Last year was my first Dutch fall/winter, and I must admit to spending a lot of time missing my seasonal favourites instead of trying to appreciate the season from a new perspective. This time around I’m determined to broaden my horizons. And so, a couple of weeks ago I asked my Dutch friends a simple question: what was their idea of festive Dutch food?
Today, koek & zopie simply refers to the combination of any warm beverage, be it Chocomel or glühwein, and a cookie, sold on the sides of frozen canals to deserving skaters. However, if Wikipedia serves me well, the original zopie is an entirely different sort of drink that dates back to the seventeenth century and is decidedly less tasty — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Koek & zopie: an Enigma
There were two major driving forces in my decision to try my hands at the ‘original’ zopie recipe. First, when my boyfriend initially answered my question about festive Dutch food via WhatsApp, koek & zopie was autocorrected to koek & Sophie.
Second, after some preliminary research, I discovered that there was next to no information available online about this mysterious concoction. There was a single recipe, varying only very subtly between two or three websites, each variation more vague than the previous one. There were no pictures. No descriptions of the taste or the texture or the smell. There was nothing.
I knew then that I would have to make it.
(As a side note, in keeping with the Dutch tradition koek & zopie really ought to be enjoyed after a rigorous skating session. If you don’t happen to live near a skating rink, or if you’re just not big on the sport, you can always opt to simulate this part of the tradition. I did this by throwing open the bathroom window and sitting down on the icy cold tiled floor, thus recreating my typical skating routine and lending more authenticity to the whole koek & zopie experience.)
How to make koek & zopie
It was with a sense of mounting excitement that I grabbed a pen and noted down the ingredients. Beer, cinnamon, sugar … Egg …
I pushed aside any creeping doubts, so curious was I about this seventeenth-century tradition. Into a sauce pan went three bottles of beer followed by the lemon, cinnamon and clove. Everything disappeared into the furiously bubbling foam. It wasn’t a very promising start.
Some ten minutes later, the apartment had acquired the distinct odour of a bar full of sweaty, enthusiastic dancers at 4 o’clock in the morning. On the other hand, the simmering concoction actually looked surprisingly nice — a bit like glühwein, in fact, only with a less appetizing smell.
All in all, it was rather encouraging until I thought it would be a good idea to stir it, at which point the foam, which I’d foolishly thought had already dissipated, came back with a vengeance.
But no matter! I’d reached the most intriguing step in the entire process … the binding. Every variation of the recipe instructed me to use a mixture of egg and sugar, beaten to an undefined extent, to “bind” the beer.
What I was supposed to bind the beer to, or why I wanted to bind the beer in the first place, were not issues that were addressed on any of the pages, so I simply did as I was told and, with a final nervous gulp, I poured the beaten egg and sugar mixture into the bubbling liquid.
At this point it occurred to me that this whole thing might be an elaborate Internet prank. There is, in fact, nothing illuminating in the binding step. You grab a wooden spoon and stir like your life depends on it, holding your breath and silently praying you don’t end up with scrambled eggs, and for what? An ever-so-slightly paler liquid than you started out with, and no further understanding of the process.
I don’t know what I was expecting … That the beer would mix with the raw egg to form a divine eggnog-like concoction? Maybe. That I would uncover a delicious albeit forgotten treasure in the realm of festive Dutch food? Admittedly … yes.
Koek & zopie: the verdict
To be fair, it wasn’t terrible (though that may be the rum talking). I served it in big glass mugs and we drank it with bemused expressions, alternately sipping, masking the taste with a family-pack of speculaas, and stirring to prevent the fine floating egg particles from settling down at the bottom, all the while reassuring ourselves that it was “actually not that bad.”
No one touched the leftovers. In the fridge the egg separated from the beer at an alarming rate until, two days later, I had to admit defeat and flush it down the toilet. At least now I understood why the recipe was no longer in use.
Would I make it again? No. Should you try it? Yes — if only for the laughs.
Koek & Zopie: The Recipe
3 bottles dark beer
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
2 slices lemon
125g brown sugar
2 whole eggs
liberal amounts of rum
Bring the beer to a simmer with the cinnamon, lemon and cloves. In the meantime, beat the sugar and egg together. (I won’t tell you how much because that would take away all the fun. And also because I still don’t know.) Finally, add the egg/sugar mixture to the hot beer, stirring frantically all the while. Serve immediately and top off each portion with a big splash of rum. The more rum, the better. Trust me on this one. Alternatively, just make glühwein.
Have you tried this somewhat tasty Dutch beverage? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!