Ontbijtkoek, also called peperkoek, is the Flemish and Dutch version of gingerbread. It is a very popular breakfast in the Netherlands, where it is eaten with butter.
What is onbijtkoek?
Onbijtkoek, or peperkoek, is a traditional baked cake of Flemish and Dutch origin. This spice bread is made from rye flour, all-purpose flour, milk, honey, black molasses and brown sugar. It has a fairly dense texture and a dark brown coloration due to the presence of rye flour.
Very flavorful, it contains many spices: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, vanilla and anise.
How to eat ontbijtkoek
Ontbijtkoek is a typical breakfast item in the Netherlands. Over there, it is eaten in place of conventional bread, like a toast: sliced and then covered with a generous layer of butter, sometimes even toasted in a toaster.
This spice bread is also a popular snack in the afternoon, with or without butter and accompanied by a hot drink. If it is sometimes homemade, most locals just buy it ready-made in supermarkets.
What is the origin of ontbijtkoek?
In Dutch, peperkoek literally means “pepper cake” and ontbijtkoek means “breakfast cake”. It is also sometimes found under the name of kruidkoek, which translates to “spicy cake”.
The first peperkoek date from the Middle Ages. Originally, the cake was made with leftover bread and other pastries that were kept until there were enough crumbs. They were then mixed with pepper and honey before compressing everything together to form the cake. The addition of the other spices did not come until later, around the 16th century, when the Netherlands entered the spice trade with the countries of the Middle East.
Today, this cake is also found in Indonesia, where it was imported by Dutch settlers during the occupation of the country between the 17th and 20th centuries.
Its likely ancestor is gingerbread, a French culinary specialty much appreciated at Christmas time, especially in the Alsace region. Gingerbread itself has its roots in Chinese honey bread, called Mi-Kong, the first traces of which date back to the 10th century. The Mi-Kong recipe was then exported to Europe during the Crusades in the Middle Ages and was then used in many European countries.
Peperkoek in Dutch culture
Ontbijtkoek is not only one of the favorite breakfasts of the Dutch. It turns out that this cake is also at the heart of the country’s traditions, and the main element of the koekhappen game.
This traditional and very old Flemish game is particularly popular at children’s parties. The Dutch also often play it during festivities and family gatherings of Koningsdag (King’s birthday), which is celebrated annually on April 27.
The game of koekhappen involves tying slices of peperkoek to the end of a string or wire and hanging them in the air above the players’ heads. The latter are blindfolded and their hands behind their backs. They then try to bite on a piece of cake while the adults have fun pulling the string to put the slices of cake out of their mouths.
Across the Netherlands and parts of Belgium, there are many varieties of ontbijtkoek available in stores. Some contain candied fruit, ginger or even nuts and are sprinkled with pearl sugar.
In the north of the Netherlands, the local variant is called oudewijvenkoek, which can be translated to “cake of old women”. It is very similar to ontbijtkoek, the particularity of oudewijvenkoek being that it is more flavored with anise.
Another version is called kroninger koek, and for its part contains pieces of candied lemons.
Finally, Deventer koek, which takes its name from its origins in the city of Deventer, is traditionally flavored with bitter orange.
- 1 cup rye flour , sifted
- 1 cup all-purpose flour , sifted
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon ground anise
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup honey
- ¼ cup black molasses
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup hot milk
- Butter (for the mold)
- Preheat the oven to 300 F (150°C).
- Line a cake pan with parchment paper and butter it.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt and spices.
- In a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar, honey, molasses, vanilla extract and hot milk until everything is well combined.
- Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture using the flat beater until obtaining a smooth dough.
- Pour the mixture into a cake pan.
- Bake for 80 minutes or until a thin wooden skewer comes out clean.
- If the top of the ontbijtkoek darkens too much during baking, cover it with 2 sheets of parchment paper.
- Leave to cool for 5 minutes in the cake pan, then unmold and let cool completely on a rack.