Stroopwafels & bakfiets
How we decided to make stroopwafels and food bike…
Johan and Koreen met on an airplane in July of 2014, dated long distance for 2 years, and were married in August of 2016. After we got married, we continued our relationship long distance between The Netherlands and United States for roughly a year as we waited for approval of his immigration paperwork.
During the time that we dated and the first year of our marriage, we did a decent amount of economy flights back and forth and Koreen would bring stroopwafels back from The Netherlands to her coworkers. Stroopwafels are a Dutch, caramel-filled cookie that was originally the scraps from bakeries given to the poor that has become the national cookie in The Netherlands. Literally translated from Dutch to English, a “stroop” “wafel” is a “syrup” “waffle”. Koreen’s coworkers loved them and started giving her cash to bring as many back for them as possible on her next visit. On one of her visits to The Netherlands, Johan, his mom, and Koreen were sitting around the table drinking tea and talking about what Johan was going to do with his life when he finished his PhD (because up to this point, he knew he didn’t want to work for a big aerospace or weapon-building company doing what he had been studying for most of his adult life). During that conversation, Koreen remembered and mentioned that we needed to go to the Lidl, a local grocery store, to stock up on stroopwafels before flying back to California. The proximity of those two conversations led to an easy transition, and initial joke, that Johan should throw engineering out the window and just bake stroopwafels in the United States.
Well, this “joke” started to grow legs and pretty soon we were researching and talking about doing this from the trendy, fast-growing industry of street food through the use of a food truck. Over the next couple of days, we would dream about how we could do this; on a walk through downtown Utrecht in The Netherlands, Johan said we couldn’t do a food truck because it wasn’t very Dutch and that we would have to do it from a food bike. At first that didn’t make much sense to Koreen until Johan pointed out a common bike, called a bakfiets, on the streets in Utrecht. A bakfiets is a Dutch cargo bike that has a “bed” or box in the front of the bike, with the seat at the back and 3 wheels to support the weight of the cargo bike. We started looking at bikes in The Netherlands that could suit our purposes and quickly saw the classic bakfiets to be a great fit for us. Luckily, Johan didn’t have to completely throw his engineering mind out the window because he later used it to design and build the upper part of the bakfiets to meet California laws and our practical needs for transporting and baking stroopwafels.
Next we took a class in Gouda from one of the last two bakeries to learn how to make stroopwafels. Koreen didn’t speak Dutch very well and the baker only spoke Dutch; Johan translated for Koreen while we learned the art of making and baking a traditional stroopwafel, using the 200-year old recipe! The baker shared a lot of “secrets” with us that he doesn’t normally share because we were the only “tourists” taking his class that day and we had expressed an interest in correctly learning so we could make them fresh in the United States. He seemed sad and disappointed that the art of baking was dying with the increased use of factories for making stroopwafels throughout The Netherlands and mentioned that one of the last two bakeries would soon be closing down too. He really seemed like he wanted to pass his knowledge on to the next generation to keep the spirit of homemade stroopwafels alive!
Finally, our efforts to apply how to make stroopwafels in the United States was not as easy as we had hoped given the ingredients and supply chain is very different in the United States than The Netherlands. We spent a lot of time experimenting with different quantities, ingredients, and cooking times over several months. Luckily, or not so luckily…depending on how you look at it, Koreen’s coworkers were the recipients of all the different experiments and got to weigh in on which recipes they liked best, splitting out the syrup from the actual wafel and voting on them separately. In October of 2018, we landed on our final method and recipe that we thought was the closest to the taste and feel of the traditional Dutch stroopwafel.
Stroopwafel baking workshop in Gouda (Koreen and Ton).
Stroopwafel baking workshop in Gouda (Johan and Ton).