Netherlands: Cookie Cavalcade

Nick Martens reports from Amsterdam with an exclusive exposé on the dark secrets of the city’s chocolate cookie industry.

When I check out at the Albert Heijn (like “wine”), the Dutch grocery chain whose reasonably-priced poultry and produce have kept me financially solvent as the dollar sinks like a sack full of kittens, I try to conduct the transaction non-verbally. Though nearly every Dutch high school graduate speaks excellent English, I feel a bit like a cultural imperialist when I force shopkeepers to abandon their native tongue if they want a whiff of my sweet foreign capital. So the predictable motions of buying groceries (flash a smile for a greeting, read the register for the price, wave away the receipt, finish with a mumbled “dankjewel”) present an opportunity to slip through the system as a normal, if terse, Dutch citizen.

“Normal,” however, is not the word I would choose to describe how I felt as I stacked seven different brands of round milk chocolate cookies onto the countertop. The clerk did not ask questions, which was probably for the best. My prepared explanation–”I’m a writer”–in retrospect would likely not have clarified the matter.


The chocolate cookies at Albert Heijn are interesting for a few reasons. The first is that there are a fucking lot of them:

This is only about a third of the cookie/biscuit section in the store, which is just one of several sections that stock sweets. I had to narrow my focus to the field of “round, milk chocolate-covered cookies” to find a reasonably-sized sample group, and I still rejected several candidates on the shelves. For all their talk of crufty pragmatism and cold modern design, the Dutch sure love their sugary snacks. Which is not to say, of course, that they keep their impeccable design sense away from their desserts:

Only the image of a muscular, thick-veined euro strangling a squalid, emaciated dollar kept me from buying this beautiful tin of biscuits. Still, that the cookies inside would warrant this kind of packaging hints at another reason to glorify these chocolaty treats: they are delicious. Out of concern for my cardiovascular fortitude, I recently banned myself from sweets altogether, but the deep-burning craving created within me by just a few months of shopping at Albert Heijn still managed to concoct this flimsy rationalization for buying hundreds of cookies.

I’m not too distressed about the purchase, though, because of the final reason why I love Dutch cookies: they’re cheap! This whole spread cost me just over seven euros:

Let the judgment begin! Criteria: the MIT-developed Evaluative Chocoindex, which factors deliciousness and price into a logarithmic ratio.

[A note on photography: I would prefer that you blamed the excellent Photoshop Express beta for any imperfections you see in these shots instead of my weak-sauce point-and-shoot, my middling photography skills, or my amateurish editing technique. It is beta, after all.]

Chocolade Spritsen

These are about as basic as the cookies get, and they look like nothing special. The key ingredient here, and what elevates everything on this list over something you might get at a Safeway stateside, is the rich, exquisite milk chocolate. In America, you’d have to pay a Whole Foods mark-up to get the same chocolate you’ll find at fire-sale prices in the Netherlands. (This surely holds throughout the rest of Europe as well.)

So, while these Spritsen are unremarkable, they get the job done in the simplest possible way. Very Dutch. Plus, at 75 cents, they’re the cheapest of the lot.

Space

The Space cookies feature the second best packaging in the biscuit aisle, next to the gorgeous tin mentioned earlier. Their retro-funk aesthetic, though, combined with the cosmic branding, is profoundly misleading in the Amsterdam snack-food culture. Let’s just say that, in certain establishments here, asking for a “spaced-up” product is to request something entirely different from caramel. At least, that’s a rumor I heard somewhere.

Sadly, I can’t recommend Space. (The cookies, I mean. Not, like, the extra-planetary realm.) Bringing caramel to the chocolate and biscuit party, in this case, turns company into a crowd. Though the caramel is sweeter, gooier, and less tacky than in American candy, it proves too sugary by a hair in this implementation. You also pay 95 cents for four Spaces, making them among the priciest of this bunch.

Choco Prince

Like Space, the Prince Brand™ Choco Prince cookies come wrapped individually, and they attempt to squeeze a sweet filling between layers of milk chocolate and biscuit. But the Choco Prince succeeds where Space fails because his vanilla filling has a subtler sweetness and smoother texture than Space’s caramel. (Caution: do not read the preceding sentence as double entendre.) The one issue I did have with these cookies is that I did not find them particularly regal. But, at 1.14 euros per box of six, I’d recommend the Choco Prince over Space as the best cookie to toss in your bag or pocket before heading out for a night on the town.

Fijnproevers (“fine-proovers”)

The most preposterously delicious cookie I’ve ever eaten. The chocolate is creamy, the biscuit is light and crisp, and the chunks of toffee harmonize the flavors into a full-bodied sweetness. You might think that the bolstering presence of toffee gives these cookies a Human Growth Hormone-like edge over their competition, but I’ve had a simple chocolate-and-biscuit cookie from the same company, and those too proved championship-worthy. The Fijnproevers have their fundamentals down pat, and they use a complementary flavor to its fullest potential. But, as they say, you get what you pay for. At 1.67 euros, these are more than 50 cents costlier than the next most expensive cookie.

Chocolade Tarwebiscuit

As much as I love the Fijnproevers, I must declare these Tarwebiscuits the overall winner. They’re stock-simple, just chocolate and biscuit, and you get around 25 of them for 95 cents — by far the highest cookie-per-euro return available at Albert Heijn. The chocolate is a step down from that on the Fijnproevers, but the dense, slightly tangy biscuit lends these cookies a complex and mature flavor. They are also excellent when dipped in coffee. I did experience a moment of panic, though, when I ate a bunch of these for the first time before noticing this word printed on the biscuit:

Happily, it turns out that “digestive” simply describes this particular genre of cookie, and not its effect on the human gastronomic system. Though I feel guilty for betraying the Dutch by selecting a cookie invented in the U.K., and though I resent the scheming Englishman who named this snack, I cannot deny the thrifty brilliance of the digestive biscuit. I suppose, after a millennium of culinary ineptitude, the British were due for at least one success.

Licht Bruintjes (“licked brown-tyuhs”)

The Tarwebiscuits got me excited about tubes of chocolate cookies, so I eagerly picked up these Bruintjes. Do not make the same mistake. While superficially similar to my pick of the litter, this variation is ruined by its stiff, brittle biscuit texture, which doesn’t even hold up to a quick latté dunk. These cookies are like stale Ritz crackers covered in chocolate, and the jagged sugar crystals make them feel grainy and sharp in your mouth. That they cost 9 cents more than the far-superior Tarwebiscuits only cements their status as Amsterdam’s most disappointing cookie.

Gangmakers

These don’t fit into the “cookie” category at all, but come on–they’re called Gangmakers. While I’m big fan of The Wire, I never felt that I could truly empathize with the inner-city plight of Bodie or Michael until I ate one of these tasty cakes, lined with a thin undercoat of raspberry jelly.


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Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.