There are a lot of challenges one must tackle when moving abroad. My life in the Netherlands comes with its own specific set, like trying not to get run over by bicycles, or eating a stroopwafel without half of it ending up in my hair.
Also on the list? Baking.
And no — I’m not talking about getting stoned. (Go on, get all those Dutch marijuana jokes out of your system right now. I’ll wait.)
I’m talking about cakes, pies, muffins, tarts. I’m talking about sifting, mixing, pouring, and — most importantly — stuffing-into-your-face. I’m talking about the magic of science as performed by an oven; in my particular case, by a tiny European oven in a tiny European kitchen.
There are a couple of reasons I’ve found baking in the Netherlands to be challenging. First off, I’m a total amateur at baking anywhere. Up until a couple of years ago, I could count the number of times I baked something by myself on approximately zero fingers.
Second, tracking down ingredients can be a bit of a mission. Part of that is because I live in a small town, where we have fewer supermarkets to choose from, and a smaller selection at the ones we do. In addition, translating isn’t always as simple as plugging words into Google. Sometimes, there’s no direct translation, or the word in American English is different from the word in British English, and so on and so forth.
All of this is exacerbated by the baking culture — or lack thereof — in the Netherlands. It’s not that the Dutch don’t appreciate a good cake; they just tend to leave it to the professionals. Most areas will have a “banketbakker,” a specific kind of bakery that specializes in cakes, pies, and other sweet baked goods. That’s where the locals will go when it’s time to throw a birthday party or other celebration.
And frankly, at this point, I wouldn’t blame you if you just said, “Yeah, that sounds good,” and went to the banketbakker yourself. But hey, I said it was a bit challenging; I didn’t say it was impossible.
To help, I’ve put together this little guide — aimed at Americans, other English-speakers, or anyone who is more familiar with American recipes than they are with Dutch ones. I wish you luck.
Dutch: “boter” or “roomboter”
• unsalted: ongezouten
Butter comes in blocks of 250 grams. 1 cup of butter = 226 grams = 2 US sticks.
Dutch: “bloem” or “bakmeel”
• wheat: tarwe
Flour comes in bags of 1 kg (8 cups). 1 cup flour = 125 grams.
• light/dark brown: lichte/donkere bruine
• raw: ruwe
• powder (icing): poeder
Most sugar comes in bags of 1 kg (5 cups). 1 cup sugar = 200 grams.
Powdered/icing sugar comes in cannisters of 250 grams (2 cups). 1 cup powdered sugar = 125 grams.
Baking powder here is typically sold in little packets (or sachets) of 16 grams each. 1 teaspoon baking powder = 5 grams.
The packets are not resealable, which is kind of annoying unless you need more than three teaspoons of baking powder for one recipe. (In which case, how much are you making, and can I come over?)
Like baking powder, yeast is sold in small packets of 7 grams each. 1 teaspoon instant yeast = 2.2 grams.
You may be able to find baking soda at the supermarket by the other baking supplies. Like the yeast and baking powder, it comes in small packets.
If you can’t find it there, or you prefer a box, check a drugstore (“drogist”) such as Trekpleister, Etos, or Kruidvat. I bought a box at my local drugstore that contains 125 grams.
1 teaspoon baking soda = 7 grams.
Dutch: “pure chocolade” — see below
Baking chocolate is unsweetened or bitter chocolate. “Pure chocolade” actually means dark chocolate, which is typically bittersweet, rather than unsweetened.
I’m providing the translation for dark chocolate because I haven’t been able to find unsweetened; when a recipe calls for it, I substitute dark chocolate with the highest percentage that I can find. And for the record, I can’t tell the difference in the final product.
(I’ve also never seen chocolate chips; if I want small pieces, I have to break up a bar. They’re usually not anywhere as small as commercially sold chocolate chips, but really: who complains about bigger pieces of chocolate?)
1 ounce chocolate = 28 grams.
This is another one you’ll need to head to the drugstore to find. Mine came in a jar of 115 grams.
1 teaspoon cream of tartar = 3.4 grams.
Dutch: “maïsmeel” (cornmeal) or “maiszetmeel” (cornstarch) — see below
This one is fun.
Apparently, cornmeal in the US is the same as cornflour in the UK, but cornflour in the US is the same as cornstarch. I think cornstarch in the UK is the same as cornstarch in the US, but I don’t know if they ever use “cornmeal” to describe anything in the UK. None of the aforementioned words are the same as “cornflower,” which is a flower that’s often used to denote a shade of blue. (Told you it was fun!)
If you’re looking for ground corn — for instance, to make cornbread — you want “maïsmeel” or “maïsbloem.” I haven’t actually been able to find maïsmeel yet, but I’ve been advised to check health food/organic type stores. 1 cup of cornmeal = 150 grams.
If you’re looking for cornstarch — for instance, to thicken a sauce — you want “maiszetmeel,” also known as “maizena.” Maizena is available at supermarkets, near the baking supplies. 1 tablespoon of cornstarch = 8 grams
– When converting from US measurements to metric, make sure you check specific ingredients. 1 cup flour and 1 cup sugar are quite different in grams.
– In Dutch recipes, a teaspoon (“theelepel”) is abbreviated “tl” and a tablespoon (“eetlepel”) is abbreviated “el.” You might also see the term “snufje,” which is similar to a “pinch” of something (usually salt).
– Eggs in the Netherlands, like many parts of the world, are shelf-stable — you don’t need to keep them in the fridge. (If you’re curious: the US requires eggs to be washed, which removes their protective coating, and that’s why they need to be refrigerated. Most other countries don’t wash the eggs, so the protective coating keeps them from going off.)
– Non-stick spray isn’t very common (in fact, I don’t think I’ve seen it since leaving the US in 2010). You may be able to find it in a big city supermarket, but people generally use oil or butter to prevent sticking.
– Many Dutch people don’t have a dedicated oven, but a combination oven and microwave. Baking in a combo is largely the same as in a regular oven, but there are a couple of tricky things. There are usually no racks, so you can’t adjust where you place something, and there’s only room for one pan at a time. (I have a non-combo oven, but it’s still quite a bit smaller than your typical American one, and the temperature only goes up to 230 C / 446 F.)
– If you want to make pumpkin pie, you’re going to have to buy a pumpkin and puree it yourself. (Project time!)
If you have any questions, additional recommendations, or different experiences with baking in the Netherlands, please share them in the comments!
I’ll leave you with this.
NETHERLANDS: Where should I go to find maïsmeel? I think baking in this country is harder than learning your language, ngl
— Emily Melcher (@emdashedblog) August 9, 2016
— Grace Baldwin (@gracebaldwin21) August 9, 2016