Dutch spiced bread – ontbijtkoek

I had never heard of this cake until yesterday when my mum brought some over that she had made. It was amazing! Moist and spicy, sweet but not rich. She couldn’t remember the exact website where she found the recipe, and I discovered several versions while trying to find the right one (here’s one I found that looks good too). Later she sent me link, and without further ado I made it. Here is the link to the recipe that she and I used.

Ontbijtkoek translates literally as breakfast cake. Cake for breakfast? Sounds good to me! In fact I ate a slice this morning at 5.30 am with a cup of tea, after I woke at about 4.15 (!). Perhaps the sonic boom over London was to blame? Anyway breakfast cake is always a good idea, especially before a run. Later on I went for a run along the Thames from Kew to Ham House which was cold but very lovely.

December 1st – taken on my run along the Thames just near Ham House.

Apparently in the Netherlands nobody really makes this cake/ bread at home, as the commercial versions are very good. Well, I think that’s a shame, as home made is always nicer, and you can adapt it to your personal tastes. I also read about a traditional game where pieces of cake are dangled in front of blindfolded children who then have to try and take bites out of it, while the adults jerk the cake away from their snapping jaws 😳 😂. In fact, in most of the pictures I found on the www the children weren’t blindfolded, and they had to just try and eat the cake without using their hands. This reminded me of similar traditional English games – like apple bobbing, where the idea is to fish out apples from a bowl of water without using your hands – i.e. with your teeth! I can also remember stringing up buns on a string and having to eat them without using your hands – just the same as Koekhappen!

Photo from this website which has information about traditional Dutch games.

The cake has no eggs or fats in it, apart from the fat in milk. You can make it fairly low in gluten too, by using rye flour and spelt, which is what I did. I only used about half a cup of ordinary white flour. It’s easy to make because basically everything goes in one bowl and then you mix it all together. I used an electric hand mixer on low speed. The recipe said 45-50 minutes to bake – in fact mine took about an hour.

I’m guessing the spicy flavours came to the Netherlands via the East Indies in the 17th and 18th centuries. I like the combination of spices. I read other recipes that included anise so I crushed a few fennel seeds with the cardamom in the mortar and added them too. As a breakfast cake/bread it is sometimes spread with butter which I can imagine is delicious. I don’t think it needs butter though, it is very tasty plain.

I like this recipe a lot. The house smells suitably spicy-wintery-Christmassy-first of Decembery. It’s quicker and easier than a traditional gingerbread recipe. And it’s officially a breakfast food! Highly recommended.

Dutch ontbijtkoek on an old Delft plate.