Staring down six crates of Paula Reds, Galas, and Honeycrisp that have recently rolled into the bakery, I am feeling the slightest kinship with the woman in Cornelis Bisshop's oil painting, "Woman Peeling an Apple." Unlike the subject in Bisshop's painting who is peeling a single apple, my weekend features apple-ing on a much larger scale.
When the sun dips into the sky this Sunday evening, Rosh Hashanah begins. The Jewish New Year is a time of celebration and reflection, culminating ten days later with Yom Kippur. Apples and honey are notable throughout the holiday, symbolic of a sweet New Year.
Unlike the maidservant in Bisshop's painting, I am neither leaning casually against a door jamb while peeling, nor taking a pause from my apple madness. Apple cakes on a singular level are a pleasant task. On a large scale, apple cakes are labor intensive and require expansive workspace. Swimming against the tide of unwieldy tube pans, weighty cake batter, and pounds of cinnamon-sugared apples, there is nary a lifeguard in sight. The cake is composed of four layers; batter, apples, batter, apples, tipping my new digital scale at nearly 3 pounds of batter and 2 pounds of apples, per cake. A crazy labor of cake love, it's excessive in the most celebratory of ways,
In my apple cake reverie/purgatory, I cannot help but think back to last October, and my all-to brief visit to Amsterdam. Smack in the middle of the city's Museumplein (Museum Square), Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is the grande dame of art museums, boasting a staggering assemblage of iconic art and artifacts. Reflecting more than 800 years of Dutch and global history, the museum’s collection spans the Middle Ages to present day. Designed by renowned Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, the Rijksmuseum is the largest museum in the Netherlands. Surrounded by expansive gardens and impressive sculptures, the museum boasts a dramatic history.
The museum weathered years of political unrest and war, yet remained intact until Germany’s invasion during World War II. In order to protect and save their most prized collection of Dutch masters, the paintings were removed from the frames, rolled up and secured in wooden tubes, then smuggled out of the museum through a trapdoor. The trapdoor was located in the room housing Rembrandt’s famous ‘Night Watch.’ The valuable artwork traveled through the trapdoor to a small door in the garden where it was transferred by boat to a secretive location in the south of the country.
The Rijksmuseum holds the distinction of being one of a small few in an occupied country during the Second World War that was able to save its major collection. Miraculously, only a few minor pieces were lost. When the museum re-opened its doors in 1945, the outpouring of visitors determined to see The Return of the Masters exceeded those who had visited the museum during the entire war. Today, the Rijksmuseum's Dutch neo-Renaissance building is home to more than 2000 paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. It deserves another visit, but not this weekend.
I can rhapsodize over Amsterdam's stunning art collection and perfect slices of Appeltaart, but the truth is my immediate focus is on American apple pies and Jewish apple cakes. We could however, all take a little lesson from the Dutch, whose iconic Appeltaart is an integral part of Dutch food culture.
History traces the first Dutch apple pie all the way back to 1514. An early recipe for the dessert can be found in the Notabel Boecxken van Cakeryen, one of the oldest printed Dutch cookbooks. The recipe is more reflective of the famous Appeltaart, a deep-dish version combining thick apple slices with cookie crumbs, blanketed beneath a generous pastry crust. Often served with pouring cream or 'mit schlag,' (whipped cream) the Dutch embrace their traditional apple extravaganza throughout the day. It's quite common to see folks enjoying a slice with a cup of strong coffee for breakfast, or tucking into a wedge mid-day, or capping off a celebratory evening meal. The Dutch approach to apples, and more specifically apple pie, proves that the Dutch were truly Masters of this 'taart' form.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm