Bake your own Dutch doughnuts
It’s not yet New Year’s Eve, but already the Dutch are looking forward to baking and eating their traditional end of the year delicacy: oliebollen (literally oil balls). Around 130 million of these deep-fried balls of dough with currents and raisons are consumed every year. The tradition dates back many centuries.
Recipe for oliebollen or Dutch doughnuts
1 kg plain flour
75 gr fresh yeast (dissolve in lukewarm milk)
100 gr soft butter
1 litre lukewarm milk
4 tablespoons sugar
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
200 gr raisins
150 gr currants
150 gr grated apples
Mix flour with the milk, yeast, butter and eggs. Add sugar. When the dough is smooth, add the apples, raisins, currants, lemon juice and rind.
Cover the mixture with a cloth and let it rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Mix once again. Leave it to rise for another 45 minutes.
Heat the fat in a deep-fry pan to 175 degrees Celsius. Take two large spoons and cover them lightly with oil so the dough doesn’t stick. Scoop a spoonful of dough from the bowl and hold it above the hot fat. Use the second spoon to slide the dough into the fat. When the oliebollen have turned golden brown after about 7 minutes take them out with a strainer spoon. Allow the fat to drip off.
Serve with a dusting of sugar.
With thanks to our Editor in Chief Rik Rensen for sharing his family recipe with us.
The oliebol is already mentioned in 1669 in one of the oldest cookbooks in the Netherlands, where it’s called oliekoek or lijnzaadkoek (oil cake or linseed cake). According to Ineke Strouken from the Netherlands centre for folkculture and intangible heritage, the term koek (cake) refers to the flat form.
“In those days they were baked in a flat frying pan on the fire and the dough could hardly rise.”
Although the first surviving recipe for oliebollen dates from 1669, the tradition itself goes back a lot further – exactly how much further back, we don’t quite know. At first the original oliekoek had nothing to do with the turn of the year.
Poor man’s food
The oliekoek was incredibly popular. According to Ms Strouken, it helped the poor survive the cold winter months. When there was no fresh food left, the oliekoek – which contained many calories and was made of ingredients that preserved well – was an important part of the staple food of the poor.
It was no more than a ball of fried dough, occasionally with some added candied fruit or ginger. Yet when times were really bad, many people couldn’t even afford this ‘luxury’, so a solution had to be found, explains Ms Strouken:
“Between 21 December (The Feast of St Thomas the Unbeliever) and 6 January (Feast of Epiphany) the poor were allowed to knock on the doors of the rich to give them their best wishes or sing a song. In exchange the gentry gave them food or fuel.”
New Year’s Eve
In the 19th century the stove was introduced into Dutch kitchens and the oliebol received its current, round shape. It also became more luxurious. Ingredients such as apple, cumin, currants and raisins were added. Later still, a top coating of icing sugar was sprinkled over it.
The connection with New Year’s Eve dates from the 20th century. In the old days, every family had its own recipe. But fewer people can be bothered making the rather time consuming dough or fancy their house smelling of fat for ages.
Nowadays professional bakeries have largely taken over the task. For a number of years daily paper AD has published the results of a national oliebollen test in the last week of the year. Everyone looks forward to it. The winner can expect a huge increase in its turnover.
The AD has calculated that this year the average price for an oliebol is 0.84 euro. The production costs are around 0.20 euro. Not bad! According to the paper, the Dutch eat an average of eight oliebollen per person, which amounts to a total of over 130 million oliebollen! Four out of ten households bake their own oliebollen.
A decent size oliebol weighs around 100 grams and contains 7.5 grams of fat and 261 calories. In order to burn off all these calories, somebody of average weight would have to go walking for an hour. Not exactly healthy! But although the reputation of the oliebol is in decline, it’s hard to imagine New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands without the traditional favourite.
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