The Christmas rush is on. Strangely enough my response to the frenetic activity around me during this time of year is to hibernate, to open the pages of photo albums, to unpack old tree ornaments and to reflect upon the symbolism surrounding the end of one and the beginning of a new year. With four seasons of journals and kitchen notebooks opened on the table, I connect the dots between the past and the future as the dark days of December pass.
Despite or perhaps because of this month’s busy schedule, I find myself revamping the kitchen cabinets. Organizing the pantry is somehow meditative; it is part and parcel to winter’s slumber. While polishing my spice jars and organizing my collection of new harvest olive oils, I cannot help mulling over the perfect December dinner menu. This Christmas will, after all, be a distant memory one day and I want every day including the holidays to be gift-wrapped with happiness, warmth and love.
As the word “perfect” keeps dancing in my head, I decide to keep Christmas pure and simple. Since dessert is often just one step past fun after a full day of cooking, I feel inspired to implement a Dutch tradition by serving strained yogurt infused with vanilla as the conclusion to the Christmas table. This lovely and utterly uncomplicated process requires just a bit of time to separate the liquid from the cream. Its’ success depends upon just two elements: patience and the quality of the chosen ingredients. Since good ingredients speak for themselves and patience is an important virtue, I feel that a yogurt “hangop” is the perfect answer for the holidays.
The following recipe is divided into two parts. Part I describes how to prepare the yogurt by straining it in a sieve – a basic technique I like to use throughout the year. Part II describes my recipe for a festively layered dessert with baked apples and persimmons that is not only suitable for a party but for Sunday breakfast as well.
Ingredients for the making of yoghurt “hangop”
- one liter full fat yogurt . from cow’s . sheep’s or goat’s milk
- one vanilla bean . preferably organic . from Madagascar
- two tablespoons of pure vanilla extract
- the zest of one organic lemon
- one generous tablespoon of raw honey
Pour the yogurt into a fine-meshed sieve and suspend it above a large bowl. Meanwhile lay the flat side of the vanilla bean on a cutting board. Place the sharp point of a paring knife just under the curled edge of the bean. Slowly cut through to the middle of the pod, cutting it all the way open from top to bottom.
Press the two halves completely open. Scrape out the soft vanilla marrow with the knife (or if you prefer – with a teaspoon) Add every single bit of the vanilla marrow to the yoghurt in the sieve. Cover the bowl with cheese cloth and put it in the refrigerator. Drain the yogurt at least two hours and preferably overnight. Remove the yoghurt from the refrigerator. Drain the liquid into a jar and put it back in the refrigerator. It will keep for three days and is the perfect base for a pancake batter.
Scoop the drained yogurt out of the sieve into a large bowl. It will look quite like mascarpone now, but taste lighter. Scrub the lemon with a brush under cold running water. Grate the peel of the lemon with a zester catching the thin lemon curls into a small bowl. Add the raw honey and cinnamon to the lemon zest and drizzle it over the strained yoghurt. Taste the spiced and sweetened “hangop” for the right balance between the perfume of lemon with vanilla and the warmth of cinnamon and honey. Add zest, spice or sweetness if needed. The hangop is now ready to serve.
Ingredients for a festive baked fruit dessert layered with “hangop”
- Two crisp local apples
- The juice of one lemon
- Two persimmons
- One tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. Juice the lemon in a large bowl. Wash the apples, slice them in half with a paring knife and core the seeds. Lay the cut side down flat on a cutting board and slice each half in four equal wedges. Place the sliced apples in the bowl and toss them thoroughly with lemon juice, allowing the juices to soak into the fruit for five minutes.
This will prevent the apples from discoloring while giving them an extra tart flavor element. Layer a cookie sheet with parchment paper and distribute the apple slices on it evenly . Bake the apples 25 minutes. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.
Bring home a few plump persimmons with a pumpkin-like color from your favorite fruit vendor. Rinse the persimmons in a bowl of cool water. Cut the flower-shaped stem off the top of the fruit. Cut them in half and then in wedges just like the apples described above. Sprinkle the persimmon wedges with cinnamon and bake them 20-25 minutes. Remove the fruit from the oven and allow them to cool before starting with the layering the ingredients.
Choose your favorite platter or glass bowl for the family style presentation of the baked fruit and yoghurt hangop. Start with one third of the yogurt hangop to cover the bottom of your dish. Spread the hangop with a spatula and arrange the apple slices around the edges. Drizzle a little honey over the apples if you like. Cover the apple layer with yogurt hangop and repeat the process of arranging the baked persimmons. Sprinkle the persimmons with a pinch of extra cinnamon.
Finish the dessert by topping it off with the last bit of hangop. Cover the dish with a linen towel and refrigerate one hour before serving. Be sure and save any leftover baked fruit wedges for the presentation of individual plates or bowls. When it is time to serve the baked fruit hangop, bring your platter to the table and invite your family and friends to spoon up to their heart’s desire.
Simplicity is the synonym for perfect in my holiday dictionary. Great effects can be achieved with dusted cocoa, fresh pomegranate seeds, some extra lemon zest, fresh mint or verbena leaves and even some crushed dried rose petals. Children tend to love raisins soaked in orange juice. Dried cranberries or sour cherries do wonders as well.
This summer I had the pleasure of sharing this recipe with the Prairie Farm Corps crew while chef in residence in Grayslake, Illinois with my fellow Food Revolution Super ambassador and great friend Lindsey Shifley. It was a life-changing and happy experience! I absolutely loved how everyone enjoyed a homemade dessert that takes no effort — just a little technique, the right ingredients and kitchen teamwork.
This post is especially for Tommy, Abbie and Mac; for Lindsey, Chris, Brenda and Dan; for Eric, Erin, Lesley and Brad; last but not least, this is a special holiday gift for the inspiring PFC 2015 crew. The original recipe for traditionally Dutch hangop was published in Dutch on Jamie Magazine NL on December 11th, 2015.
The last postscriptum . I promise .
Lindsey and Tommy went into the kitchen and tested my recipe. Travel across continents into our shared kitchen experiments while watching this lovely film on YouTube or read Lindsey’s wonderfully honest real-life blog diary “The Mullies”
xoxo to all.