Teen chef delights with Dutch caramel cookie
Stereotypically, an All-State athlete wouldn’t spend his free time cooking, but when Joost (pronounced “yoast”) Elling tested a Dutch cookie recipe on his football coaches in 2012, his teammates clamored for more. Soon, teachers and students wanted a piece of the action.
“They just went crazy,” Elling said. “They loved them.”
The recipe was ready, and Joost Wafel Co. was born.
The Indian River High School senior was 13 in a Netherlands open-air market when he first smelled the sweet stroopwafel (“strope-waffle,” meaning “caramel cookie”). His father, Bart, is Dutch and originally came to Delaware as an exchange student in Dover. After the elder Elling and his wife, Christine, moved from Pittsburgh to Ocean View about five years ago, he encouraged his children, at age 13, to visit the Netherlands to meet their “oma” (grandmother), cousins and culture.
Stroopwafels pack a lot of action into a slender cookie. The texture vaguely resembles ice cream waffle cones, which provide a soft crispiness, with the slightest hint of spice, over sweet caramel.
Elling was enchanted.
“These smell delicious,” Elling recalled of his first waft of stroopwafels. “I went there so many times.”
Back at home, Elling wanted to duplicate the sandwich cookie, which began with importing a special iron. He managed to track down a basic recipe (“a well-kept secret”) and got to work. After several years of trials, his family and classmates approved the final recipe.
“I think the flavor’s more in the dough,” Elling noted.
Stroopwafel dough is rolled into balls, which cook four at a time in the small waffle iron. By hand, Elling cuts each thin cookie in half and layers it in the middle with warm caramel.
“It’s a lot of work per cookie. They’re artisan-made,” Elling emphasized.
Often getting help from his father, Elling can produce 150 cookies in an hour. He usually cooks twice a week, though more often at Christmas. He sells the cookies for $5 per bag of seven cookies, or by the tray. He’s shipped nationwide, but locals can pick up cookies in person.
With help from his father and business advice from family friends, Joost Wafel Co. got a business license and website this summer.
“I want to keep this going until I’m a full-grown business,” Elling said.
The recipe is a family secret for now, but Elling has also experimented with a pumpkin-spice flavor and is now working local honey into the caramel.
And, after drizzling Dutch chocolate on top his basic recipe, he won the Rehoboth Beach Chocolate Festival’s amateur cookie division this year.
He’s been invited to make stroopwafels on-site at the Bethany boardwalk, a River Soccer tournament and two East Coast lacrosse events.
“Kids were mesmerized. The smell is great, too, so it brought a lot of people,” Elling said.
That could eventually lead to a regular spot on the shelves at local markets, and Elling is tweaking the recipe for longevity to help make that happen.
“They’re all-natural. How can I make them last longer on the shelf?” he wonders, without compromising quality and crunch. Elling said he’s determined to figure it out.
“I like the positive support I always receive,” Elling said. “I like that it has some skill to it. It’s fun to make.”
After graduating, Elling hopes to return to Arnhem, Netherlands, and visit more of Europe and Australia.
“Just to see how it is, see what people like. I can use those experiences to grow my business and help make it better,” he said.
This past summer, at Delaware Boys State, Elling introduced mock legislation to make the stroopwafel the Delaware state cookie. It passed unanimously — perhaps due more to their getting a taste of the product than to the state’s Dutch heritage.
Moreover, after that, the American Legion of Delaware asked to actually use the cookie to represent Delaware at a national convention in Texas.