As now is December - quite a festive month in The Netherlands - I think it might be a good time for something traditional. First we have the feast of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra (Turkey) in the fourth century, now living in Spain and still going strong. We celebrate his birthday (which it isn't) on 5 December with lots of sweet things, mulled wine, parcels wrapped or hidden in ingenious ways and mock poems to ridicule the receiver. (That's for the grown-ups; children are often paid a personal visit by the old man.) As soon as this is all behind us, we are heading for Christmas (trees and grand dinners, but no presents) and New-Year's Eve (oliebollen, champagne and fire works).
At least, that's how it used to be. Nowadays Santa Claus is getting more popular with the grown-ups, leaving St. Nicholas for the kids (though not in my family, oh no). Traditionalists are crying shame. How do we keep our balance if such age-old traditions are cast away? And for what? For a ho-ho-hoing idiot from The States?
They forget that tradition is a word for change. That the feast of St. Nicholas as it is celebrated now is based on a 19th-century bourgeois reinvention of older convent-school traditions (the steamer in which he traditionally arrives from Spain is rather a give-away). And that this reinvented tradition found its way into all layers of Dutch society only as late as the first half of the 20th century.
I myself like these traditions. And to enhance peace between tradition and change, I offer you all this recipe for borstplaat (a kind of fondant), one of the traditional sweets we eat on both St. Nicholas and Christmas.
All you need is about 6 molds or cookie cutters (in any form you like, though roundish is best, 5 cm diameter) , sugar (250 gr), cream (5 tbs) and water (2 tbs). These ingredients may not seem mouthwatering, but if mixed in the right amounts and treated with due care, the result is.
Place molds on waxed paper on a heat-resistant plate. Heat sugar, cream and water on low heat and keep stirring. If the liquid starts boiling, keep stirring for about 5 minutes more. The liquid has thickened enough if the last drop falling from your spoon forms a little thread. Immediately get the pan off the heat and continue stirring. If the substance gets thicker and opaque, poor it into the molds (be quick, be very quick), about 1 cm per mold. Let it cool for approximately 20 minutes, turning the molds every now and then.
For vanilla borstplaat, add some vanilla sugar; for chocolate borstplaat a little cocoa; for coffee flavour mix a few spoons of strong coffee into the almost thickened liquid.
If this recipe happens to reach you after Christmas, make it your own invented tradition by serving borstplaat on New-Year's Eve in the shape of a glass of champagne or an exploding fire cracker.