It is prepared with dairy products, more precisely cow’s milk, as well as fresh eggs. The vla is halfway between a custard and a pudding. The Dutch are fond of it and are often nostalgic of this creamy dessert which takes them straight back to their childhood. For 50 years, it has been one of the best-selling desserts in the Netherlands.
What is vla?
Vla is a pudding-type dessert cream very popular in Belgium and the Netherlands, which consists of eggs, milk, sugar and an aroma, usually vanilla. Its texture is thicker than that of custard but less than pastry cream (crème pâtissière). Nicknamed “Dutch custard”, vla is generally eaten cold. The locals sometimes serve it with whipped cream.
Some pastry recipes use vla as a coating for cakes. For example, Dutch grandmothers’ cakes are often covered with a thin layer of this cream as a topping.
Traditionally, the original vla recipe mentioned the presence of eggs. However, nowadays, some industrial producers use cornstarch rather than eggs to thicken the cream.
What are the variants of vla?
The traditional vanilla-flavored version is called vanille vla in Dutch and Flemish. In the Netherlands, it is the vanilla flavor that is the most popular because it is the flavor that is used in the traditional original recipe. However, over the years, new variants of vla have emerged. Thus, it is not uncommon to find the vla with different aromas.
The second most popular variant of vla is the chocolate one. The chocolate vla is nicknamed “chocolate yogurt” in the Netherlands. The other variants can have a caramel, banana, orange or apple flavor. However, the most common dessert creams remain vanilla vla or chocolate vla.
What is the origin of vla?
No one can say for sure the origin of this vanilla dessert cream that is so popular in Belgium and the Netherlands. However, vla is a staple of traditional cuisine in the region of Limburg, one of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands.
Vla first appeared in the Netherlands in the 1950s before being exported to other European countries. In France, a visionary entrepreneur and founder of Danone, Daniel Carasso, was inspired by it in the 1970s. He launched a dessert cream that was all the rage at the time in the French market. Thus, the Danette dessert cream brand was born from his trip to the Netherlands, during his visit to a vla manufacturing facility.
When he returned from his trip, Carasso set out to improve the recipe for the Dutch custard and created a creamier and richer recipe than the original vla recipe.
The chocolate dessert cream was a great success from its launch in France. Indeed, 10 000 tons of the cream were sold in France in 1974. Although the most common version in the Netherlands is that of the vanilla vla, it is the chocolate dessert cream (Danette au chocolat), which became the most popular in France.
It should be noted that the chocolate dessert cream version appeared before the other variants in France. Indeed, the versions with vanilla and caramel were not launched until 1978.
What is flessenschraper?
In the past, vla was sold in long glass bottles. It was delivered in bottles similar to the standard long bottles with tapered neck used around the world. However, the shape of the container made it difficult to extract the vla with spoons, spatulas or other cooking utensils. The Dutch response was then to create a kitchen utensil perfectly suited to address this problem: the bottle scraper or flessenschraper.
The flessenschraper is a typical Dutch bottle scraper. It is also known as flessenlikker (“bottle licker” in Dutch). This unusual cooking utensil was originally designed to scrape the contents of long bottles of vla that would be impossible to reach with other cooking utensils.
The flessenschraper can also be found in Scandinavia, in Sweden and Norway. To date, the Dutch and the Norwegians both claim its origin. It is a common tool in Dutch kitchens. It is easily found at many kitchen stores and supermarkets.
Nowadays, vla is mainly sold in cartons, which reduces the need for a bottle scraper. The bottle scraper is approximately 12 inches (30 cm) long. On its wall is a small flexible rubber spatula about 2 inches (4 cm) in diameter perpendicular to the rod. It has a side to scrape bottles and round jars, and a flat side with two right angles that is used for scraping cartons.
- 1½ cup whole milk
- 1 pod vanilla
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 pinch fleur de sel (or salt)
- Add the milk into a non-stick pan.
- Split the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds. Add them to the milk with the empty pod.
- Bring the milk to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the caster sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks and salt, and beat for 3 minutes.
- After 10 minutes of cooking the milk, remove the empty vanilla pod from the pan and incorporate a few tablespoons of the boiling milk into the egg mixture.
- Then gently add the egg mixture to the milk while beating. Increase the heat slightly and, while stirring, let thicken until a liquid cream forms (between 1 and 2 minutes). Do not stir too long, as the cream continues to thicken after it has cooled.
- Then turn off the heat, pour the cream into a bowl and let cool slightly.
The cream is delicious as is, lukewarm. It is also possible to let it cool and keep it in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days by covering it with plastic wrap touching the entire surface of the custard so it doesn't form a crust.