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).
Ca. 1652 oil painting "Young maiden with crock pot full of oliebollen" by Aelbert Cuyp, and 17th century oliekoeken recipe
(image: public domain in The Netherlands)
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 (the fritters) were offered to the gods during Yule 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").
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 de 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: 45 minutes
- Dough rise time: 90 minutes
- Frying time: 45 minutes
- Makes about 18-20 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 = 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 grams after peeling & coring)
- 1 egg
- 150 grams chopped candied (but moist!) orange peel or mixed fruit (D: Orangeat/Zitronat; F: macédoine de fruit)
- Powdered sugar (for lightly dusting the baked fritters)
EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES
- Wire whisk
- Large bowl
- Medium size sauce pan
- Fine-mesh sieve
- Electric deep-fryer or large cast-iron casserole
- 2 liters of un-used vegetable oil for deep-frying (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 with very hot water for 10 minutes
- Peel and core the apple, and dice into pieces (no bigger than a 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
- 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 wooden spoon or with a hand-mixer with dough hooks
- Continue stirring for about 5 minutes, until the batter is smooth and elastic; the thick batter should fall off a large spoon in big lumps.
- Stir the raisins, currants, candied orange peel, and apple into the batter
- Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or with plastic kitchen foil, and put it at a warm spot (or in a 35 °C (95 °F) oven)
- Let the dough rise for 1-1½ hours or until doubled in size
The dough has risen...
- Do not stir the batter again
- Line a large colander with kitchen paper
- In a large cast-iron pot, heat 2 liters of frying oil to 185 °C (365 °F), or until white vapor appears (or test with a piece of bread)
- If you have an electric deep-fryer, by all means, use it.
- Fry the oliebollen until all the batter is used up:
- Dip a metal ice cream scoop (or two large table 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).
- 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 at a time, as putting batter into the oil causes its temperature to drop
- Fry until dark golden brown (about 10-12 minutes), regularly turning them over with a fork
- 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 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
- 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 1-1½ batch at a time, as the dough will rise out of the bowl.
©2001-2017 F. Dörenberg, unless stated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. No part of this publication may be used without permission from the author.