Oliebollen (lit. "oil balls") are sweet Dutch fritters that are traditionally served around the New Year period. Their current ball shape did not emerge until decent quality vegetable oil became commonly available (and affordable) during the 17th century, and food could easily be deep-fried. Recipes begin to appear in cookbooks in the mid-1600s. Before that time, basically the same dough was just pan-fried in some oil or lard. So, these fritters were round but flat. The first documented reference to these flat oliekoeken (lit. "oil cakes"), goes back to the 1300s (fried in linseed oil). The 17th century is also the period when Portuguese Jews migrated to The Low Lands, fleeing from Catholic terrorism known as the "Spanish Inquisition". They may have contributed to including dried and candied fruit in the fritters. The name oliebol was not used in cookbooks until the late 1800s. Oliebollen from bakeries and market stands typically have the size of a tennis ball (6-7 cm, just under 3 inch).
Oliebollen in historic Dutch art: ca. 1652 oil painting "Young maiden with oliebollen" by Aelbert Cuyp, and 18th century wood craving print "Street vendor with oliebollen and two customers", by Henrik Numan
(images: public domain in The Netherlands, collection of Dordrechts Museum and Rijksmuseum, respectively)
Oliebollen recipe from pp. 20-21 of the the 30-page 1667 Dutch cookbook "De Verstandige Kock, of Sorghvuldige Huyshoudtser"
(the recipe calls for wheat flour, long raisins, apple, almonds, cinnamon, white ginger, cloves, yeast, melted butter, milk, and rapeseed oil for frying)
Frying dough or batter that is made of flour, yeast, honey, and milk or water actually goes back several thousand years, e.g., to the old Egyptians (I guess there were no "young" Egyptians...). Their fritters were sometimes flavored with lemon, orange water, or rosewater. The plundering crusaders also returned to Western Europe with frying techniques (including for food) and recipes. Also during the Middle Ages, the Persians introduced sweet fritters to the Indian sub-continent, where a delicious milk-solids based dessert is known as Gulab Jamun, where "gulab" is a contraction of the Persian words for flower (gol) and water (āb), referring to the rosewater-scented syrup.
In the Low Lands, the origins of flat fritters go back about 2000 years, to the Batavian and Frisian tribes. They (i.e., the fritters) were offered to the gods during Yule period around the end of the year. In the Middle Ages, the fritters were used to celebrate the end of the pre-Christmas fasting period, and as a source of calories for the cold winters. Towards the late Middle Ages, it became a tradition to give these fritters to poor people who offered their "Happy New Year" wishes. The recipe was also exported to the Dutch colonial possessions in South Africa ("Vetkoek" = "grease cake") and North America ("Dutch doughnuts").
In the neighboring German Rhineland, there is a fritter called "Ballebäusche" in proper German (with a number of local and regional variations). It is simpler (e.g., fewer fruits), smaller, and not seasonal.
The basic oliekoek and oliebollen recipe calls for flour, yeast, currants, eggs, pieces of apple and dried or candied fruits. The balls are made by scooping up batter with two large spoons, and letting the batter glide into the hot oil. With this technique, the "balls" are never perfectly round. Using a large ice cream scoop (6-7 cm) may result in rounder balls.
A variation on the oliebol is the sneeuwbal (lit. "snowball). This is basically an oliebol (with or without the fruit) that is injected with very stiff whipped cream (sweetened), and covered with a thick layer of powdered sugar. Don't inhale when you bite into one of these!
The recipe below is my personal adaptation of a basic recipe. In The Netherlands you can buy oliebollen batter mix, but the recipe below is made from scratch.
- Preparation time: 60 minutes
- Dough rise time: 90 minutes
- Frying time: 60 minutes
- Makes about about 20 fritters of 6 cm diameter
- Best when freshly made and still warm
- 100 grams dark raisins
- 50 grams currants
- 500 grams all-purpose flour (D: type 550; F: type 55)
- 1.5 tablespoon cornstarch (D: Speisestärke; F: amidon de mais, maizena)
- 14 grams active dry yeast ( = 7 teaspoons = 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon = 2½ standard pouches of 5½ grams)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 450 ml milk (not skimmed/nonfat milk)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (not artificial flavoring!)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- ½ large apple (75-100 grams after peeling & coring)
- 1 egg
- 150 grams chopped candied (but moist!) orange peel or mixed fruit (D: Orangeat/Zitronat; F: macédoine de fruit confit
- Powdered sugar (for lightly dusting the baked fritters)
candied mixed fruit
EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES
- Wire whisk.
- Large bowl.
- Medium size sauce pan.
- Fine-mesh sieve.
- Electric deep-fryer.
- If you don't have a fryer, you can use a large cast-iron casserole on the stove, but temperature control is difficult...
- Un-used vegetable oil for deep-frying; my frier takes 3 liters of oil.
- I use sunflower oil. Do not use olive oil!
- Paper kitchen towel.
- Hand-mixer with dough-hooks (most hand-mixers are not strong enough to mix this dough with regular beaters).
- Some flour for dusting the raisins and currants.
- Large colander.
- Slotted spoon or wire skimmer (D: Schaumlöffel, Fritierkelle;F: pelle écumoir, cuillière perforée, araignée à friture).
- 2 large spoons, or a steel ice-cream scoop with a large bowl (standard: 63 or 66 mm, 2½ inch).
Ice cream scoop
PREPARATION / DIRECTIONS
- Soak the raisins and currants in a large cup or small bowl, pour boilinghot water over it, and let soak for 10 minutes.
- Peel and core the apple, and dice into pieces (about the size of a small raisin), and sprinkle with lemon juice (for flavor and so they don't turn brown).
- Put the flour and cornstarch in the large bowl and whisk (to loosen up the flour and get clumps out, if any; this is a lot quicker and easier (incl. cleaning) than using a flour sifter).
- Add the salt and yeast to the flour and thoroughly mix.
- Heat the milk until lukewarm, then take off the heat.
- Beat the egg, then add the egg and the vanilla to the warm milk, and blend.
- Drain the raisins & currants, and pat them dry with paper towels. The put them in the sieve, spread some flour on top of them, and toss.
- This will help prevent them from sinking in the batter and from clumping together.
- Make a large dimple in the middle of the flour mix.
- Bit by bit, pour some milk mix into the middle of the flour, and stir-in the surrounding flour with a large spoon.
- With a hand-mixer and dough hooks, stir for about 5 minutes at high speed.
- The thick batter will be smooth and elastic, and should fall off the dough hooks in big lumps.
- Stir the raisins, currants, candied orange peel, and apple into the batter. Fold the fruit into the batter with a large spoon, and then fold the dough over for about 2 minutes.
- Make sure you get the batter at the bottom, and the fruit is distributed evenly throughout the batter.
- Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or with plastic kitchen foil, and put it at a warm spot
- I put the bowl in a 35 °C (95 °F) warm oven. Put a baking sheet underneath the bowl, in case the dough rises out of the bowl.
- Let the dough rise for 1-1½ hours or until doubled in size.
Behold - the power of yeast: the dough has risen...
- Do not stir the batter again.
- Line a large colander with kitchen paper.
- In the electric deep-fryer, heat the prescribed amount of frying oil to 185 °C (365 °F).
- Some folks fry the balls in two stages, at two different temperatures, just like french fries. I don't...
- Fry the oliebollen until all the batter is used up:
- Briefly dip two large spoons into the hot oil, then scoop up batter and let it slide into the hot oil (or use one of the table spoons to scoop up batter, and the other spoon to slide the batter of the first spoon into the oil).
- Alternatively: use a large metal ice cream scoop.
- Do not make the batter balls too big, as it may take too long for the inside to be cooked.
- Do not fry more than 3-4 balls at a time, as putting batter into the oil causes its temperature to drop and you also need room to turn over the balls.
- Turn them over every 1-2 minutes with one or two spoons.
- The first time you turn the balls over, they tend to turn back right away - just turn them and hold them for about 10 sec with a spoon.
- Fry until dark golden brown (about 10-12 minutes).
- To get a feel for the required frying time, cut open the first oliebol to check for doneness and adjust frying time accordingly.
- When done, scoop the oliebollen out of the oil with a slotted spoon, and put in the paper-lined colander to drain.
Myself, frying oliebollen in a quiet corner of my terrace - 1-January-2016
Scooping dough with two large tablespoons, dipped in the hot oil before scooping the batter
A batch of my oliebollen, without and with a light dusting of powdered sugar
SERVING & GARNISH SUGGESTIONS
- Served "as is", or lightly dusted with powdered sugar.
- Oliebollen are best when freshly baked and still warm.
- Careful: do not eat them piping hot, straight out of the fryer - sometimes a raisin is filled with very hot water or oil.
- You can easily "refresh" stale balls by spreading them out on a large baking sheet and heating them in a 160 °C (320 °F) oven for 5 minutes.
- No need to abstain from these goodies until Christmas / New Year: oliebollen are great in summertime (or any time, for that matter), with a glass of champagne!
- Do not make more than one batch of batter at a time, as the dough will rise out of the bowl.
- To clean dough off the bowl and utensils, always use cold water first! With warm/hot water, the dough becomes very gooey, goopy, sticky, hard to remove, and will also be hard to get off your dishwashing brush or sponge.
©2001-2020 F. Dörenberg, unless stated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be used without permission from the author.
Latest page update: 18 January 2020