Vlaai is a traditional tart from the Limburg province of the Netherlands. It is a bit of a strange tart because of the dough that it uses. Normally, a pie will use some variation of pâte brisée, a flaky shortcrust dough, or a tart will use a pâte sucrée, a sweet shortcrust pastry with the addition of egg yolks. The crust for vlaai instead uses a sweetened yeast dough, almost like brioche.
There are many variations of vlaai, usually filled fruit, such as cherries, apricots, strawberries, or plums, or a custard. A popular one is rijstevlaai, which is filled with rice pudding. Vlaai is usually topped with a dough lattice, but you can also find them with a streusel topping, called kruimelvlaai.
Vlaaien are generally made and shared for major life events, but they are also a staple when the fair, or kermis, comes to town. Towns will bake dozens of vlaaien of all different kinds to share with family and friends during the kermis.
My recipe for vlaai is adapted a bit to tone down the sweetness. If you prefer it sweeter, you can double the sugar in the filling. I have also precooked the apple filling a bit before baking the tart. Because of the yeast dough, the tart does not take long to cook through and brown, which doesn’t give the apples enough time to cook through and soften fully. I prefer baked apples to be tender, so I cook them on the stove for a few minutes before filling the tart and baking. If you prefer your apple filling on the crisper side, you could skip this.
For an authentic tart, the Dutch would recommend Elstar or Jonagold. Cox Orange in Britain would work well. As a general rule, I always recommend Granny Smith for baking. I used Pink Lady, because I had extra. Don’t fuss too much and use what you have on hand.
Yields 1 25cm tart
100ml milk, warmed to about 25°C
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
45g butter, melted
750g apples, peeled and sliced
1 Tablespoon butter (14g)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
Bloom the yeast:
In a small bowl, mix the yeast and warm milk together and set aside while mixing the dry ingredients. The yeast should start to foam after a few minutes, otherwise the yeast might be dead.
Mix the dry ingredients:
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Make a well in the middle for the wet ingredients.
Mix in the wet ingredients:
Pour in the milk with the yeast, the melted butter and the egg and stir to combine.
Knead the dough:
Knead the dough until it is smooth and supple. If kneading by hand, this should take about 5 minutes. If using a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, knead for about 3 minutes.
Leave the dough to rise:
Cover the bowl with plastic or a damp towel and leave in a warm spot to rise until it has doubled in size while you prepare the apple filling. It should take about 1 hour to rise, but keep an eye on it and judge by volume. If your kitchen is cold it will take longer than an hour, and if it is very warm it might take less than an hour.
Precook the filling:
Set a medium saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add in the apple slices and cook for about 10 minutes until they begin to soften.
Add the sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch to the apples, and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The apples should be tender, but not soft all the way through and the sauce should be thick.
Take the apples off the heat and leave them to cool while the dough continues to rise.
Assemble the Vlaai
Roll out the dough:
Divide the dough into two pieces: one which is 1/3 of the dough and another piece with 2/3. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a circle, making sure it is slightly larger than the diameter of the tart pan so there is enough dough to go up the sides.
Transfer the dough to the tart pan, gently pressing the dough into the sides of the pan. Prick the bottom several times with a fork, making sure not to poke all the way through.
Set the pan aside and let the dough rest about 5-10 minutes. It should begin to puff up a bit.
Pour in the filling:
Pour the apple filling into the tart and spread evenly.
Prepare the lattice top:
Roll out the second piece of dough to just barely larger than the diameter of the tart pan. Use a pastry wheel or pizza cutter to slice several thin strips of dough, each about 1.5-2cm wide.
To weave the lattice, I like to start with the longest strip vertically in the middle. Then lay the next strip at a 45° angle, crossing through the middle. Add two more vertical strips on top of the diagonal strip on either side of the middle. I like to weave the lattice alternating between vertical and diagonal strips as I go until I run out of strips.
Trim the edges:
To trim the edges, use a rolling pin across the top of the tart to press the dough into the edge of the pan, neatly cutting off the extra and sealing the lattice onto the bottom layer.
Bake the Tart
Preheat the oven:
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Brush with egg wash:
Brush the lattice with a beaten egg and sprinkle generously with granulated sugar.
Bake the vlaai for 20 minutes until the crust turns rich, golden brown.
Let the vlaai cool to room temperature before serving.