If you can’t tell, I’m on a Dutch kick right now. Last week I made a speculaas cocktail, and this week I’m all about the Dutch Christmas ring pastry, kerstkrans. The holidays always remind me of childhood Christmases spent at my Oma and Opa’s house, which entailed piles of presents and an endless supply of sweets imported from the Netherlands. Us grandkids would gorge ourselves on pastries, chocolates, speculaas, butter cookies, spekkoek, and of course, kerstkrans.
My Dutch-Indo family celebrates Christmas on December 25th, but apparently much of the Christmas festivities in the Netherlands take place earlier in the month on December 5th. This day is called St. Nicholas’ Day, a time when Sinterklaas is said to visit the Netherlands from some far off land and deliver presents and sweets to all the good children, while his mean sidekick Black Pete, aka Zwarte Piet (a controversial figure for obvious reasons), kidnaps the bad children. It always sounded terrifying to me as a child (although to be honest, I still find blackface terrifying) but it’s considered a fun and lighthearted Dutch tradition that both adults and children seem to love.
The Dutch are known for their sweets, so I felt the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a traditional Dutch pastry. “Kerstkrans” in Dutch means wreath, which is basically what the dessert is – a Christmas wreath of puff pastry filled with almond paste. The recipe is quite simple, but does require some time to prepare. The almond paste is usually made a month in advance so that the almonds can marinate with the lemon and egg, which gives the marzipan it’s distinct rich taste and texture. Almond paste and puff pastry can easily be bought at the store, but it’s so worth it to put in the time to make your own! Trust me- the buttery flavor and flaky crust makes the labor worth it. Enjoy and vrolijk kerstfeest!
Kerstkrans (Yield: 9 servings)
For almond paste:
2 cups almonds, peeled and blanched
1 lemon, zest only
½-1 cup sugar (Depending on your preferred level of sweetness)
For puff pastry:
½ cup butter, frozen
1 cup flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons ice water
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon apricot jam
Maraschino cherries, for garnish
- Make the almond paste in advance (a month is best). Grind almonds into a powder, then add sugar, egg, and lemon zest. Mix well until the paste is uniform, then store in the refrigerator.
- To make the puff pastry, combine the sifted flour with the salt. Grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture, making sure that it does not melt (puff pastry gets its crispy layers from the butter melting in the oven).
- Add the water to the mixture, mixing after each tablespoon. The dough is ready when it begins to stick together and can be formed into a ball. Form the dough into a brick, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, roll out the dough on a floured surface. Make a rectangle around 8” by 15”, then fold it three times onto itself like a business letter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat two more times, then refrigerate the dough overnight.
- When you’re ready to make the kerstkrans, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with wax paper. Form the almond paste into a long tube, around 1 ½” in diameter. Roll out the puff pastry into a long strip that is at least 5” wide and 2″ longer than your almond paste roll.
- Place almond paste roll on top of dough and bring the edges of the dough around the paste. Seal the dough carefully with water, then join the two ends of roll to make a wreath. Seal the dough with water, then turn it over very carefully onto the prepared cookie sheet. Brush the top with egg and bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack, checking every so often to make sure that the top doesn’t burn.
- While kerstkrans is baking, mix the apricot jam with equal parts water to make a glaze. When kerstkrans is lightly browned on top, remove from the oven and brush immediately with apricot glaze. Decorate with maraschino cherries.