Great Britain has a long tradition of being at war with the Dutch. From 1652 to 1784 there were four wars and then more conflicts during the later Napoleonic era. As both nations were sea-faring and had economic policies bent on maximizing their global trade and accumulating gold and silver, their policies led to colonization and then to war, mainly with each other. The Dutch/Anglo relationship therefore has had its share of ups and downs but a strong bond was forged during and after the Second World War. Today, however we seem to be heading for another down after the shock result of the Brexit referendum and the UK’s desire to exit out of Europe.
Man is Dutch. I consider myself somewhat British. I was born in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, which is not part of the UK nor a member of the EU. Culturally we have few disagreements. I have had a long-term love affair with the Netherlands, which predates even Man. I love the quirky architecture, it’s tall people – one of the few places where I don’t feel unnaturally tall – and it’s photogenic cities based around water, Amsterdam, Leiden, Utrecht and Maastricht, to name just the ones I’ve been to. After over twenty years Man considers London, and urban Hackney his home.
But we’ve had to work our way through a few culinary differences. I’ve mastered mopping up onion bits with a swipe of a fresh herring filet, spiked hot milk with a lump or two of aniseed sugar, and prepared regularly a one pot dish called Stamppot made with mashed potato mixed with fried onion and bacon bits into which is melted mounds of green leafed Andijvie. I now even grow Andijvie – a curly endive variant in a window box on my deck – love has no bounds. In return, my British predilection for hot puddings has been adapted to, with custard being considered a great success. I haven’t quite been able to convince my pragmatic Calvinist that masses of butter, cream and anything full fat is good for you, or at least should be held in the same regard as yoghurt, or indeed anything that has the word ‘pie’ and savoury in the same sentence should be included in our diet.
But there is one speciality I can’t quite adapt to in its full Dutch form and that is ontbijtkoek (breakfast cake) or kruidkoek (spice cake or Peperkoek) – multiple names for a type of dryish ginger bread which is eaten by the Dutch smeared with butter for breakfast or for a morning snack. This is not an unequal conflict as the Dutch are not the only ones to have more than one version of this spicy bread/cake. The British can lay claim to Grantham, whose biscuit like gingerbread originated in the home town of Margaret Thatcher which is pale and dry like its ex-prime minister, oat rich parkin which is normally eaten on Bonfire night, and my favourite which is the dark sticky cake kind known commercially as ‘Jamaican Gingerbread’.
All wars or differences must in the end be settled with compromises, so I have retained the soft stickiness of the English gingerbread in my recipe and the use of egg and milk to bind rather than just water in the Peperkoek recipe. I compromised on flour by using half rye and half self-raising but used the variety of spices required by the Dutch. The compromise recipe was considered a great success, all the spices mixing well. Although traditionally you don’t smear butter onto sticky ginger cake, I am such a butter lover, that I have no problem following the Dutch suggestion on this. To be eaten at breakfast, elevenses or teatime in a cordial entente of two sea-faring nations.
NB: I used the Dutch website Coquinaria for inspiration for a traditional Peperkoek recipe, although at the time I hadn’t managed to source the spice aniseed. As their recipe is more bread than cake-like, the mix is allowed to stand over night because, as they charmingly put it, “all those spices want to get to know each other before entering the oven.”
A Dutch/Anglo Compromise Cake
Preparation Time Approximately I hr. Serves 10-12 slices
114 grams self-raising flour
114 grams rye flour
1.5 heaped teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch of salt
4 heaped teaspoons of ground ginger
1 heaped teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinammon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon ground aniseed seed
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
58 grams butter
58 grams muscavado sugar
5 tablespoons black treacle
3 tablespoons golden syrup
2 eggs, beaten and mixed with milk to make 1/2 pint
114 grams raisins or dried fruit (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin.
Mix the flour with the salt, baking powder, all spices, and raisins if using.
Melt the butter or margarine and add the sugar and black treacle – mixing them together very well. Add the butter mixture to the flour mixture – and mix with a wooden spoon.Gradually beat in the egg and milk mixture to make a smooth, thick batter.
Pour into the prepared loaf tin, brush with milk and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer when inserted comes out just about clean. ( I don’t mind a tiny bit of uncookedness in the middle, so if there are a few crumbs remaining on skewer I take it out then).
The gingerbread loaf should be well risen and slightly sticky to the touch, although it gets stickier the longer it is kept. Immediately wrap in foil and then a towel. You want the steam of the cooling cake to sink back into it to enhance the stickiness. Slice and eat warm with butter, or leave to go cold and store in an airtight container.