In Holland there is a strong tradition connecting letters with this time of the year. Edible letters were used as a teaching aid to help children learn their alphabet in convent school. Today chocolate letters can be found in delicatessens at Christmas time but the tradition goes further back to a time when the letters were made from bread and pastry.
On Sinterklaas evening ( December 5 ) presents were hidden under a sheet instead of being wrapped and on top of each child’s pile was placed the first letter of their name. I don’t know what happened if two children had the same first letter as that didn’t happen in my family and I never thought to ask my grandfather, first two letters? Almond filled pastry treats called banket were twisted into letters and employers would sometimes give employees banket formed into the letter “S” for Sinterklaas.
Dutch bakeries make longer banket sticks that can be sliced into smaller servings at this time of the year. So although this treat was usually eaten between Late October and December 5th, it is now available through Christmas as well.
You will need:
1 recipe of processor puff pastry Best if this is made the day before or the morning of if part two is later on in the day.
1 cup marzipan
1 egg ( some will be needed for the wash )
6 Tbsp. white sugar
1/4 bottle Dr. Oetker bitter almond or 1/2 tsp. almond extract
pinch of salt
raw sugar to sprinkle on top
Begin with warm water to wash your hands and wash away the nigglies that will keep you from being fully present to the job at hand. Put on an apron to aid in shifting your attentions to being here now. Close your eyes and take a deep breath to relax and enjoy the creativity at hand. Begin.
Let’s start with a bit of information about the filling. Many recipes “out there” use almond paste. Almond paste has a higher sugar content and therefore needs more egg to soften the mixture. I use the marzipan recipe from a couple of weeks ago. It has a higher proportion of almonds to sugar and is softer to begin with so needs less egg to be mixed in.
Option number 1 is to just double the entire recipe and make four almond sticks, using one egg. Option number 2 is to carefully break the egg open and separate the egg white. About a quarter of the egg white will be needed to wash the top of the pastry. Take that portion out and then combine and mix together the egg. Use about half in this recipe. It is also possible to use all the rest of the egg. The mixture will just be softer and your slices will be a little flatter when finished but it will taste just as good.
Mix the marzipan, egg, sugar, salt and essence together until smooth. The little red bottle in the picture above is Dr. Oetker almond essence. Here they cost about .50 a bottle, come as a four pack and are stronger than extract. I like the bitter almond and prefer it to almond extract but use what you have easy access to.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to about 18 by 12 inches.
Cut the pastry down the middle lengthwise.
Place half the filling in the centre of the pastry.
Wipe the inside edge of the pastry that is unfolded with water and fold back over the already folded pastry.
Wrap tighly to create a circle. If you follow the suggestion of cutting down on the egg, the mixture will be a little stiffer and making a circle will be a little more successful.
Close and trim the ends.
Repeat with the second piece of pastry and the last half of the filling.
If you are feeling energetic and inspired, there are several other options, not considered Dutch banket but tasty just the same.
Top the filling with thinly sliced apples and continue to seal the pastry. In the summer time fresh peaches work as well.
Make individual pastries by rolling out the dough and placing a spoonful of filling on the dough. Wipe a finger dipped in water around the filling and top with an additional layer of pastry. Think of it as making sweet ravioli. Using a glass cut out the filled pockets and place on the cookie sheet. A fancy cutter makes for nice edges, just make sure there is enough space in the center of the cutters when cutting. My cutter would squish the middle and ruin the effect.
Brush with egg white and sprinkle sugar on top. I like using raw cane sugar for this as it gives a nicer crunch to the pastry.
Here is a hint to help you choose greasing or parchment. The dark spots visible under the banket is sugar that has caramelized during baking. It will need to be cleaned off the cookie sheet. Not an issue just a choice.
Bankets around here are decorated with cherries but an equally nice way to add a little extra something is to drizzle a plain icing sugar and hot water glaze back and forth over the pastry and then add some almond slices to the top of your banket.
So there you have it, three different options for a very traditional Dutch holiday treat.
If you like almond croissants, you will love Roomboter Banketstaff ( fresh butter banket sticks ). Wishing you “Goede Yule allemaal samen” from My Kitchen Wand.
Banketstaaf ( Marzipan filled puff pastry ) from My Kitchen Wand