This season has some of the richest baked goods: they're heavy on sugar, dried fruits and nuts. Many of these traditional recipes stem from the times that families would bring out their best items out of food storage to share with each other. The best sausages, hams and dried meats would appear on the table, together with specialty items such as oranges and other exotic luxuries. This was a serious time to celebrate!
It is also a time of rich, luxurious breads. Kerststol, a rich buttery bread studded with dried fruits and almond paste, is found in stores and bakeries during this time of year. Many a breakfast or morning coffee will include a slice of buttered stol, just to set the mood. Christmas is celebrated during two days, the 25th and 26th of December, and is a great way to showcase your cooking and baking skills by inviting friends and family to come and celebrate with you!
A regional, rich bread that used to appear during these festive days but is now available year-round, is the duivekater. Predominantly present in the province of North-Holland, in the Amsterdam area and the Zaanstreek, the duivekater is a rich, sweet white bread, flavored with lemon zest and is lovely by itself or toasted and served with a lick of butter. The real interesting part about the bread is the shape: it is thought that the duivekater was a sacrificial offering, from Germanic origen, a bread that replaced an actual, physical sacrifice to the gods. If the gods were pleased, the devil would stay away. As the bread is shaped like a bone, a shinbone perhaps, it is assumed that the bread replaced an animal offering (kater = tomcat) . The richly decorated body of the bread represents the shaft, and both ends are shaped like medials, or the lumpy bits at the end of a bone.
But let's not dwell on that too much! The bread is represented throughout history on several paintings by Jan Steen and Pieter Aerts, and although it has lost some of its popularity, it can still be found in the Zaanstreek, albeit less decorated. It's a heavy, sweet, dense white bread, with a wonderful hint of lemon.
3 cups cake flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons powdered milk
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Zest of one lemon
Mix the two flours. Warm the milk, add the yeast and a pinch of sugar, set aside to proof. In the meantime, mix in the rest of the sugar, the powdered milk and the salt with the flours. When the yeast is bubbly, mix it in with the flours. Depending on whether you're a light or heavy scooper, you may need to add a little bit of milk to make it a pliable, workable dough. Add the butter and lemon zest, and knead the dough until it's pillowy and soft, but not sticky. Oil a bowl, add the dough and cover for its first rise.
Knead the dough a second time and shape it into a log. Cover and let it rest for five minutes. Now cut about 2 inches on each side and curl the dough inwards (like on the picture) or outward, whichever you prefer, you are trying to achieve something that vaguely looks like a bone.
Cover the bread and let it rise a second time, for about thirty minutes. Make decorative slashings in the rest of the bread and brush the whole bread with egg.
Heat the oven to 400F. Bake the loaf for 25 minutes or until done inside (190F and rising!). If the bread browns too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil until you reach the desired internal temperature.
Cool the bread, slice, slather with butter, sit back and relax. Best enjoyed with a cup of coffee and a couple of good friends.