Dutch House Rules

When Aletta Mes sent me these beautiful Dutch House Rules together with her personal St Nicolas Christmas Card memories of Delft came flooding back.

Apart from reading Girl With a Pearl Earring you could borrow it on DVD and watch it if you want to get to immerse yourself with stunning Dutch imagery.

Activity

Make something that represents your culture and the place where you live and either add it to your altered book or your calendar. Pull out a box of old Christmas Cards if you need ideas and begin making cards, bookmarks and tags to give away this Christmas.

Paint Cards that Celebrate your Culture

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Dutch Christmas
presented by Aletta Mes

"Aletteke, kom hier" mum stood by the school fence waving her arms in the air with the enthusiasm most adults no longer possessed. This was the good kind of "come here", this was a child to child "come here." I ran toward her. I could hear my shoelaces clicking against the wet brick path dragging along as I'd not managed to tie them.

Judging mum's from her enthusiasm she would not yell at me. I rarely ran. I wasn't any good at it. My right foot always dragged a little and the foot was turned in. Ballet lessons has really paid off. Now I could run, trip in mid-air and have it all sorted out by the time I landed..

Mum caught me at the end of the little walkway. "We have to hurry", she said it with a most triumphant smile. The smile that could make me forget all the cruel little things four year olds can do to each other. Mum could tie my laces, fix my coat, put on my mittens and kiss my cold little face seemingly all at once.

Something good was happening and I wondered what it was. I'd have asked but we were moving quickly and I had no breath left for asking. We were not going home, we were facing the wrong way for that. We were going toward the shops. Magically as we came close to the shopping streets the street lights lit up, including the decorations. Seasonal sparkly stars and banners with the friendly face of St. Nicholas and his faithful companion Black Piet. I wanted to stop and take it all in but we were still flying and I hadn't caught a breath.

I was beginning to sweat uncomfortably into my knitted scarf. "There", mum's gloved hand pointed at the bakery window. In the window was the largest Tai-Tai Pop (doll) I had ever seen. Tai-tai is a thick chewy molasses and spice cookie/cake traditional during the festive holidays. Most were shaped as St. Nicholas, horses, Christmas trees. This one was the mitred saint and his companion, four delicious feet tall. I gasped. "It's beautiful, and so big."

"We have to take it home, and you have to help". She hustled me into the bakery. Mum fumbled through her purse as she excitedly announced to the lady behind the counter that she had won the Tai-Tai pop. We were congratulated. The roly-poly baker came from the back of the store and took a picture of us by the window, where there was just enough light. I was dwarfed by a pastry, wow. We were urged to stay for a coffee and a cookie, I was given a little milk. I felt very special. I would have something to tell the rest of the kids tomorrow. While we had our cookie and beverage the baker and his lady wrapped the doll in cellophane topped off by a large red ribbon. Several customers came in and noticing that the doll was won and by us we were congratulated.

It was cold, but the excitement made it easy to bear. Mum held onto the top of the pop and I kept the bottom from falling to the wet ground. It had to be done with care so the pop would not break before we got it home. Pappa would be so surprised.

We were drenched but the cellophane had kept the pop dry. It was displayed on a small bench near the piano. Guests were invited to come and eat the pop at a drop in party the day after St. Nicholas. The usual oddball collection of beatniks, neighbours and opera singers, they brought wine and beer and hot chocolate. There was dancing and singing until the next morning.

It was a very large pastry it took many people a month to help us finish it. Taai Taai is very chewy, so it was not hard to sit, relax and savour the spicy treat. Saturdays Pappa would make hot chocolate and it was one of the few times I was allowed to dip a cookie in.

I was allowed one piece each day until it was all gone, and is was the most delicious Tai-tai even on the last day.

Recipes for Saint Nicholas candy

Speculaas

3 cups flour
a pinch of baking powder
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
some milk to soften the dough
2 teaspoons of speculaaskruiden*
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup almonds: blanched and slivered. Keep some almond halves for decorating

Knead all ingredients into a soft ball, except the almonds for decorating. Roll out on a floured board to 1/4 inch thickness and stamp out shapes with different butterprints or make a 'gingerbread doll' or cookie. Bake about 25 minutes in a moderate oven (350° F / 180° C), or until an even dark brown.

Pepernoten

1 1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp. water
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons of speculaaskruiden*
a pinch of salt

Knead all ingredients into a soft ball. Butter two baking sheets. Form about ninety marble-sized balls and place them on the sheets. Flatten each ball slightly. Bake about 20 minutes in a moderate oven (350° F / 180° C), they will be dark brown, very hard and crunchy when cooled.

* Speculaaskruiden: You can buy them ready-mixed in the Netherlands or you can try making your own. They consist of: cinnamon powdered cloves nutmeg powdered coriander allspice aniseed powdered ginger powdered cardamon mace

The proportions are a matter of taste, as are the spices you use, and each baker has his own "secret" blend. The trick is to be careful with the very strong spices, and leave out the ones you don't like!

Borstplaat

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light cream
1 1/4 tbsp. butter and some butter for brushing the molds
3 tbsp. fruit-flavored extract or 4 tbsp. instant coffee of 2 tbsp. cocoa

Place tin rings or other open molds on a large piece of wax paper. (Lids of tins may be used as substitutes). Brush paper and molds with softened butter. Put sugar, cream, butter and the coffee or cocoa flavoring in a saucepan (if fruit extract is used, it should be added later). Bring to the boil slowly without stirring, until you get a syrupy substance; this takes about five minutes. A drop of this syrup dropped into a cup of cold water should form a little ball or pea. Remove pan from heat at once (stir in fruit extract). Stir to cool and pour into the prepared molds when the syrup becomes very hard to pour, to a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch; the smaller the molds, the thinner the 'borstplaat'. Cool in the molds, then remove. Serve with coffee or tea.

Marzipan

Mix 250 grams of ground almonds with 400 grams of sieved icing sugar. Knead the almonds, castor sugar and 3 or 4 tablespoons rose water into a supple dough. Wrap in plastic or aluminum foil and allow to rest in a cool place overnight. Make figurines of the marzipan. If you wish, you can color the marzipan with food coloring.

Bisschopswijn

1 liter red wine
1 lemon
1 orange
20 cloves
2 tbsp. sugar
1 cinnamon stick a pinch of mace and saffron (optional)

Wash and dry the lemon and orange. Insert 10 cloves into each. Put the wine, sugar, lemon, orange and cinnamon (and the mace and saffron tied in muslin, if you are using them) into a pan. Cover and bring slowy to the boil. Turn down the heat and allow the wine to simmer very gently for approx. 1 hour. Remove the spices and the fruit. Heat the wine again, but do not let it boil. Serve in heat-resistant glasses. Bisschopswijn or mulled wine is a traditional drink on "Sinterklaasavond".

Meringues

3 egg whites
375 grams castor sugar

Preheat the oven at the lowest mark. Clean your mixer and a large bowl with vinegar and paper towels to remove all traces of grease. Beat the egg whites in the clean bowl. When the egg whites are stiff, add two tablespoons of sieved castor sugar. Keep mixing for another minute. Fold the rest of the castor sugar through the mixture. Spoon small mounds of the mixture onto a greased baking tray. Bake the meringues in the preheated oven (still on the lowest mark) for 2 hours. Leave the meringues to cool on a wire rack.

Taai Taai (Gingerbread)


Taai-taai’ indeed is in English: ‘tough-tough’. It is not that easy to bite off (or chew) a piece of taai-taai, except for the ‘kleutertaai’ meant for toddlers. Together with ‘speculaas’ and ‘pepernoten’ (little, round, spiced or gingerbread cookies) taai-taai is the cookie of choice at Sinterklaas, both as a snack and a gift.

Mix 300 grams honey with half an egg. Knead this into a supply dough, with 300 grams sieved flour, 12 grams baking powder and 10 grams ‘speculaas’ spices. Allow the dough to rest for at least 12 hours. Roll the dough between two greased sheets of baking paper, to approx. 1 cm thickness, and cut out shapes. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 200 degrees in a preheated oven. NB: 1 cup = 236 ml.; 1 gram = 0,0353 ounces