Monday, September 10, 2012

The Apple of My Pie: Winkel

Walking through Amsterdam, my friend Olivia and I passed a bustling café. A woman on my right sat eating some kind of pastry topped with a huge glob of whipped cream. As a huge pastry-person, I thought it looked like the ideal breakfast. Soon enough I realized the woman was sitting next to a man eating the same thing. As I looked around I realized everyone at this café sat eating this same dessert-like breakfast. Olivia and I hadn’t yet eaten so we decided to stop in and try what everyone else was having: apple pie with whipped cream. My grandmother makes my favorite apple pie by far – so I had my reservations. Other apple pies were usually a disappointment in comparison. 

Situated in a calm residential area, café Winkle had plenty of outdoor seating, but you’d be hard pressed to find a seat. The many customers enjoying their pie sat at beachy-wood and metal benches tables with matching chairs, all under the cover of a green and white striped awning. The interior continued the simple wooden décor with exposed wooden beams and white walls and ceilings. Corrine Bailey Rae crooned on the speakers and completed the very relaxing vibe of the café. Though crowded, the café felt calm, unpretentious and unassuming. A single file line almost led out the door, but the wait staff moved quickly to get customers their pie. Some waited for tea or coffee but everyone got a slice. 

Before I knew it, it was my turn to pay for my own piece of the pie.  The slice had the proportions of a cake; it was as tall as it was long, and looked delicious. A beautiful golden brown crust surrounded baked apple slices dotted with cinnamon. The crust broke gently over the filling and the first bite was still warm from the oven. Only one forkful in, I already knew this was some of the best pie I had ever eaten. . The crust on the top of the pie was beautifully crispy and flakey. The crust on the edge and bottom of the pie was crumbly and tasted like a less dense version of Scottish shortbread. While toasty on the outside, the sweet crust was soft but not soggy on the inside. 

The filling let the apples do most of the work. Unlike most terrible store-bought apple pies that have lots of cinnamon apple-flavored gel between scarce pieces of mushy apple, this pie’s filling was mostly cooked and flavored apples. The apples were fresh and thoroughly cooked but not overly mushy. They retained their shape as apple slices but split easily with a fork. The filling tasted naturally sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Cinnamon, or possibly nutmeg, subtly spiced the apples and made the filling more complex than just well cooked ripe apples. The filling also had the very occasional raisin. I normally don’t like raisins in my sweets, but the scarce raisins in the pie were cooked with the rest of the apples and cinnamon juices- instead of being hard and chewy the raisins were soft and juicy. The texture of the raisins matched the texture of the apple slices; the raisins didn’t feel out of place. The filling also retained natural fruity tartness that complimented the sweetness of the cookie-like crust. 

On top of all this wonderful pie sat a gorgeous glob of whipped cream. Like the rest of the pie, the whipped cream tasted unbelievably fresh. The whipped cream felt cool to the tongue, but not refrigerated. The waitress explained that the whipped cream is homemade onsite at the cafe. The whipped cream was more creamy than puffy, and wasn’t super-sweet. A great contrast to the toasty, crispy crust, the cream varied up the texture and settled nicely into the crumbly bits of the crust. The decision to include whipped cream but not ice cream also improved the experience. Ice cream would have distracted from the pie itself while the whipped cream complimented the pie without overwhelming or overshadowing it. 
I ended up returning to Winkel two more times bringing more friends with each visit. I needed more research for my review, and, to be honest, I wanted more of my new favorite apple pie. Don’t tell my grandma.

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