Theresa Pereira Written by Theresa Pereira

The Netherlands: modern and traditional sugar applications

The latest edition in our series focusing on sugar applications from across the globe: The Netherlands. We could not resist investigating some of the nation’s famed sweet treats but managed to include a savoury application too, exploring how a variety of sugar products add colour, flavour and texture to these traditional foods, as well as extending the shelf life of products that will be stored or transported.

Appeltaart Dutch Apple Pie

Close-up of Dutch apple pie appeltaart on a white plate

Unlike English Apple pie, Dutch appeltaart has a thick, spongy crust.

Appeltaart is a common treat or pudding in Holland, where each family and café has their own recipe, some of which have been passed down through generations for over 500 years. With a thick shortcrust pastry base that cools into a springy, spongy texture, this can be labelled as a cake, pie or tart – and anything in-between. The filling is apple chunks covered in sugar and cinnamon, mixed with raisins, sultanas and lemon zest, with minor alterations depending on the recipe.

With busy, modern life, it is now common to find appeltaart for sale in supermarkets and smaller shops, as whole cakes or in individual slices, with consumers favouring different brands depending on their preference for flavour and mouthfeel.

The recommended apples for this are slightly tarter apples, but many household recipes recommend using a variety, chopped into chunks and mixed for a deeper flavour. The sugar in this recipe brings a much-needed sweetness to the apples, especially if tarter apples, such as cooking apples are chosen. However, the sugar does much more than just add sweetness.

As with the choice of fruit and spices, the sugar chosen will give a slightly different effect. Larger crystalline sugars, such as granulated sugar or demerara sugar are more likely to retain a grainer texture and crunch once baked, whereas the less coarse sugars, such as soft brown light sugar, will melt to give a more caramelised texture and mouthfeel. Some recipes may forgo the sugar, instead only spicing the apple. However, this means the appeltaart will not stay fresh for as long because sugar acts as a humectant, keeping the apple moist and fresh, particularly important for the shelf life of supermarket varieties.

For those in need of a lighter snack, there are poffertjes.

Poffertjes Dutch mini pancakes

Dutch mini pancakes, or poffertjes, with butter, syrup and powdered sugar. Fresh blueberries out of focus in the background.

While butter and icing sugar is traditional, some poffertjes now come with a fruit or chocolate filling.

From street foods to boutique puddings, these Dutch mini pancakes are made of a thick batter which is fried in specific cast iron trays with dimples for each individual pancake. Originally made using buckwheat flour, they soon found their form in these tiny shapes during the French Revolution when there was a shortage of wheatflour. It is said that this allowed just one batch of these pancakes to be shared between entire families.

Poffertjes are now sold as street food for snacks, as fresh desserts in cafes and restaurants and in shops to be taken home. When sold by retailers and supermarkets, they often come as a dry ingredient packet that only needs fresh ingredients adding so they can be cooked at home or, even more convenient, they come readymade to be eaten cold or heated. While traditionally served with butter and icing sugar, these are now eaten with chocolate sauce, fruit or ice cream.

Originally, these small pancakes would have been made with white caster sugar for neutral sweetness and texture. But when produced on a commercial scale today, these are more likely to use partial invert sugar syrup as it is easier to add and blend into the mixture consistently, making production faster and enhancing reliability across every batch manufactured.

Partial invert also ensures a sweeter pancake and a longer product life thanks to its flavour attractant qualities and its unrivalled humectant properties. As a foodstuff traditionally eaten freshly baked, maintaining freshness is vitally important to consumer expectations.

Another snack with perhaps an even more iconic appearance is the Dutch speculaas, a windmill shaped cookie.

Speculaas windmill cookies

Traditional speculaas cookies in windmill shape

Speculaas are pressed into moulds to give the iconic windmill image.

Baked across many Western European countries including The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, these spiced cookies have taken on a life of their own. They were traditionally baked the day before St Nicholas’ Day – which is on 5 December in The Netherlands – however, they are now baked year-round to cater to different holidays and tourists wanting to sample them throughout the year.

Speculaas are thin, crunchy biscuits, shaped and stamped to look like Christmas objects, and more recently to depict other holidays images or symbols of Dutch tradition, such as windmills, which is where they get their English name. Spices vary across different regions and countries but a typical Dutch speculaas would likely contain ginger, nutmeg, ground pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom.

And which sugar constituent? The Netherlands has always been an integral part of European sugar supply because of its strategically positioned ports – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the nearby Belgian Port of Antwerp – meaning it uses similar cane sugars to the UK. This therefore explains why candy demerara sugar syrup is the key ingredient in speculaas, which gives them their characteristic brown colour and subtly complements the spices without overpowering them.

As speculaas are in such high demand for special national holidays and peak tourist seasons, they are now prepared months in advance and wrapped appropriately for the holiday or packaged to be taken home in suitcases. The natural humectant properties of candy demerara help keep the cookies stable and fresh while they are stored and transported ahead of time.

These spiced cookies have a slightly more savoury note than we are used to in the UK, and our final Dutch sugar application follows in that pattern.

Kip Sate Chicken Satay

Kip Sate, marinated chicken skewers with peanut sauce

Pure sugars help caramelise the marinade to give the chicken a crispy outer layer.

Of its 17.2 million population, The Netherlands is home to over 350,000 people of Indonesian descent. As a result, Indonesian food is widely available in Holland and has become extremely popular in modern culture. Just one of many dishes that are eaten every day in The Netherlands is Kip Sate, or chicken satay.

Kip Sate consists of marinated and grilled chicken with a peanut sauce, with sugar having two important uses in the dish:

1. A darker crystalline, such as dark soft brown sugar, is used in the marinade to help caramelise the chicken.
2. A syrup, such as invert sugar syrup, is used in the satay sauce to prevent separation from the nut oil and to stabilise convenience food that needs to travel.

The above is just a small insight into some of sugar’s storied uses in The Netherlands, illustrating the vital role sugar performs in both old and contemporary Dutch cuisine.

Ragus delivers its high-quality, consistent and reliable pure sugar products worldwide, including to well-known food manufacturers in The Netherlands and nearby Belgium. To find out how we can help you select the right pure sugar product for your application, contact a member of our customer services team on +44 (0)1753 575353 or enquiries@ragus.co.uk. For more sugar news and Ragus updates, follow Ragus on LinkedIn.