Merry Christmas everyone!

 Let's get through the next few days unscathed, so we can get ready for oliebollen time!


It snowed yesterday and today. There is something so gezellig about a good snow fall when you're safe at home, something that makes me want to curl up on the couch, grab a book and let the day be the day. Quite a while ago, a reader asked me about a recipe for korstjes. It was mentioned in a book she was reading to her grandchildren, and wondered if I had heard of that particular treat. At the time, I had not but filed it away on the to-do list, and ordered the same book, just in case. 

Fast forward to this year. I was poking around the Albert Heijn grocery store in the north of Holland, when my eye fell on a curious package in the bakery section. "Korstjes" it said, and at first I didn't make the connection. "Korstjes?", I thought, "who wants to buy korstjes?" thinking of the crusts you cut off sandwiches, but when I held the package in my hand I realized I was looking at something much more appetizing, and remembered the request of my reader. Of course they landed in my basket, and am I glad they did! They visually appear to be korstjes, crusts, as they look like they were cut off from something bigger, hence the name, but the flavor and texture is much more akin to taai-taai: a chewy, flavorful spiced type of honey cake. Perfect for this time of the year! 

When I came home, I immediately dug out the book to see where these korstjes are mentioned. The book is called "A Day on Skates" by Hilda van Stockum. I've posted the details on the Dutch Reading page under Children's Books. but here's the part where the korstjes come in. Read for yourself!

"As time went on more and more people came out on the ice, and here and there tents were being erected. Some of these tents had benches in front of them on which tired skaters could rest. There was also the smell of delicious hot cocoa and wafers, with one man calling from a tent door:

"Hot milk and cold cake:
 Sit down to partake."

"Yes, yes, let's," cried Afke. She was hungry, and besides her legs were getting shaky. Some of the boys and girls now complained that their skates were coming loose, so Teacher picked out a nice clean-looking tent and ordered them all to stop. This they did gladly, with a great scraping of skates, and falling onto the wooden benches, they looked at the food on the table with hungry eyes. A fat lady served them, smiling good-naturedly as she lifted the lid from a kettle of steaming cocoa. Everyone got a big cupful and a korstje, which is a little spicy Dutch cake, especially beloved by skaters. They munched, and warmed their hands on the hot cups, while Teacher lit his pipe and puffed away. "

Call it a sign, but with today's snow, the book and the korstjes, I decided it was high time to dig out a recipe, make myself a cup of hot chocolate and curl up on that couch! The dough needs to rest a day, so plan ahead.

1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon water (80 ml)
1 cup honey (300 grms)
2 1/2 cup rye flour (350 grms)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (3 grms)
2  heaping tablespoons ground anise (15 grms)
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
1 scant tablespoon baking powder (12 grms), double acting

1 small egg, beaten

Heat the water and the honey in a small pan. In the meantime, put the dough hooks on the mixer, or prepare to use your muscles, and add all the dry ingredients to the bowl. 

Mix the warm honey with the dry ingredients, until it comes together into a smooth dough. The dough  will be runny at first, but as the honey cools, it will set up into a putty-type texture, so try to have everything mixed before it cools, as this will put a strain on your motor/arms. Cover, and rest it overnight in the fridge. Take it out to bring to room temperature about two hours before you get ready to bake.

Dust the counter with a little bit of flour and roll the dough out into a square, approximately 10 x 10 inches (25 x 25 cm), and about 3/8th inch high (10mm). Cut the dough into three equal strips, and then make marks on the strips every inch or so, but don't cut all the way through the dough. 

Brush the dough with the beaten egg and bake on a silicone mat on, or a parchment covered, baking sheet in a 400F/200C oven in about 15 minutes, or until they're nicely browned. 

After they've cooled, you can break each of the pieces off into individual servings. 

Makes approximately 28 - 30 korstjes. Recipe adapted from Cees Holtkamp's book "Koekje".

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It's the simple things that make life extra special. I was reminded of that again today when I kicked back with a cup of rooibos tea and a stack of Christmas cards, after working on today's recipe, pindarotsjes, chocolate covered peanut clusters. For a great snack, gift or little treat, all it takes is a handful of roasted peanuts, and a bit of chocolate. And patience, mind you, but it's worth the effort, and they make for a great gift. 

I tried to find out when peanuts first came to the Netherlands, but I was unable to find any specific information. The earliest reference I was able to find was in a book from 1866, where the author, Albert Helman, called them "olienootjes", oil nuts, which is a term I heard from the older generation when I was growing up. 

Nowadays we call them "pindas", and boy do we love them! A sandwich with peanut butter (with hagelslag!) is a kid's staple, the equivalent of the American peanut butter and jelly, and we love our French fries with a generous serving of hot peanut sauce. But even earlier than that, peanuts showed up on our collective tables in the form of confectionary. Pralines, toffee and candy bars, all made with peanuts, were very popular, as you can see here in an advertisement from Jamin from 1921, proudly announcing "Peanut Week", and offering a variety of peanut confections for purchase. 

The chocolate confection I made today is called "pindarotsjes". Its name literally translates to "little peanut rocks" and I can't say the imagery is amiss. A small handful of roasted peanuts is folded into tempered chocolate and set aside to harden. You can imagine that this must have been a special treat (and the most expensive one in Jamin's Pinda-Week!). 

Tempering chocolate is not difficult, but it takes a bit of patience, and a steady eye on the temperature. You will need a digital thermometer or candy thermometer to keep track of the temperatures, a bowl for melting and mixing, and a small ice cream scoop (#40) or a couple of spoons to form the treats. I've added some suggestions at the bottom of this post, in case you're looking to expand your kitchen supplies! 

If you heat chocolate too high, it will not set and you will end up with a sticky, gooey chocolate mess. If that happens, I would suggest to blend the whole thing into a paste, and use it on toast. But if you can muster the courage, I would highly recommend trying to master the technique, as it produces beautiful, shiny, snappy chocolate. 

And if you don't like peanuts or dark chocolate, not to worry. This can also be made with almonds, hazelnuts, or even a mix of nuts and dried fruits, as well as with milk or white chocolate - just make sure they're good quality chocolate, with cacao butter. 


10 oz (300 grms) roasted, unsalted peanuts (or any other nut or nut combo you like)

15 oz (450 grms) dark chocolate, chopped and divided

Carefully melt 10 oz (300 grms) of the dark chocolate. You can do this either over a bowl of warm water (make sure no steam or water comes near the chocolate because it will seize up), or at short 30 second intervals in the microwave, stirring regularly. Keep your eye on the temperature of the chocolate but don't let it go above 120F/49C for dark, 115F/46C for milk and 110F/43C for white chocolate. 

Let the chocolate cool down to 82F/28C for dark, 80F/27C for milk, and 78F/26C for white, while stirring gently but frequently - stirring is an important step for the crystals to do their thing. While it cools, cover a baking sheet, or large cutting board with a piece of parchment paper and get your ice cream scoop ready. You can also use a couple of spoons.

When the chocolate has cooled down enough, add the remaining chocolate into the bowl and stir it in. We are going to bring the temperature up to 90F/32C (dark), 86F/30C for milk, 82F/28C for white, the same way you melted the chocolate before. Remember that this time we are only going to bring it up a little bit so use your digital thermometer to keep track! 

When you've reached the intended heat, fold the nuts into the chocolate making sure they're well covered, and scoop out servings onto the parchment paper. You have to work quickly, because the chocolate will set rapidly. 

Once you've scooped all the peanut clusters onto the paper, set it aside to harden. Just at room temperature, or in a cool area of the house, it won't take long to set. The hard part is going to be trying to hide them from the rest of the family ;-)

Makes approximately 24 pieces. 

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Kruidnoten Arretje's Cake

The combination of kruidnoten and chocolate is a winning one - and one that has not gone unnoticed by the Sinterklaas-focused food industry. You can buy chocolate (milk, white and dark) covered kruidnoten, chocolate letters and bars with chunks of kruidnoten, chocolate cheesecake with kruidnoten, kruidnoten tiramisu, and even whole kruidnoten chocolate pies. I am waiting for the kruidnoten chocolate body wash - you know it won't be long now!

But, all craziness on a stick, the sweetness and creamy mouthfeel of a good chocolate does combine really well with the flavorful spices and crunchiness of the kruidnoot, which is why today's recipe is such a no-brainer. For one, it is easy to make, and secondly, there is no need to use the oven so you will not be getting in anybody's way. Yay on both counts!

Kruidnoten are a crunchy little cookie associated with the Sinterklaas period. Arretje's cake is a no-bake chocolate cake that was popularized in the Dutch kitchen because of its easy preparation. Follow the links for more information!

Kruidnoten Arretje's Cake

2 sticks butter (225 grms)
1 cup sugar (200 grms)
7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (40 grms)
1/4 cup heavy cream (60 ml)
2 oz good quality dark chocolate(preferably 80% or higher), chopped into small chunks (56 grms)
About 2 cups kruidnoten (about 50 - recipe in the link)*

Melt the butter, sugar, cocoa, heavy cream and dark chocolate slowly in a sauce pan, until just melted, on low to medium heat. 

Make sure all the sugar has dissolved. If you rub a little bit of the mixture between your thumb and index finger and it feels gritty, the sugar has not yet dissolved.

Take the sauce pan from the stove and let it cool a bit. In the meantime, add the kruidnoten to a bag, or fold them into a clean towel, and roll your rolling pin over the cookies several times. You are looking to break the cookies into pieces. Not too big, not too small. I left them mainly whole for this cake and found it hard to get clean slices when cutting, so will definitely break them up next time. 

When the chocolate in the pan has cooled down, fold the cookies into the chocolate paste until they're all well covered. Line a cake pan with parchment paper or plastic film, spoon the mixture into the pan and flatten it with a spatula, making sure there are no air bubbles.

Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight. Lift the cake out of the pan, and cut into thin slices. This cake is very rich, and pairs best with a cold glass of milk, or some unsweetened tea or coffee.

*If you don't have kruidnoten, or don't have time to bake them, think about using speculaas (windmill) cookies or even stroopwafels, gingersnaps or those Lotus Biscoff cookies. As long as it's a hard cookie, it'll work great!

A creative Sinterklaas tradition!

As you know, the evening of Sinterklaas is almost upon us. December 5th is when the children receive their gifts, either straight from Sinterklaas's hand (the anxiety is almost too much!), or left behind at the front door in a big burlap sack because, you know, he's a busy man and he has so many more homes to visit! 

Dinner is often skipped, but the table will be set with coffee or tea, almond paste filled banketstaafgevulde speculaas or regular large speculaas chunks, and may even have worstenbroodjes (sausage rolls), a warm soup, huzarensalade (made with potatoes and boiled beef) or salmon salad, and other snacks. 
After the youngest ones have unwrapped their gifts, nibbled on kruidnoten, drank their hot chocolate and gone off to bed, the adults give their gifts to each other. And here is where it gets to be real fun! 

There are two parts to the gift: one is the surprise (pronounced "sir-PREE-suh") and the other one is the poem. The surprise part is where the giver has taken the time and dedication to build a fun and dedicated wrapping around the gift itself. Not just a piece of pretty paper and a bow, mind you, but a whole construction, sometimes even with moving parts, that hide the real gift. 

This surprise is often reflective of the receiver's hobby, interests or passion. I'll give you some examples: a bird-watcher might receive a handmade papier-maché bird, with a pair of binoculars inside, or a bird book. A fervent baker might find her gift hidden inside a cardboard cake, complete with candles. Here are some other examples I found on Pinterest:

Now, because you are probably a kind and considerate person, you would think that the swimming pool is for a dedicated swimmer, the toolbox for a gifted handyman, and the side-table disguised as a cat for a kitty-lover. Not so fast, reader! Knowing our love for ribbing others or poking fun at their misadventures, these could just as easily be containers for gifts for somebody who failed their swimming diploma for the fifth time, a toolbox for that neighbor that always borrows your tools but never gives them back, or a kitty for somebody who is highly allergic. Those among you who have experienced a Dutch Sinterklaas know what I mean!

The second part is the poem that accompanies the gift. It is usually signed by either Sint or Piet, giving certain anonymity to the writer. This is not a love poem, or a dedication to how well one's behaved over the year, but most probably a gentle fun-poking rhyme about what the surprise represents, or why the gift inside was chosen. The receiver of the gift has to read the poem out loud before opening the gift. 

For example, for the toolbox I found this one here in Dutch. I am posting the translation here: 

Everything neatly together 

A job here, a job there, 
you get to work and it's done. 
But sometimes you have lost the hammer 
and then it takes extra time. 
Or you can no longer find the pliers. 
It is difficult to tie it around your neck! 
Saint hears you cursing under your breath, 
because you're tired of searching! 
So, if you didn't know yet you get a tool box! 
Everything is neatly arranged from now on. 
From combination pliers to earth leakage circuit breaker.


Of course, this rhymes in Dutch! As you can imagine, the more the evening advances, the more fun is to be had. It is wonderful to see how much dedication and attention people have put into finding that one gift, making the decorations and writing the poem. Aside from the gentle fun-poking, it shows real care and love for the person who the gift was for. It's always nice to get a gift, but it is double so nice if every single detail about it is well-thought out.

If you haven't done gift-giving the Dutch way, maybe this year is a good year to start a new tradition!