If you don’t want to read a long sentimental story and just want to read about the cantatas for this Fourth Sunday of Advent, my blog post from last year gives you all the links. Other non-food and non-Bach goodies on YouTube this week: Alex Potter starring in this Sunday’s offering by La Festa Musicale and Hanneke van Proosdij in the “Pastorale” from Telemann’s Flute Concerto in D. For some fabulous Christmas music away from the German tradition, I recommend Pacific Music Works ¡Navidad! concert.

Advent for me is also about baking. As I write this on Saturday afternoon, my daughter is baking Dutch Speculaas cookies to give to her friends for Christmas. The whole house is filled with the delicious scent of orange peel, cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom, and aniseed. Traditionally these cookies are only eaten in the Netherlands around St. Nicholas (Dec 5), and not really associated with Advent or Christmas. However, being expats, we tend to mix up the traditions a bit.

There is no real tradition in the Netherlands of baking Christmas cookies during Advent the way there is in Germany for baking Plätzchen (a collective name for cookies baked in the weeks leading up to Christmas, to then have on hand for all the Christmas festivities). The main reason my mother, my sister, and I learned about the German tradition was because of Burda, the monthly German sewing magazine my mother subscribed to.  After music, sewing clothes was my mother’s biggest hobby. She found it important to read the original German version of the magazine, not the Dutch translation, as it contained too many mistakes in the descriptions of the patterns. From Burda we learned all the German terminology for sewing clothes, but also German words to describe a nice dress, such as “Bildhüpsch!” and “Todschick!” (I still make my German friends here in California laugh with those). There were also recipes in the magazine, and the November issue always featured pages and pages of delectable Plätzchen. Our hair stylist in the small town where we lived was from Germany, and he had good stories about the Advent baking traditions, which further inspired us. 

My sister was the baker in the family, I was the cook. So while my sister bakes Plätzchen around this time of year, I never baked anything, at least not until I had kids and my mother gave me a little nudge. It was 2007 — my oldest was in Kindergarten and my parents were visiting for several weeks (they would arrive at the end of November, celebrate St. Nicholas with us, and that year stayed until after Christmas (the next two years they went home before Christmas to help run the Christmas Eve service at their church in The Hague). My mother asked me: “Shouldn’t we bake kruidkoek (Dutch spice cake) for his teachers and for your friends?” The recipe was from her mother (my grandmother, who’s almost 103 years old now). That year my mother baked ten mini-cakes, as you can see in this photo. We did this together for about three years I think, the last time in 2009.

Dutch coffee cake with spices
Recipe from my grandmother:

For 1 large loaf pan or 5 mini loaf pans:

16 oz flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
10 oz dark sugar
1.5 cup raisins
1/2 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup molasses
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon each cloves, nutmeg, pepper,
optional: 1 teaspoon ginger powder

[note: the pepper can be overwhelming if you don’t like it spicy, and my sister never adds it]

mix together and add as much milk (or water, or orange juice) to make a mud-like dough. You can add hazelnuts instead of, or in addition to the raisins at this stage too if you like.

bake for 60 minutes at 330 F / 165 C
or little longer for the large loaf

The spices in kruidkoek are quite similar to those in Speculaas, so when the scent of Speculaas was filling the house this afternoon, I had to think of baking kruidkoek with my mother.

Wieneke Gorter, December 19, 2020.