Vlaai is a traditional cherry tart from the Netherlands, more precisely from the province of Limburg. It is also found in Belgium in the Flanders region. Nicknamed kersenvlaai in Dutch, the vlaai is also found in Germany, just across the border. It is a leavened dough pie that is usually decorated with a lattice of dough.
What is vlaai?
Vlaai is a cherry pie emblematic of traditional Dutch cuisine. It generally measures between 10 and 12 inches (26 and 30 cm).
Vlaai is generally not very deep. Also, it is usually covered with a lattice of dough as decoration. This regular lattice is made using a lattice pie crust cutter or using a lattice pie top cutter. It is also possible to make a lattice with strips of pie dough.
The peculiarity of the vlaai lies in its soft dough, which is not a traditional puff pastry or shortcrust pastry but rather a leavened dough that contains yeast. In addition, the dough that makes up the vlaai is much less rich than shortcrust pastry or puff pastry that contains more butter. Another peculiarity of this pie dough is the introduction of milk into its recipe which makes it softer.
What is the origin of vlaai?
Vlaai has its origins in the Germanic tribes. Originally, it was a flat bread called vladel. In the past, this bread was baked on hot stones. At the beginning of the 20th century, Maria Hubertina Hendrix started selling Weerter Vlaaitjes to travelers at the Weert station in Limburg. Since then, vlaai has traveled and spread to all corners of the country, following passenger stops at Weert station.
The province of Limburg in the south of the Netherlands is famous for its pies, called Limburgse Vlaai in Dutch. There are a multitude of pies in this region. The cherry pie or kersenvlaai is of course the iconic Limburg pie. But there are also versions of fruit vlaai. Indeed, other fruits than cherry can be used as a pie filling. The most common fruits are apples, apricots, currants or even plums.
The kruimelvlaai is a variant of vlaai widespread in the Netherlands and Germany. Etymologically, the word kruimelvlaai means “crumb pie”. Indeed, kruimelvlaai is a traditional cream pie that consists of a compact and rich cream filling topped with crumble (streusel).
It is also nicknamed “vanilla pudding pie”. However, although very popular with the Dutch, the kruimelvlaai does not fall into the category of Limburgse vlaaien. Indeed, to benefit from this title of nobility, it is necessary that the pie is fully baked (i.e. the dough and the filling at the same time). This is not the case with the crumb pie. Indeed, in order not to soak the dough, it is customary to bake the pie dough first, then add the filling before putting it back in the oven to prolong the baking.
A second kind of famous vlaai is the rich rijstevlaai. It is a yeast dough roll, topped with a rice pudding filling and baked at high temperature.
When to eat vlaai in the Netherlands
The Dutch love pies and every occasion is good to eat them: birthdays, funerals, weddings, etc. German monks used to eat them for Easter. That said, nowadays, people generally consume vlaai (plural vlaaien) throughout the year, but more particularly during traditional kermis.
A kermis is a party originally organized for the anniversary of the foundation of a church or a parish. It is a celebration from the Netherlands and Central Europe which is traditionally accompanied by feasts, dances and entertainment of all kinds.
The term kermis derives from the Dutch word kerk which means church and from the word mis borrowed from the Latin languages, which means “mass”. Also, the first kermis dates from 1370 but exists today in the form of a fun fair. Kermis (or kirmess) are celebrated once or twice a year in the villages of Holland and in the region of Flanders.
On the occasion of the annual kermis, the fair used to go through cities and villages of Holland, generating the enthusiasm and nostalgia of the crowds. Families could bake up to 30 different pies for their friends and family.
Contrary to popular belief, the richest pies made from rice pudding, vanilla pudding, whipped cream or custard were eaten first. Fruit pies were generally the last to be consumed during these celebrations.
- 2½ cups flour , sifted
- ½ cup milk (at 97 F / 36°C)
- ¾ cup icing sugar
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons butter (soft)
- ½ teaspoon fleur de sel (or salt)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1½ lb cherries in syrup (net weight, drained)
- 1½ cup cherry juice
- ⅓ cup caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2½ tablespoons potato starch
- 1 lemon (juice and zest)
- 1 orange (juice and zest)
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Butter (for the mold)
- Flour (for the mold)
- 1 egg yolk beaten
- ¼ cup sugar
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the yeast in half the warm milk. Add the 2 tablespoons of caster sugar.
- Leave to stand for 10 minutes then add the icing sugar and flour and mix.
- While mixing using the dough hook, gradually add the milk and egg yolk.
- When a ball forms, add the salt and then the soft butter.
- Knead for 5 minutes.
- Grease a bowl and place the dough in it.
- Cover and let sit for 30 minutes in a warm place away from drafts.
- Mix the potato starch and the caster sugar.
- Pour the cherry juice into a saucepan and add the vanilla, spices and the orange and lemon juice and zest.
- Add the potato starch and sugar mixture.
- Slowly bring to a boil, while stirring as the liquid becomes clear.
- When the liquid reaches the boiling point, boil it gently for an additional minute.
- Add the drained cherries and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat, stirring regularly.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
- Preheat the oven to 450 F (220°C).
- Divide the dough into two pieces of ⅔ and ⅓.
- Roll out the largest dough piece into a ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick circle.
- Butter and flour a pie mold.
- Place the dough in the mold and pierce it with a fork, pressing on it to stick it to the sides of the mold, this will prevent it from swelling too much.
- Place the dough for 15 minutes in the refrigerator.
- Add the cherry garnish evenly.
- Roll out the second dough piece to a thickness of ⅛ inch (3 mm).
- Cut into ¼ inch (7 mm) wide strips.
- Make a lattice on top of the pie using these strips.
- Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. If the top browns too quickly, lower the temperature to 350 F (180°C) after 15 minutes of baking.
- Let cool before transferring to a pie dish for serving.