Clearly I couldn’t come to The Netherlands and spend all my time relaxing in the middle of a forest – not when the beautiful city of Amsterdam is less than an hour away. What a wonderful place to spend a day! Amsterdam’s compact and gorgeous town centre, a geometric network of canals lined with tall, narrow merchant houses dating back to the 1600s, is just made for walking around. Every new corner reveals a beautiful waterway, lined on both sides with painted houseboats, and flanked with cobbled lanes filled with interesting shops, cafes and bars. Cool Dutch people cycle past you on their heavy bicycles, baskets filled with shopping, scarves flapping in the cold breeze. The recent snow is still lying along the streets and the Christmas decorations are still in all the shop windows.
In the space of just a day we visited the houses of both Anne Frank (inspiring) and Rembrandt (intriguing), antique markets, and meandered for hours in the Nine Canals district just…looking. And of course ate some Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken) at frequent intervals to keep our energy up. Dutch pancakes are officially (according to our in-house pancake critics, unbiased) the best in the world, and they’ve sampled them on every continent. Crepes are lovely if you want something light, but if it’s a meal you’re after, then the pannekoeken are for you. They come in sweet (with powdered sugar, syrup, apple and cinnamon, chocolate sauce or jam) or savoury (cheese, ham, bacon, mushroom) varieties, thick but light and fluffy, and the size of a large dinnerplate. Bring a big appetite or plan to share.
I spent a long while watching the cook at the lovely pocket hankerchief-sized Pancakes! Amsterdam (below right) to work out the technique. For the apple cinnamon pancakes, apples slices were first fried in lots of butter in the heavy skillet, then batter poured over the top, and flipped once, with cinnmon sprinkled on top while warm and buttery. The savoury pancakes were made the same way, with the ham or speck fried first in the same pan the batter was poured into. There are two types of pannekoeken batter – egg based, or yeast based. Both make a deliciously thick fluffy pancake, but the egg batter is richer. I’ve included recipes for both below.
Of course, all that tramping around in snow taking risks makes you quite hungry, and luckily there were plenty of traditional Dutch foods to try, all of which you could watch being made, or even get involved in making, including pannekoeken (pancakes), oliebollen, and poffertjes. If they’re not familiar to you, poffertjes are tiny Dutch pancakes made with a buckwheat yeast batter, and fried in special poffertje pans with little scooped indentations. The poffertje house at the openlucht museum was cooking at a cracking pace to deal with the ravenous crowds, making about fifty poffertje a minute, and still struggling to keep up with demand. Their poffertje cooker was the biggest one I have ever seen, and could cook 240 at once.