I love the way my kitchen smells right now. Warm, fragrant with spices, the rich scent of molasses, I sniff the air and know I’m onto something good. My mouth is watering and my husband can be found sidling into the kitchen looking far too innocent.
The origin of our delight lies in a humble foil-lined loaf pan. It’s a quick bread from the Netherlands, called ontbijtkoek in Dutch. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Although the literal translation is breakfast bread, I prefer to think of it as the ultimate gingerbread. It’s delicious, fat-free (although there’s enough sugar that I would hesitate to call it truly healthy) and simple to make. The slightly unusual ingredients give it a delightfully unexpected flavor while maintaining the integrity of what we consider to be gingerbread. Although there are many sweeteners in the recipe, the bread itself isn’t at all over sweet. A slice with breakfast is wonderful, as well as for a tasty afternoon snack with tea or coffee. My husband loves dunking it in his coffee.
American taste buds, accustomed as they are to super-sweet desserts, might not appreciate the ontbijtkoek’s subtleties if it’s labeled as such.
2 C flour- rye or AP or any combination of the two. I used 1 C of each.*
3 tsp baking POWDER
Spices: this is partly up to you and your tastes. I used:
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
4 cloves, ground
1 tsp ginger, freshly grated (you could also use dry powdered ginger)
1 healthy pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Add all the above ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
*Rye flour has a wonderful earthy flavor that I think adds something special to the bread. If you use all rye it will bake up very dense; adding All-Purpose flour lightens the end result. If you do use rye flour, be careful of what you get. Some rye flours are not finely milled; others are ‘white’ or ‘light’ rye (the bran is removed and the flour is then bleached) which have very little rye flavor. I bought mine from a German bakery; I had to ask if they would sell me some. I don’t know the brand, but here’s what you’re looking for:
The wet ingredients:
1 C milk
½ C brown sugar
¾ C honey, molasses, or any combination of the two. I used ½ C honey and ¼ C molasses.
Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients; stir well to incorporate thoroughly. If you use rye flour you don’t have to worry quite so much about over mixing, since rye has significantly less gluten (the structural protein that can make baked goods tough or chewy) than wheat flour. Don’t worry too much about a few lumps if the majority of the batter is smooth.
By now, you should have something that looks like this:
Line a bread pan with foil. You’ll be covering the bread with foil when it comes out of the oven, so you may as well get a jump on that and save yourself from washing the pan at the same time. Make sure that there’s enough overhang on the foil to cover the bread when it’s done baking. Pour the batter in and bake for ~80 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Yes, it is hard to wait that long. Unfortunately, it’s about to get harder. The bread needs to be wrapped in foil as soon as it comes out of the oven to trap the moisture inside. As it cools, you can transfer it to a ziplock bag, only to continue waiting… You really have to let it sit for a day. Yes, a whole day. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. Something magical happens as time passes- the spices blend into an incredible melange and any harshness disappears.
Enjoy! You’ve waited long enough:)