A Dutch treat lands in Providence

Sweets
By ELIZABETH RAU  |  March 10, 2010

 TJI031210_Cookie
MMM-MMM, GOOD Pruisken.

Not long ago, a Brown student with a big idea decided to bake cookies. A ho-hum sugar cookie wouldn't do. No, this budding baker wanted something a bit more exotic.

So he retired to the two-burner stove in his dorm room and got to work, pulling all-nighters until he emerged with a crispy waffle slathered in creamy caramel. The Van Wafel was born, along with a dream to sell the cookie across the state, maybe the nation.

Abhishek Pruisken, a 21-year-old Brown senior, is so revved up about his "little cookie business" he turned down a finance job with a London consulting firm after graduation so he could focus on Van Wafels, LLC.

"I really think this will work," says Pruisken. "I believe in it." Pruisken, a lanky young man with chin-length black hair, was sitting at a table at Blue State Coffee on the East Side the other day, talking shop. A large cardboard box of Van Wafels sat at his feet, proof that he had been up until 5 am that morning rolling dough.

Still recovering from baker's fatigue, he explained how Van Wafels began: Pruisken and another Brown student, Erik Ornitz, wanted to start a business — and why not? They mulled over a few possibilities and then Pruisken thought of stroopwafels, the cookies he grew up eating in his homeland, Holland. He remembered how his college friends had fought over the stroopwafels he brought back from Amsterdam.

A light went off: On this side of the Atlantic, stroopwafels — essentially paper-thin waffles with a caramel center — are as rare as frogs' legs. Pruisken thought there might be an opening in the sweets market, but would the Dutch treat appeal to the American palate?

With recipes he found online, Pruisken made a few cookies, but they didn't taste authentic enough. He went back to the kitchen: "You make pasta for the first time and you make eggs for the first time and you overcook the pasta and you burn the eggs and then you start to get an idea of what you're doing. That's how it was with the cookies."

Van Wafels (which means "of waffles" in Dutch) debuted on Brown's Main Green in the fall of 2008. When the students sold 200 cookies at a dollar apiece in three hours, they knew they were on to something. Still, Pruisken wasn't entirely satisfied; the waffle was too thick for his taste.

During a trip to Holland, he continued his stroopwafels studies by talking to bakers and although they refused to hand over their recipes (they're top secret), they gave him some helpful tips (also top secret). Pruisken also bought a heavy-duty waffle iron used by the pros.

This time, the product, created in a kitchen he rents at the Hamilton House, met his high culinary standards. Maybe it was the graham-crackery consistency. (Oops, secret revealed.) At any rate, he was so pleased with the outcome he baked hundreds of cookies and persuaded Brown's Blue Room and local cafes to sell them. Besides Blue State, Van Wafels are also available at the College Hill Café, the Coffee Exchange, the Edge, Farmstead, and the RISD cafeteria.

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