I think I’ve mentioned before that the Belgian side of my family left us little in the way of recipes. My grandfather ate slow flying pigeons, greasy potatoes and boiled-in-butter green beans seemingly every meal. If I have one definitive mental picture associated with both Grandpa Van Pamel and food, it was the bushel of Brussels sprouts soaking in the utility room tub and the smell of it wafting always through the house. The utility room of his post-world war 2, pink brick house was the common entry, the front door reserved for Christmas and the paperboy. It was a mudroom that came in through the backdoor of the house, had the tiniest bathroom ever right next to the furnace, a screen door into the garage and a washer and dryer. An immediate left put you in the kitchen. I’d walk in to him at the table, holding court with either relatives or buddies from his pigeon club, a pall mall sending curly ribbons of smoke into the air from its pinched grip between the open, chrome beak of a pelican ashtray.
He was a tough on the outside, tender on the inside guy. A chef, a baker, an anything- but-utilitarian-about-food-kind of guy, he was most assuredly not. An ex-boxer, feed storeowner, flower farmer, landlord and mysterious grandfather, he managed to compile a pretty fascinating life for a guy that wore the elastic waist of old underwear as a sweatband. I can see why cuisine wasn’t high on his list of priorities. My grandmother, who I’m sure did the cooking, died when I was two. Elise, his second wife, came late into the picture after the longtime bachelor Morrie had been set in his ways about everything, including food. He wanted pigeon, he got pigeon.
With Angie gleefully tossing around family recipes like handfuls of rice at a wedding, the competitor in me immediately began looking for something, anything, that I could offer up aside from the fairly rich cache of time tested food my mom’s side of the family was kind of enough to weave into my childhood. Belgian waffles seemed like a cop out. Fries and mayonnaise wasn’t exactly calling my sense of adventure or clearly flowing arteries, and my few trips to Antwerp hadn’t unearthed any traditional foods I could remember. Google to the rescue. Now, before we get too far into this story, let’s be clear:
Limburg is a Southern Dutch city in the Belgian province of Leige. (see comments for corrections to my horrible Geography. One of our guests was kind enough to provide them-November 25th, 2013). Its official language is Limburgish, whereas my Grandfather was Flemish. I’ve basically stretched my lineage to include a very general area for the purpose of finding something I can and want to bake. There goes all the authenticity of a post replete with credible and relevant history.
On the bright side, this Limburgse vlaai recipe is likely to introduce you to something new to try at home. Better yet, something new that’s actually excellent; a yeast-based pie crust with a slightly bread-like texture, a slightly similar to puff pastry taste and a great way to put a new spin on an endless array of pie filling. I had help locating it from the support of other Culinary Content members, so my thanks goes out to them, specifically Ellen Haertle from bakeitwithbooze.com. A link from The Dutch Table was sent to me and explains that, in order to be considered a Limburgse vlaai, the pie and its filling must be baked (I’m assuming that means at the same time). If you bake the crust, then fill it afterwards, it’s considered simply vlaai.
Historian, baker, guy that writes waaaaay too long of a post. Where does the talent end? I highly recommend you give this a try. I was curious with low expectations (just described every date I ever had) but it turned out to be a major find for the recipe arsenal, with great potential for both sweet and savory pies. The reviews at home were rave and we’re already plotting its many uses as a shell for homemade chocolate pie, a twist on quiche and, of course, shoving some fresh fruit in there somehow. If you give it a go, get back to us with your thoughts.
Yields: 1, 9″ crust. Double it for a double crust pie, which traditionally would be decorative, with a criss cross pattern, symmetrical holes, etc. Time: 20 minutes (including 10 for the rest periods to let the yeast rise.)
Soundtrack:The Police-Ghost In The Machine [Digipak] I was 80’s guy all morning, with a white tee shirt, no sleeves and my hair all gelled up. If you want some great kitchen music, put this on your list. Come for the hits like Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, but stay for the deeper tracks like Invisible Sun and my favorite, Omega Man. It could only have been a little better if the window were open and spring were spilling in.
1 1/2 Cups organic all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp (1/2 Stick) organic unsalted butter at room temperature cut into 4 pieces
1 Free range organic egg, slightly beaten and at room temperature
1/3 Cup 1% milk luke warm (to activate the yeast, so not too hot)
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp organic granulated sugar
1 tsp Kosher salt
In a small bowl, mix the yeast and milk. Set aside for 10 minutes or until the yeast has started to form a foam in the milk. In the meantime, in a medium bowl, sift the flour, then add the sugar and salt. Whisk the flour mixture for 30 seconds by hand. When the yeast and milk mixture is ready, add it to the flour mixture and mix with a spoon or spatula for one minute. Add the butter pieces and cut them into the mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until pea-sized pieces form. Add the egg and mix until the dough forms. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead until it is silky and pliable. Form the dough into a ball and flatten it with your hand into a disk about 1″ thick. Roll out to fit your pan (9″standard pie pan). Poke holes across the bottom of the dough, cover it a towel and let stand for 10-15 minutes, until it rises and becomes a bit puffy.
Fill as you like and bake at 400 degrees (f)/204 (c) for 15-20 minutes. Or bake empty at 400 for 8-12 minutes, with pie weights spread evenly around the bottom.
For our cream and ricotta cheese Limburgse vlaai, we mixed our fresh cherry pie filling with 8 oz of cream cheese and 4 oz of part skim ricotta. It was a simple, throw together filling that came out fantastically. If you don’t have an idea for your own Limburgse vlaai, give it a try…highly reccomended.