We recently read a New York Times “Frugal Traveler” article about a road trip in the heart of America in a dirction less traveled: Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Fargo, North Dakota. Along the way, the author encounters lots of interesting characters and foods, one among them being the iconic Dutch Letter pastry in Iowa. In the US, the pastry is found only in Iowa, around the towns of Pella and Orange City, thanks to Dutch immigration to the area in the mid-to-late 1800s (Orange City was actually founded by settlers from Pella). Jaarsma’s Bakery and Vander Ploeg Bakery, both in Pella, are particularly well-known for their Dutch Letters.
The sweet butter pastry is usually shaped like an “S” hence the “letter” part of the name, and it is filled with almond paste (though it can be made into other letters as well). Pastries in the shape of letters were noted in historical Dutch paintings, and the pastry in “stick” form are called banket, which are found throughout Holland (in letter form they are called letterbanket in Dutch). The pastry is traditionally consumed around the Christmas holidays, both in the US and abroad, especially the day before St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6th. Saveur has a recipe to make Dutch letters for yourself, and here’s a recipe from Pella Iowa in 1937.