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Last year, Robyn taught us about a magical place called the Netherlands where people enjoy life so much that they crown even the most mundane food, buttered bread, with hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles).
I don't know how this practice began, but I'd like to think that the people of the Netherlands have a sweeter constitution and dessert in the evening alone can't sustain them. To survive the long, dangerous hours between breakfast and dessert, they take chocolate vitamins to tide them over.
I've only had hagelslag once. (Well, technically, I've had them about twelve times if you subdivide the box my friend gave me into individual hagelslag experiences.) At the time, I didn't know about using buttered bread as a vehicle for transporting piles of sprinkles into my mouth. I just ate them out of hand; too delicious to waste with any competing flavors or textures.
You see, hagelslag have a more robust chocolate flavor than their American counterparts and a gentle crispness that makes ours seem waxy by comparison. I just wanted to eat them for their own sake, not as a garnish. It felt insulting to treat them like anything other than the main course.
While I rather enjoy the waxy texture and vaguely scratch-and-sniff cocoa flavor of the chocolate sprinkles I grew up eating, what I wouldn't give to enjoy some hagelslag again. Probably posh specialty gourmet shops sell them, but not in Lexington, Kentucky. And though I know I could just hop on Amazon and order some, I don't write a column about how to buy things on the internet now, do I?
I've made my own rainbow sprinkles for years; you could even say I've become something of a sprinkle sommelier. I have one recipe for sprinkles with a sharp bite and intense minerality, nuances of vintage I Can't Believe It's Yogurt (circa 1993 a great year for sprinkles). Another yields sprinkles with floral notes and a firm yet yielding texture; soft but not flaccid. Lively on the palate. A third has an herbaceous, mint forward flavor with strong vanilla undertones.
Look. If this guy can make a living as a water sommelier, surely you can grant me that all sprinkles are not created equal?
Perfecting a chocolate sprinkles recipe tripped me up for ages. Too much chocolate and they never crisp, remaining eternally tacky, like Glamor Shots from the eighties. Not enough chocolate and, well, why bother. Too much liquid and the sprinkles will ooze into malformed shapes, too little you won't have the strength needed to pipe them. Striking a balance between those factors proved trickier than anticipated, but after a half dozen adjustments I found the right ratio. Go ahead, get your sprink on.
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About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.
Editor's note: Food & Wine has nominated our very own BraveTart, aka Stella Parks, for The People's Best New Pastry Chef. If you've enjoyed her recipes and stories, show your support by voting here.