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What is an Ontbijtkoek?

By H.R. Childress
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Ontbijtkoek literally means "breakfast cake" in Dutch. It is a type of spice cake or gingerbread that is similar to a coffee cake and made with very little fat. The cake is typically eaten in the Netherlands, Flanders, and Indonesia.

The Dutch typically serve breakfast cake topped with butter. It may also be eaten with cheese or jam. When it is eaten as a snack, tea or coffee is typically served as well. It is sometimes also considered a dessert.

A distinctive feature of ontbijtkoek is its lack of fat. The cake is made without any butter or oil, and usually without eggs. Milk is the only source of fat in this traditional breakfast cake.

Ontbijtkoek is usually made with rye flour, although there are also versions made with whole wheat flour. Cakes may contain a variety of spices, often including ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Sometimes cardamom and coriander are included as well. The cake contains salt and a leavening agent, such as baking powder, as is typical for most cakes. This type of breakfast cake also is made using less refined sweeteners. Brown sugar, molasses, honey, or a combination may be used. Palm sugar also is commonly used in Indonesian versions.

Cakes are traditionally baked in a loaf pan at a moderate oven temperature. It may take 90 minutes or so for a cake to bake completely. The cake is usually allowed to cool completely before serving.

A variety of additional ingredients may be added to the traditional ontbijtkoek. Fruits such as raisins or apples are common additions. Nuts may also be added. Some cakes are topped with sugar or pearled sugar. Cakes with special ingredients are sometimes given different names, such as kandijkoek or Gemberkoek.

Different regions of the Netherlands have their own distinctive versions of ontbijtkoek. In the southern region of the Netherlands and in Flanders, the cake is called peperkoek, which means gingerbread. It is called old women's cake, or oal wief, in the northern Netherlands, and this version is anise flavored and lighter colored than the other cakes. In the western regions, it is simply called cake, or snijkoek for "cutting cake."

Ontbijtkoek is also popular in Indonesia, which was colonized by the Dutch. It is known there as bolu kampung, which means village cake. Indonesian versions of breakfast cake may contain eggs. In this region, the cake is usually topped with margarine and served with coffee or tea.

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