Popular Dutch Christmas Foods & Desserts
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Christmas celebrations in the Netherlands and the rest of the world is the fact that Christmas Eve is not celebrated, but the Dutch do enjoy two days of Christmas. On the second of those days, December 26th, they finish the leftovers and regain strength again after eating way too many snacks, treats, and food for dinner.
Many couples in the Netherlands celebrate one Christmas day with their own family and the other with their in-laws. Since both days are official celebrations, most people do not have to go to work.
Turkey is not very popular in the Netherlands, and it is rarely served at Christmas. Candy canes are also not very common. But which Christmas foods are popular in the Netherlands? Let’s take a look.
As in many areas of life, Christmas food in the Netherlands is heavily influenced by traditions from abroad. Supermarkets now offer a wide variety of foreign products to eat at Christmas.
Netherlanders can thus enjoy foreign Christmas foods, but without the inconvenience of making them from scratch! Everything is already preprepared and just needs to be baked in the oven or a pan. The baking tray is often already included!
Christmas Breakfast, Brunch, and Lunch in the Netherlands
A popular kind of bread to eat at Christmas is kerststol. This white, sweet bread is filled with raisins and a dusting of poedersuiker (literally “powdered sugar”). In the middle, there is a bar of spijs, a firm kind of almond paste.
It is usually eaten with butter, but some people also like to add jam, honey, or cheese. Others will spread the spijs all over the slice of bread, to enjoy a little of the taste with every bite.
Kerststol can also be served with coffee, especially after going to church.
Other popular options are tear-and-share buns, hot from the oven. Especially at Christmastime, supermarkets sell bread in special shapes such as Christmas trees, stars, and angels.
These buns can be made using white or brown flour. They can be soft or hard, and with or without a topping of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, or nuts.
Croissants or breekbrood (literally “break bread”, which is easily pulled apart due to the way it was prepared) are other popular choices.
These kinds of bread can be served with butter, cheese, cold meats, or poached eggs. Cream cheese and smoked salmon are also high on the list of popular toppings.
Sweet toppings like jams, honey, chocoladehagelslag (chocolate sprinkles, which the Dutch put on their slices of bread regularly) or vruchtenhagelslag (fruit sprinkles).
Christmas Treats in the Netherlands
Literally “Christmas wreath”, kerstkransjes are a delicious and very sweet treat small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The hole in the middle will fit a finger (or a Christmas tree branch) easily.
They come in many varieties and can be either made with fondant (sugar), meringue (egg white) or chocolate. The kerstkransjes made with sugar and meringues are usually pink or white.
The chocolate versions can be made using one or several kinds of chocolate, mostly white, milk, and dark chocolate. They can have a filling (for example praline) or have sprinkles on top. These sprinkles can be multicolored, but there are also chocolate kerstkransjes with white, red, and green sprinkles or a combination of these 3 colors.
They can be eaten at the coffee break, or straight from the Christmas tree, as the Dutch often use kerstkransjes to decorate the tree, not unlike the way candy canes adorn trees in the USA.
Similar to other popular Dutch cookies, Kerstkoekjes (Christmas cookies) are only sold during the last months of the year.
They often have a topping, for example, grains of sugar, icing, or almond flakes.
At Christmastime families enjoy baking together, using special cookie cutters in the shape of stars, angels, bells, reindeer, and of course Christmas trees.
Something to serve with coffee and tea is a piece of banketstaaf: yummy puff pastry filled with spijs (almond paste).
Christmas Dinner in the Netherlands
There are two meals which are very popular in the Netherlands: gourmet and fondue. You’ll be hard pressed to hard to find a Dutch person who has never eaten these at Christmas. So what exactly are they?
Gourmetten is also called: eating from small pans. A special device is put on the table and everybody has their own pan to cook all sorts of products; usually small pieces of meat, fish, and vegetables, but also pancakes, and bread sticks with cheese or kruidenboter (herb butter).
In December the stores also sell quail eggs, which are the perfect size to cook on a gourmetset.
Though it takes a long time to prepare and cook, Gourmetten gives people an excellent chance to talk, laugh, and eat exactly the things they like.
Similar to gourmet is raclette, which also invloves cooking in small pans placed on a special tabletop burner. The difference here is that you only heat cheese in the pan.
This molten cheese can be served with some potatoes or bread. In some cases, people also serve it with pickled onions and pickles. Raclette is really a Swiss dish, but is also popular in the Netherlands.
Just like with gourmetten, this dinner option is a good way to interact with everyone at the table. You use long forks to cook something in either broth or cheese. The latter is called kaasfondue (cheese fondue) and is typically eaten with bread.
This traditional Swiss dish has become an indispensable part of the Dutch kitchen. Normal fondue involves a wider range of foods, from meat and fish to vegetables and mushrooms. Since everybody is using the same pot that stands in the middle of the table, what could be more fun than trying to poke into other people’s food and eat it, before they even notice their bite is gone?
If you love fondue, check out review of the best fondue pots.
Multiple course dinners
When soup is served at a Christmas dinner, it is usually a more luxurious kind of soup than the kind served on regular Sundays, for example, leek soup with smoked salmon or mushroom soup with cream. Another option is a vegetable soup with stars on top made from baked puff pastry to make the dish look Christmassy.
Related: Best 8 Leek Substitutes
Fish served at Christmas is often a more expensive kind of fish, for example, smoked salmon or smoked mullet. This is eaten cold, as a starter on crackers or toast. Another option is a mousse made from fish, or shrimp cocktail served in a pretty little glass.
Fish can also be served as a main course. Supermarkets have expanded the range of fish that can be easily prepared in the oven, such as salmon, cod fillets, or red mullet. Typically these fish have had the bones removed, so you can eat them without any hassle.
Meat can be served as a starter, for example, carpaccio with pine nuts and balsamic vinegar or a carpaccio bonbon filled with pesto and truffle.
Vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce) is another popular choice, while other meat starters include cold cuts of roast beef or pie with ragout.
Game is often served at Christmas dinner, but traditions can be very different from family to family. Christmas dinner might include a whole hare or rabbit, a piece of deer, or some other game such as duck (usually duck breast with an orange sauce) or goose.
Hazenpeper, a hare stew, seasoned with pickled unions, gingerbread, cloves, bay leaves, and juniper berries, is also found at many Christmas dinner tables.
Other meats served at Christmas
A very popular Dutch dish is rollade, a roulade which is always made from meat, typically pork, but sometimes beef or chicken. Rollade is often prepared in the oven and served in thin slices (1 to 2 centimeters) with a thick gravy and/or cranberry sauce.
Other meats that can be served at Christmas are those that are less common to eat. For example, beef tenderloin, pork medallions with bacon, or beef steak. These meats are often served with a rich sauce, enhancing the taste.
For people who do not eat meat or fish, the range of vegetarian options is expanding every year, from Portobello mushrooms or pumpkin to meaty look-alikes such as beet Wellington and cauliflower steak.
It may be too early to declare a winner in this category, but it is safe to say the sky is the limit when it comes to vegetarian and vegan dishes for Christmas.
Christmas Side dishes in the Netherlands
There is an endless variety in side dishes that can be served at Christmas. A couple of examples of vegetables are green beans wrapped in bacon, red cabbage with apples or green asparagus.
In recent years Hasselback-potatoes have become popular in the Netherlands, but potato gratin and pommes duchesse are all time favourites. Pommes duchesse are made from mashed potatoes. Using a piping bag, the mash is shaped into little turrets which are baked in the oven until they are golden brown.
Common sauces to accompany your chosen main dish include cranberry sauce or appelmoes (apple sauce). Gravy is also a common option, as is a pepper sauce to accompany the meat.
For a long time wine wasn’t a common drink for Dutch people. Only a small percentage of the population would drink it, but that percentage has been increasing rapidly over the last decades.
Nowadays a lot of people in the Netherlands enjoy a glass of wine or two. At Christmastime, many folk treat themselves to more expensive wines to drink, and since it’s wintertime, most people will drink red wine.
Traditional Dutch Christmas Desserts
An ijsstam is a bar of ice cream with chocolate that is often served as dessert at Christmas. Another old time favorite in the Netherlands is ijstaart (ice pie), a round cake with a filling. Nowadays the basic ijstaart is often considered too normal, with many people favoring a ijstaart with chocolate frosting, nougat, or fruit.
For children popular desserts include ice cream in a glass, shaped like a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, or a reindeer. Soesjestaart (cream-filled profiteroles on top of each other) is also a good option, as the soesjes are stacked on top of each other to look like a Christmas tree.
Some popular Dutch desserts are served in small glasses -anything from chocolate mousse to crumble, from fruit coulis to pavlova. Often comprising several layers, these desserts can be home made, but they are also available in the supermarkets in December.
To enhance the Christmas feeling they can be topped with stars cut out of puff pastry or stroopwafels, which are typical Dutch cookies -two very thin cookies with stroop (sugar syrup) holding them together.
While the Netherlands might not have the strong Christmas culinary traditions that other countries have, the Dutch really enjoy overindulging at this time of year, treating themselves to some luxurious and delicious dishes.
If you love Dutch food, check out our round-up of the 25 most popular foods in the Netherlands and the most popular Dutch cheeses.