The last day in April, Queen's Day, with all its joyous festivities, is offset by a much more sobering and serious couple of days in early May.

It is on May 4th that the Dutch remember the victims, both military and civilian, of the war. Not just the Second World War but since 1961, Holland also remembers those who were killed during peace operations elsewhere.

On May 5th, the country celebrates Liberation Day, to commemorate the end of Nazi German occupation. Freed predominantly by Canadian troops, the war could not have ended soon enough for the Dutch citizens, as provisions were extremely scarce and many died during the hunger winter of 1944/45.

But for many, Liberation Day came too late. Amsterdam had a thriving Jewish population that influenced art, music, and all other aspects of life. Even the city's moniker, Mokum, was the Jewish name for the city: a "safe haven". Jews fled to the north from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition, and found Amsterdam a welcoming city, hence the nickname. Until the war. Some fled, some hid, but many were taken away and were not heard from again. It's a dark page in our country's history. 

So today, in honor of those that lost their lives during those atrocious times, I'm baking a gemberbolus, or ginger roll. A traditional baked good that can still be found in many Dutch bakeries around Amsterdam, the ginger studded pastry is probably one of the most famous Jewish contributions to the city's baking repertoire. The bun is traditionally baked and served in an aluminum cup because it's very, very sticky.  

7 ounces of crystallized ginger
1 cup of water
3/4 cup and 3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups of flour
1 teaspoon salt
11 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons butter, divided, room temperature

Bring the cup of water and the ginger to a boil, turn down the heat and let it simmer for ten minutes. Set aside to cool. In the meantime, warm up the milk to 110F, add the yeast and let it proof. Mix it in with the flour and the salt, and add one tablespoon of sugar, and two teaspoons cinnamon. Mix well, add the egg and two tablespoons of butter, and knead the dough until it's soft and pillowy.

Oil a bowl, add the dough, cover and let it rise. In the meantime, drain the ginger but save the water. Add the ginger, 2 tablespoons of soaking water and 2 tablespoons sugar to a blender, and purée the mixture. Stir in a teaspoon vanilla.

Take four tablespoons of water, 4 tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of soaking water and 4 tablespoons butter and put it on the stove in a small saucepan. Bring it slowly to a boil, then let it simmer for ten minutes until you have a buttery syrup. Set aside to cool. The syrup will thicken as it cools.

Punch down the dough, and divide into 12 equal parts.

Mix four tablespoons sugar with one teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle a teaspoon on your countertop. Roll each piece of dough into a small ball, then roll it out into a rectangle on top of the sugar. Put a line of ginger purée in the middle of the dough, lengthwise, and fold the dough over to the top. Fold one more time, pinch the seams and carefully roll the dough in the sugar. Now take one side of the dough and roll it, roly-poly wise, onto itself. Tuck in the end piece. Do this with all the pieces of dough.

Turn on the oven to 350F. Brush the inside of the aluminum cups (or a muffin pan) with the syrup, and place each gemberbolus in a cup. You can put a little bit of ginger purée in the middle, if you wish. Cover the rolls and let them rest for about fifteen minutes while the oven heats up.
Before you place the rolls in the oven, pour a tablespoon of syrup over each bolus. Place your cups or muffin pan on a baking sheet, and bake the bolusses in about fifteen minutes. They don't need to be golden brown, just cooked in the middle. (Temp 190F, they're done).

Brush the rolls with more syrup when they come out of the oven, and let them cool. Eat warm, cold or heated up.


  1. Hi Nicole, could I make this with fresh ginger instead of crystallized ginger?

    1. Jenneke, that is a good question. Fresh ginger does not have the same pungency as candied ginger. You could candy your own (boil small pieces of fresh, peeled ginger in a sugar solution), or combine fresh, finely grated ginger with dried ginger to achieve a gingery taste. I have not tried it myself - is crystallized ginger hard to find where you live?


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