An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Dec 12, 2013
07:20 AMThe Connecticut Table
Dutch Shop, a Holiday Mecca in Litchfield, Making Chocolates With Belgiques Molds
When Wilma Joas was a little girl some four decades ago, she used to stand on a tin in her father Wolfgang’s European-style bakery, helping him with his work. Today, she is still at work in that bakery, now with her own young twins playing contentedly nearby.
Ms. Joas is continuing the work of the popular The Dutch Epicure Shop, located in Bantam, which specializes in European food products such as bitterkoekjes and Amsterdam’s krentenbrood, baked on Fridays and Saturdays, fine teas, jams and chocolates from all over Europe, Schaller and Weber sausages and wursts favored by Czech and Polish patrons, Swedish herrings, and cheeses sought after by Dutch regulars.
Many other nations are represented on the little shop’s shelves as well. Perhaps with a nod to the former trading empire the Dutch enjoyed, there is even a section of Eastern food items from India and Indonesia.
“It is nice to have a little piece of heaven here in Litchfield, to find such wonderful European treats,” said customer Peggy Barnes as she shopped early one afternoon. (Above, a fan cake.)
The Dutch Epicure is a popular attraction for those who have been transplanted from their native lands. The Culinary Institute of America-trained Ms. Joas is the daughter of a German father and a Dutch mother, and is fluent in her mother’s tongue. She chats amiably with her Dutch patrons in their native language—customers drawn from throughout the tri-state region and as far away as Boston.
But it is not the chance to speak in their Dutch that draws most customers to the shop. “When people come to a different country, the first thing they lose is their language,” Ms. Joas said. “The last thing they lose is their food. People want the foods they grew up with.”
There is not a large Dutch population in Western Connecticut and she admits that the older Germans who were her parents steady customers are disappearing, but they are being replaced by more adventuresome, better-traveled Americans who appreciate the dishes they have encountered elsewhere. “It used to be people wouldn’t try anything unfamiliar,” she said. “Now, they will buy it just because they don’t recognize it.”
But there is one time when tradition reigns supreme and, happily for the Dutch Epicure, it is a time when German and Netherlandish traditions have permeated American society. “Christmas brings them here,” said Ms. Joas. “Christmas would not be Christmas without stollen.”
Covered in snowy white confectioner’s sugar, these slightly sweet traditional loaf cakes, loaded with raisins, currants, citrons, orange peel and slivered almonds, have been baked since the 1400s. For those who cringe at the thought of yet another sticky, dense fruit cake, put your fears aside. These cakes have a delicate flavor with just enough fruit to add interest. Just after baking, while still warm, they are painted with melted sweet butter, which soaks in and gives the loaf a moistness that lingers long after the first slicing, keeping it moist without the use of artificial preservatives. (Above, Wilma Joas.)
Using a recipe perfected by her father, Ms. Joas makes about 500 stollen each season—some with marzipan and some plain—taking orders until she reaches the point where she cannot fill any more. While her father has retired, he comes in at this time of year to help and her mother, Betty, is in the store weekly to help out the busy young baker.
In addition to the stollen, Ms. Joas adds another seven or eight seasonal cookies and baked goods to her usual selection of 10 varieties of breads, cakes and cookies. “You need a lot of training to do this,” she said. “It is very time-consuming stuff—we’re rolling them, imprinting them, forming them by hand. No one does it the way we do.”
Among the specialty baked goods are the ever-popular yule log, seasonal cakes, an almond-paste ring in the shape of a wreath that is a popular seasonal treat in Holland, Zintersterne—star-shaped hazelnut cookies—and lots and lots of marzipan, the colorful confection made of sugar or honey and almond meal.
“Marzipan is huge at Christmas, a very big tradition in Europe,” Ms. Joas said. “People eat it like candy.” She said the marzipan is made by hand using molds the family has had for 40 years. Added to the usual fruit shapes is an adorable “good luck pig” traditional at the New Year.
“We are using the same molds we had when I used to have to stand on a tin at the table,” said Ms. Joas. “It’s not just a European tradition—it is our tradition.”
There are new molds in use at the Dutch Epicure these days. When Belgique, the Kent shop noted for its fine Belgium chocolates, closed recently, Ms. Joas bought their chocolate molds. She has now expanded her own chocolate line, which she said is selling very well.