Sweet discoveries: Nothing compares to eating fresh stroopwafels in Amsterdam
By CARA TABACHNICK | Special to The Washington Post | Published: October 25, 2018
My introduction to stroopwafels, the gooey caramel waffle sandwich from the Netherlands, was in a small village in the south of Spain, where I live. A Dutch couple had opened a small bakery tucked among the winding cobblestone streets. One morning, I stumbled into their store and watched as they cut a slab off a log of fragrant dough, pressed it with a waffle iron, separated the top disk from the bottom, spread the inside with caramel sauce and put the halves back together.
“What are those?” I asked. “These are stroopwafels,” answered the owner. “One of our country’s favorite treats.”
I was hooked. For weeks, I consumed a stroopwafel every morning — a cookie and a cup of coffee was less than $2 — becoming convinced that I needed to try these goodies in the motherland. I plotted a tasting tour with my sister, who flew in from New York to meet me in Amsterdam.
On our first morning, I roused her from a deep, jet-lagged sleep.
Vendors were still setting up when we arrived at the Albert Cuyp Market and made our way to the Original Stroopwafels stand, where proprietor Dennis Joinking, 41, was serving a clamoring crowd. We joined the line, and I ordered the classic stroopwafel. My sister ordered a classic one and a chocolate one, saying it was in the interest of research.
My first lesson: Stroopwafels aren’t served on a plate. Instead, the syrupy cookie is placed on a napkin and plopped right onto an outstretched hand. “It needs to be kept flat so the caramel doesn’t drip,” Joinking said. “Eating stroopwafels like this is the Dutch way.”
I received the soft, warm cookie on my palm, its circumference entirely covering my hand.
Delicately, I bit into the crispy waferlike outside and felt the cookie crunch as the caramel dripped down my throat. Joinking watched me expectantly.
“Do you like it?” he asked, his face sheathed in a wide smile, a red kerchief tied around his neck. Every Monday through Saturday, Joinking sets up two waffle irons to serve stroopwafels at his stand. The business was started 43 years ago by Joinking’s father, who apprenticed with a stroopwafel maker in Gouda, where the cookie is believed to have been invented, and brought his master’s secret recipe back to Amsterdam. Joinking took over the business in 2011, leaving his finance job to serve the goodies because he loved how they brought people together.
“We have people come here from all over the world to try our specialty. Just the other day a group from Brazil found us,” he said.
The sweetness was just right; it wasn’t cloying or too sugary, and there was a dash of spice. (Nutmeg? Joinking won’t release his recipe secrets.) But what I really liked about the experience of eating my stroopwafel was standing in a market on a sunny summer morning, watching the crowds throng around me.
The Albert Cuyp Market is a traditional Dutch market in northern Amsterdam, just by the fashionable De Pijp neighborhood, whose winding streets are lined with hip boutiques and restaurants. The market is filled with shoppers buying produce, fish, clothes and, of course, stroopwafels. There are several stands, but Original Stroopwafels’ is the most recognizable, with its blue-and-white tiles and red counter.
Food historians argue over the origin of the stroopwafel, but all agree this classic Dutch cookie was most likely invented around 1840 in Gouda, a city one hour south of the capital that is also famous for its cheese. Some say the cookies were made from leftover bakery crumbs dipped in syrup to give to poor children, but food historian Peter G. Rose, who researches early Dutch cooking and its influence on American culture, said the scheme was simple. A Goudan baker decided to put two wafers together to create a sandwichlike cookie and fill it with syrup. The cookie was an immediate success in Gouda, and versions spread from market to market until it became a staple of the Dutch diet.
“Although we are a small country, our food is very regional, and different towns often have their own cookie or baked good,” Rose said. “But the stroopwafel is different, as it is popular all over Holland and everyone eats them.”
When the Dutch immigrated to the Americas, they often brought their waffle irons with them, and a version of the cookie made its way into the American kitchen. But, Rose cautioned, these new varieties were not the same as the original Dutch treat. The wafer shells are hard, unlike the stroopwafel, and the American versions often were served without the caramel syrup between them.
Nothing compares, Rose said, to eating the cookie as the locals do: hot from the griddle or warmed by being placed atop a cup of coffee or tea.
“To eat stroopwafels is to taste the country,” Rose said. “While our kitchen is not so renowned, our baked goods ought to be; we have the best baked goods everywhere. And watching them making it in front of you is part of the fun.”
Inspired by my market success, my sister and I headed toward the city center, where Lanskroon, a 110-year-old bakery on a quaint canal street, is touted as having some of Amsterdam’s best stroopwafels. The secret to its famed recipe is that it bakes the wafers, said Maartje Braakman, 21, who has been working at the bakery for the past three years. They serve two types, honey and coffee caramel, and most patrons buy a cookie and warm it over their beverages.
These stroopwafels had a different taste and texture than those at the market. They’re pale and round and flat as plastic dessert plates, less crispy and less gooey — though the filling is still caramel syrup.
Our last stop was in the heart of the city’s shopping district, where a newer, hipper version of the stroopwafel was born. Van Wonderen Stroopwafels, which opened last year, adds a variety of toppings to the typical crispy cookie, dipping them in chocolate and sprinkling them with goodies such as marshmallows, raspberries, nuts and coconut. Jars of add-ons create an enticing rainbow arrangement along the counter of the shop.