Dutch Letters Are The Tasty Midwest Pastries Shaped Like An 'S'

The Dutch have their ways of celebrating the winter season. That includes banketletter, a traditional pastry found throughout the country in early December. Whether the banketletter comes with a filling of almond paste or marzipan, which have important but subtle differences, these flaky treats have found their way into the hearts of some Midwesterners. People in that region may know them as letterbanket, boterletter,banketstaff, or simply Dutch letters. We have Dutch immigrants to thank for the pastry's induction into the United States and a family of determined bakers in Iowa have continued to share the sweet tradition with their community.

Harmon Jaarsma brought banket, the almond-filled puff pastry, to Pella and began making the treats in brick ovens to sell from his own Jaarsma Bakery. Since 1898, the bakery has remained a family-owned and run operation, offering freshly baked goods year-round. Whether celebrating winter holidays or the city's annual Tulip Time Festival, the golden pastry letters along with other Dutch favorites like almond butter cakes, kracklings, tarts, and strudel fly off the bakery's shelves.

Enjoying a Dutch tradition at home

In the 19th century, when simple sheets of paper wrapped holiday presents, letters made from dough helped indicate who each gift was for. Traditionally, these Dutch pastries come in shapes like letters that would represent the names of family members. The "S" has become the more enduring design, standing for the Dutch holiday Sinterklaasavond, Saint Nicholas' Eve. 

Although wrapping almond paste with various types of pastry dough sounds simple enough, ensuring that the filling doesn't seep out into the oven can be a tricky obstacle for novice bakers. Whether bakers shape them like letters or top them with candied cherries or angelica, it's common for people to enjoy these tempting treats warm, straight out of the oven, and with a steaming cup of tea or coffee. If you're not too worried about fashioning your pastries into shapes, you can roll up easier-to-make logs with sweet almond paste. Add orange zest for a zingy upgrade and bake until flaky and golden.