a slice - was a little harder to swallow; this was the most expensive pie I tasted.

We've been using the same recipe for years. Villa Zeezicht. 


All of these apple pies were more than good; all made on the premises with love and care. To be honest there wasn't much to choose between them, but it was great fun trying to reach a decision. The Dutch government is campaigning to encourage people to eat more fruit. At least two servings a day. Dentists tried with the motto 'snack sensibly, eat an apple'. The campaign bore little fruit. Maybe they should've tried 'eat a piece of apple pie' - success would be guaranteed.


©Tracey Forbes



Prices (August 2012) are for one piece of pie with cream.

Cafe Papeneiland. Prinsengracht 2, 1015 PV Amsterdam. Tel: 020 6241989. Euro 4.05.

Winkel 43. Noordermarkt 43, 1015 NA Amsterdam. Tel: 020 6230223. Euro 3.50.

Latei. Zeedijk 143, 1012 AW Amsterdam. Tel: 020 6257485. Euro 4.00.

Villa Zeezicht. Torensteeg 7, 1012 TH Amsterdam. Tel: 020 6267433 Euro 5.00.

De Laaste Kruimel. Langebrugsteeg 4, 1012 GB Amsterdam. Tel: 020 4230499. Euro 3.80


Published in in good taste



P1030375We were the first to arrive at the metro Louvre-Rivoli. The scheduled meeting time was 10.30, but we were raring to go. An American lady approached, looked us squarely in the eye and said one word - ‘chocolate?' Over the next 10 minutes another twenty sweet-freaks swelled our ranks. We were on a mission - “The Paris Chocolate Tour” - devoting the next couple of hours to the dark stuff, a liberal sprinkling of history and anecdote mixed with chocolate and pastry tastings.

Iris, our guide, like a celebrity gossip columnist, bought historical personages to life, dishing the dirt on their relationship with chocolate. Queen Marie Thérèsa, the wife of Louis XIV, consoled herself by drinking chocolate while the Sun King neglected her. Mixing her ‘chocolat chaud’ with spices, sugar and nuts, she consumed such vast quantities that it rotted her teeth, but allowed her supporters to claim that the dark-skinned child she is rumored to have born illegitimately was literally chocolate colored.

By now we were crowded around the window of Boulangerie Gosselin. Iris stepped inside to take charge of our box of tiny little ‘opera’ pastries. Saying that such exquisite delicacies deserved to be eaten in an elegant spot, she indicated that we should follow her, and off she went, hugging the box close to her chest, dodging pedestrians on the narrow streets. She stopped at the aristocratic Galerie Véro-Dodat. Surrounded by paneled shop fronts and marble columns, we bit into the dainty pastries. Cake soaked in aromatic chocolate with layers of ‘crème de café’ in between - two distinct tastes one after the other. Topped with flakes of baker’s gold, these cakes looked almost too good to eat. But we managed.

Sighing with contentment we entered the Palais Royal, the former residence of Cardinal Richelieu. Another chocolate nut, Richelieu neatly side-stepped the rights and wrongs of drinking chocolate (church officials were confused by such a hedonistic concoction - was it a food, an aphrodisiac, a medicine?) by claiming he drank it for medicinal purposes only. (Problems with his spleen!) We popped into the Côte de France, a classy shop within sight of Palais Garnier, for our second tasting. We sampled a ganache (chocolate filled with creamed chocolate), as well as a praline (chocolate and nut paste), a dark chocolate exterior filled with a chocolate walnut paste, an echo of maple syrup and a sliver of walnut on top. Delicious!

Our footsteps were getting heavier, but the third stop was close by. At Chocolat a chocolate fountain released a heady aroma; we were eating, smelling, drowning in chocolate! Here we sampled wonderful éclairs - a slightly salty choux pastry with a less sweet crème filling than tradition dictates. We were also given tiny take-a-way bags (just in case we were approaching what the French call a ‘crise de fois’ - liver crisis, a gorgeous term they have for eating or drinking too much) containing a salted butter caramel and a half slice of orange dipped in chocolate - a favorite of Louis XIV’s!



A few steps further along the Rue Saint Honoré is Jean-Paul Hévin’s shop and tearoom. Jean-Paul is an artist, modeling chocolate into stunning creations. The artwork in the window changes regularly - we saw a miniature Eiffel Tower and a high-heeled stiletto. At the cutting edge of design and experimentation, Jean-Paul also adds unusual flavors to his chocolates and pastries. We sampled a triple honey ganache with a delicate floral undertone, and a lime ganache that had a subtle hint of lime complementing the dark chocolate.

P1030380Culture and chocolate - a winning combination - now all I needed was a stiff walk to avoid that ‘crise de fois’.


(c)Tracey Forbes


Travel Tips

The Chocolate Tour is one of many walks offered by Paris Walks. Euro 25 p.p. for the walk and tasting.
12 Passage Meunier, 93200 Saint Denis.
Tel: 33 01 48 09 21 40
www.paris-walks.com

Boulangerie Gosselin
Philippe Gosselin has twice won La Meilleure Baguette de Paris award and supplies pastries to the President of France.
123-125 rue St. Honoré Paris 1. M° Louvre-Rivoli.
Tel: 33 (0)1 45 08 03 59
www.boulangerie-patisserie-artisanale-paris1.com

Côte de France

Many claim that this is the best value shop in Paris as far as luxury chocolate goes.
25, avenue Opéra, Paris 1. M° Pyramides.
Tel: 33 (0)1 42 61 41 46
www.cote-de-france.fr

Chocolat, Boutique Michel Cluizel
Develop your palette and buy a gift box of chocolate from around the world. Descriptions of taste and color coding help you to decide which area of the world and taste is your personal favorite!
201, rue Saint-Honoré, Paris 1. M° Tuileries.
www.cluizel.com

Jean-Paul Hevin
Chocolate art, unusual flavors, and a good tearoom.
231, rue Saint-Honoré, Paris 1. M° Tuileries
Tel: 33 (0)1 55 35 35 96
www.jphevin.com



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