“In New Netherlands as in every place where the Dutch plant a colony…Dutch ways, Dutch notions, the Dutch tongue lingered long. To this day, Dutch influence and Dutch traits, as well as Dutch names, are ever present and are a force in New York life.”
Alice Morse Earle, Colonial Days in Old New York, 1896
An ocean away from the bustle and comfort of the prosperous, urbane Netherlands of the seventeenth century, the tiny settlement of New Amsterdam perched at the edge of Manhattan island, a wary stranger in a vast and strange wilderness. Its original residents, some thirty go-getting contractors of the formidable Dutch West Indies Company and their families, had arrived in 1624. Their aim was not to manifest a Promised Land like the Yankees to the north, nor to mimic the license of the English aristocracy like their Tidewater neighbors to the south. They came to make money—ideally, lots of money. By 1638, just fourteen years later, New Amsterdam had eighty-some run-down structures (one-quarter of them devoted to the sale of liquor) and four hundred forty residents speaking eighteen different languages and professing diverse (if any) faiths. Since the colonial beginning, New York has been its mercantile, pleasure-loving, cosmopolitan self.
Unpretentious, democratic, and enterprising, the Dutch of New Amsterdam make much better mythical progenitors of the mythical American character than either the repressive theocrats of the New England colonies or the elitist pseudo-aristocracy of the Tidewater. The Dutch had publicly questioned the validity of monarchy nearly two hundred years before British colonists defined their own objections. They resisted extravagant displays of wealth at all points on the social scale; back in the old country, even the wealthiest burghers dressed simply, built unpretentious, comfortable homes, kept few servants. Wildly atypical among their European contemporaries, the seventeenth-century Dutch accepted as a guiding principle that hard work and brains would raise your station in life—an idea that became the defining feature of the New York Myth and indeed, one of most consistent among the various definitions of the American Dream.
The Dutch of New Amsterdam were also big eaters, known for their love of good, simple food (“There is no doubt that the Dutch colonists were very valiant trenchermen,” writes Alice Morse Earle.) Their enthusiasm, extending beyond the table, was expressed in a profusion of luminous still-life paintings celebrating the commercial abundance of the seventeenth-century Netherlands. Typically Dutch, the painters of these lush, metaphor-rich tablescapes celebrated equally the exotic delicacies purveyed by their nation’s red-hot global trading empire and humble, everyday bread. New Amsterdamers were especially fond of baked things: bread, of course, which appeared at every meal, but also cakes and cookies and pretzels and donuts and crullers and waffles and pancakes, all familiar and loved and part of a living tradition in New York today. They would have loved cronuts.
New Amsterdam bakers found good customers in the Lenape living outside the settlement; ordinances prohibiting the practice demonstrate that bakers preferred selling marked-up luxury goods to indigenous out-of-towners to baking wholesome basics at regulated prices for the local community. Dutch bakers were also sanctioned for providing “koeckjes, jumbles, and sweet cakes, unless he also had coarse bread for sale” to settlement residents, the prohibition was applied so “the extravagant and careless purchaser might not be tempted or forced to buy too costly food”—a concern that has echoed down through the centuries from New Amsterdam to Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts, some three hundred fifty years later, to save New Yorkers, yet again, from themselves.
Adapted from Pagrach-Chandra, Gaitri, Warm Bread and Honey Cake, Northampton, MA, Interlink, 2010
New Amsterdam housewives mixed, kneaded, and shaped their bread dough at home, adding a unique identifying mark before sending it out to be baked. This festive bread, with its elaborate markings and heavy egg wash, takes that custom to the next level. The detail left, from Jan Steen’s The Baker Arent Oostwaard and his Wife, Catharina Keizerswaard (1658), shows the duivekater style below in all its glory.
3 ½ cups bread flour
1 package instant yeast
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¾ – 1 cup milk, warmed to 100° – 115°
2/3 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg, lightly beaten
Extra beaten egg for glazing
1. Put the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, lemon zest, and spices in a large bowl. Add the milk, butter and beaten egg and mix with a spoon or spatula until the dry ingredients are well moistened.
2. If you are kneading by hand, turn out onto a floured surface and knead until elastic. Alternatively, use a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead for about five minutes, or until elastic.
3. Shape into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk.
4. Cover a baking sheet with parchment.
5. Transfer the risen dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until once more smooth and elastic. Roll out to an elongated oval shape about 10 inches long.
6. Make a cut at about 4 inches long at the center top and bottom of the oval. Place on the baking sheet.
7. Pull the dough apart at each cut, drawing the dough out into “legs;” gently twirl the the cut pieces between your fingers as you lengthen them. Coil each of the four legs—two at the top, two at the bottom of your dough oval— inwards, into a spiral.
8. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave in a warm, draft-free place until almost doubled in bulk.
9. Preheat the oven to 350°.
10. Brush the entire surface of the dough well with beaten egg. Allow to dry, then repeat the process with more beaten egg.
11. Using a very sharp knife or razor blade, score a decorative pattern into the top (a series of shallow semi-circles goes well with the shape: starting in the middle, make 4 or 5 cuts, the shape of parenthesis, on each side.)
12. Bake for 30 -35 minutes. The loaf should be a rich golden brown with the scored pattern much lighter. To test, tap the loaf sharply on the top and bottom; it should sound hollow.
13. Cool on a wire rack.