Merry Christmas!

Wishing you peace, love and good food.
The Dutch Table


It's Christmas time, and this special time of year is celebrated in the Netherlands with good food, family visits and well....more good food. Old favorites are dusted off, new exciting dishes are being prepared and people look forward to spending some quality time together, and enjoying some good homecooking. During this time, an old-fashioned, traditional cake in the shape of a turban, or tulband is often baked. Usually, the tulband is a simple pound cake, but for Christmas it becomes a special treat.

Rich with butter, sugar and dried fruits, generous slices of this kersttulband are often served when enjoying the visit of a friend or family member. It is good by itself and will hold, because of its richness, for several days. Dress it up with a beautiful red bow and give it as a gift, or keep it for yourself and enjoy it during these holiday times! Red and green candied cherries give it a festive, Christmas-sy feel.

2 sticks butter, softened (225 gr.)
1 cup sugar (200 gr.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour (300 gr.)
1/2 cup golden raisins (75 gr.)
1/2 cup dark raisins (75 gr.)
1/4 cup candied citron peel or chopped apricots (50 gr.)

Cream the butter and the sugars until they're fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and allow each one to incorporate before adding the next one. Sift the flour and carefully fold it into the buttery mix, but hold back one large tablespoon. Toss the dried fruits with that flour, then carefully fold everything into the batter.

Butter and flour a baking pan, either a turban one, or a Bundt pan. Spread the batter into the pan, and bake the cake for an hour in a 350F oven. When a toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done.

Drizzle the cake, when it has cooled down, with your favorite glazed frosting, or make one by mixing a cup of powdered sugar with a tablespoon of milk, and decorate with red and green candied cherries.

* If you don't have vanilla sugar, or can't find any, add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the batter.



This recipe first appeared in Dutch, Issue 8 November/December 2012                              
It is so cold outside! It's snowing and these dark days before Christmas sure makes me just want to curl up on the couch, grab a good book and hide from the elements. But no such luck! I need to head out in this weather to get some last-minute groceries, the Sunday  newspaper and maybe a stocking stuffer or two. Sinterklaas has come and gone, now it's time for the Kerstman!
With all the eating, baking, sampling and tasting that is going on these days in this household, there is very little need for a full meal. But a quick pick-me-up cup of soup during this time really hits the spot.
Today, I made a quick mosterdsoep, a mustard soup. A variety of regions in The Netherlands produce coarse grain mustards, like Doesburg, Groningen and the Zaanstreek area, all with a slight variation on flavor, coarseness and ingredients. It is a traditional item served with many of our foods: it's hard to imagine bitterballen or kroketten without mustard, or a gehaktbal on bread, without a generous lick of the creamy, dark yellow condiment.
Mosterdsoep is a velvety, creamy soup that tastes like, well, mustard. Select a coarse grain mustard if you can find it, preferably a Doesburgse or Zaanse Mosterd. If not, try something like Grey Poupon Harvest Coarse Ground mustard for a valid substitute. It is best with some crispy bacon garnish, and a slice of rustic bread.
1 small leek
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
4 tablespoons of coarse grain mustard

Wash and thinly slice the leek, white part only. Melt the butter in a pan and slowly sweat the vegetable. When it starts to release its lovely fragrance, stir in the flour to make a roux. Carefully continue to stir the butter and flour until it's come together, much like a paste, until it’s slightly golden. Now add the broth little by little, all the while stirring, making sure the roux incorporates all the liquid. Make sure there are no lumps. Bring to a boil, and boil for a good five minutes, until the soup thickens slightly. Turn down the heat to simmer, stir in the mustard and stir slowly until it dissolves. Taste. Adjust the flavor with some more mustard or a bit of salt if needed. 

Mosterdsoep can be served as is, or with some crispy bacon as a garnish.


The Christmas season is one of many gezellige evenings together. We take the time to visit with friends and family over coffee and a slice of banketletter or a piece of speculaas. Or we spend some needed alone time, going through the many recipe magazines available, to plan our Christmas menu while nibbling on some leftover kruidnoten from Sinterklaas.

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
1 egg

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.



Some foods don't sound very appetizing. Take for instance today's ingredient, zuurkool. Sour or soured cabbage just doesn't quite do it for the ol' appetite now, does it?

Nevertheless, the fermented white cabbage is a staple in the Dutch kitchen. Especially during colder winter days this vegetable can really brighten your day in a zuurkoolschotel with mashed potatoes and a smoked rope sausage, or in an island dish called siepeltjespot, made with potatoes, ground beef, sauerkraut and cranberries. And not just in the winter: sauerkraut lends a crisp, slightly tangy side to summery salads, or a surprising flavor to soups.

Zuurkool is said to have originated with the Tartars, a roaming group of Mongols, who formed part of Genghis Khan's army in the early 13th century. Whole cabbages don't travel well in saddle bags for obvious reasons, so they would cut them up in strips and transport them that way. The salt of the horse's perspiration would soak through the bags and trigger the cabbage to start fermenting and hey presto! zuurkool was invented. These culinary conquistadors are also presumably responsible for the invention of the steak tartare.

From China, where pickled cabbage became a big hit, it traveled to the Romans and Greek cultures, who fermented the zuurkool in wooden barrels, and on to the rest of the European cultures. Zuurkool, because of its high amount of vitamin C, would also travel well on ships and seafaring expeditions and help avoid scurvy.

The Netherlands produces on average about 45 million pounds of the sour cabbage: it's a very popular item! In the old days, many Dutch households would have a stone crock in the basement and make their own zuurkool, nowadays it's bought fresh from the produce market or in the grocery store. Here is a quick video from 1948 where you can see how it was made in factories back then. But we're spread out all over the world, and sometimes zuurkool is hard to come by, so we're going to make our own!

It is an easy item to make, although it does require patience and some light monitoring.  And you'll be pleased to know that no sweaty horses are needed! Some cuisines add juniper berries, herbs or white wine, but the Dutch prefer theirs just made plain, with only salt, but you are welcome to experiment!

5 lbs white cabbage (about 2 large heads)
10 teaspoons pickling salt, kosher or sea salt*

Remove a few outer leaves on each head. Cut the cabbages in half, remove the core and slice the cabbage very thin. You can do this on a mandolin (be careful!!) or with a chef's knife.

Take a clean container: I use a pickle jar as you can see in the picture, but a stone crock or any other jar will work just fine. Wash and rinse it so that it's clean and dry. Place one or two whole leaves on the bottom of the jar. Weigh out 8 ounces of sliced cabbage and add it to the jar. Use a sauerkraut tamper or a potato masher or other blunt instrument to push down the cabbage. Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt on top. Layer with another 8 ounces of sliced cabbage, push down well, sprinkle salt. Repeat until the jar is packed, and finish with another two or three whole leaves. 

The salt will start pulling liquid from the bruised cabbage and soon (although this could take up to 24 hours), the cabbage will be sitting in its own, salty, juice. Perfect!

Push the cabbage down as it will be wanting to float. Use a clean, inverted dish with a rock on top like they did in the old days or join the 21st century. I use a large foodsafe zipped bag that I fill with water. It weighs down the cabbage, flexible enough to cover every nook and cranny but is light enough to let any gases escape. The key is to have the cabbage submerged!

If there is not enough water to cover all the cabbage after 24 hours, carefully salt a cup of water with 2 teaspoons pickling or kosher salt, stir it until it's dissolved and add to the pot.

Let the crock sit on the counter for two days. Then move it out to a cooler part of the house, maybe the basement or the pantry. Make sure no pests, dirt or debris can get into the pot. As you're fermenting cabbage, gases will appear and create a slightly sour smell: that's a good sign!

After about three to four weeks, the zuurkool should be done. We'll make a traditional Terschelling dish with it!

 * Do not use iodized or table salt as it is usually laced with other ingredients: use only sea, kosher or pickling salt.

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