This morning, I glanced outside of my bedroom window to discover that the ground was covered with a layer of ice and that snow was still falling from the broodingly dark mass of clouds overhead. Grumbling – as this sort of weather is most definitely not to my liking – I managed to force myself out of my warm bed and to stumble into the kitchen in search of sustenance, only to discover that my cupboards and refrigerator were empty. The horror. With a whimper, I realized that it would be necessary to venture out into the blustery chill to find something edible before heading off to a rehearsal of La Bohème. Well, I thought, I might as well take advantage of the occasion to try one of Belgium’s most well-known breakfast foods, Cramique, or Kramiek, in Flemish. So I headed down – well, more like slipped and slid on the ice, shivering and muttering to myself – to my trusty local bakery, Charly, and purchased the round brioche-like bread before scuttling back to my apartment as quickly as possible.
As I mentioned in my previous post, on the craquelin, I’m not much in the habit of purchasing brioche, as I live alone and brioche a) tends to be quite large and b) doesn’t keep. Furthermore, I must admit that I didn’t really know why a cramique was called a cramique and neither brioche nor craquelin. After doing a bit of online research, I discovered that cramique is ubiquitous throughout Belgium, and, according to its French Wikipedia page, the ‘symbol of Belgian baking unity’ – a lofty claim if ever I read one! For my readers who might be unaware of the ins and outs of Belgian life, I’ll just quickly mention that the country has 3 linguistic groups (Flemish, French, and a small German community), and there is – it is claimed, especially by the Flemish – precious little in common between them, besides most of the other things the outside world associates with Belgium: waffles, chocolate, beer, fries, linguistic squabbling…
So what is this ‘symbol of Belgian identity’, you might ask? Well, cramique is simply a brioche filled with raisins. That’s it: Punt aan de lijn, Point à la ligne, Punkt auf der Linie…. well, you get the picture. Anyway, the cramique is quite similar to the craquelin, but with some crucial differences: the craquelin has all of that lovely nib sugar in it, which delivers an exhilarating combination of crunchiness, airiness, and gooeyness, whereas the cramique is sadly deprived of nib sugar, has just a dash more milk and contains a great heap of raisins. Might I mention that I don’t really enjoy raisins, unless they’ve been plumped up in some sort of tasty liqueur, or perhaps some rum?
In light of this, I was quite disappointed when I bit into my cramique this morning. I don’t wish to criticize the bakery – au contraire, I know that the slice before me was expertly crafted – but the experience was not pleasant. Here was some otherwise delightful brioche, with a nice crispy exterior and a buttery, fluffy interior, overrun by chewy, gnarly raisins! Ack!
Before I go any further, might I just say that I know I am being unfair. Oh well. For those of you who enjoy raisins, the cramique is a lovely breakfast treat, I’m sure. Moreover, after consuming my cramique – well, most of it, anyway, as I gave away the rest – I discovered that I had not eaten the thing in the proper way! It would appear that most Belgians prefer to toast their cramique, drench it with salted butter, and then dip it in hot chocolate. Others like to place cheese on their cramique, or serve it with foie gras, but why not just serve the foie gras with a few slices of lovely raisin-less brioche or – even better – gingerbread?
Maybe I should give the bread a second chance, and try it the ‘recommended’ manner, but life is short, and there are so many other tasty treats to consider! Next!
For anyone who would like to make their own cramique, stay posted: I’ll be adding the recipe in a few days, when I recieve my fantastic cookbook In Belgium Everyone Eats Well by Ruth van Waerebeek and Maria Robbins!