BOTERKOEK - BUTTER CAKE
On trips to the Hague I always visited an elderly "aunt" who lived there during the seventies. At that time she took care of her sister, whose mental capacities where somewhat diminished, both of them living in an upstairs apartment on a shaded street the name of which I cannot remember.
Both sisters (and their brother, who lived in Amsterdam and later in Den Bosch) were Indos - Indies Dutch - which meant, in their case, that they were of almost entirely of non-Dutch extraction except for a distant ancestor, being Hokkien mixed with bits of much else, from a town on the eastern coast of Borneo, facing the straits, and Celebes over the horizon.
Like many Indies Dutch they had been educated in schools in Java, held Dutch nationality, spoke wrote and thought Dutch fluently, and had been marginalized by the independence of the Dutch East Indies in 1948. Between 1947 and 1962 they and various relatives left the land of their birth, for the homeland they had never seen.
When aunt Ietje had lived in Brabant, her younger sister Nietje was teaching school up somewhere in Friesland or Groningen, and the older brother Kees worked as an engineer in Amsterdam. Both would come down sometimes to visit. Which was an occassion for feasting on dishes with exotic names - gule ika (whole fish in a coconut-curry), rudjak (spicy salty sour salad), ebere (fatty meat and bamboo shoots in coconut milk), maengguri manok (chicken seethed in coconut cream with chilies and garlic), saoto (complex soup of many ingredients), with nasi kunit (festive yellow rice). And almond or peanut dudol.
For Indos, when someone comes to visit, it is time to eat (what am I saying - it is always time to eat!), and nearby relatives and friends (or their classmates at the local grammar school) are expected to come by and partake. It was a very good age.
In the seventies, Ietje started having episodes in which she would remember the camps, and stare off into space for hours on end. Old age, and the mental short-circuits which accompany it, were beginning to interfere with her ability to function at a constant level of awareness. It was decided that the sisters would both move to Den Haag (the Hague) to be with other Indos of that generation, and nearer an up-to-date care facility. Nietje took over cooking and other domestic tasks in the apartment they shared, and a long slow twilight set in.
I visited them several times in the five years before I returned to the States. Nietje would inquire about the folks in Brabant, and bring out coffee with hot milk and cinnamon, and a big wedge of boterkoek.
One and three quarters cup of flour.
One cup of sugar.
Three quarters of a cup of butter.
One large egg, yolk and white separated.
A pinch of salt.
A pinch of dry ginger.
A teaspoon or so of almond extract.
About a quarter cup of sliced almonds for garnish, and a little butter for greasing the pan.
Cream the butter and sugar together. Mix in the egg yolk and almond extract, then add the flour, salt, and dry ginger. Knead to a crumbly dough - do not overwork it.
Grease a shallow pan or pyrex dish. Press the dough into the pan - it should be between an inch and an inch and a half thick. Brush the surface with the egg-white, which you have beaten beforehand. Strew the almonds over and press down slightly.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for no more than twenty five minutes. The result will be firm on the outside, still soft within, dense and buttery. Let it cool before eating.