Tuesday, January 1, 2013


"What's in these?" asked my son as I set the plate of fried dough balls on the table.

"Raisins, chopped apple, brown sugar, cinnamon, and whole wheat flour," I answered. "It's an old recipe from my Grandma's Dutch cookbook."

The oil balls, as the Dutch word is literally translated, were a tasty but doughy snack, and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar, they quickly disappeared from the plate. Here's a translation of the original recipe from Grandma Vanden Bergh's 1922 copy of Eenvoudige Berekende Recepten:


- 250 grams (2 cups) whole wheat flour
- 20 grams yeast (1 packet)
- about 2 1/2 dL. (1 cup) warm milk
- 50 grams (1/3 cup) currants
- 50 grams (1/3 cup) raisins
25 grams (scant 1/4 cup) candied fruit peel
- 2 grams (1/3 teaspoon) salt
- juice of half a lemon
- vegetable oil for frying

Dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons warm milk.
Make a stiff batter (thicker than for "Three in the Pan") with the flour, the rest of the warm milk, currants, raisins, and candied fruit peel, the lemon juice, salt and yeast mixture.
Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rise for an hour.

Heat enough oil in a wok or deep-fryer pot to deep-fry the balls of dough. Using two spoons, form the dough into balls and carefully drop into the hot oil.
Fry until light brown; the dough balls are done when a toothpick poked into the center of the pastry comes out clean.

Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.

My modern Dutch cookbook, Deliciously Dutch, has a similar recipe, which adds orange zest, sugar, cinnamon, and a chopped apple to Grandma's basic recipe, and notes that these round doughnuts are a traditional Dutch treat for New Year's Eve celebrations.

These fried dough balls are also the precursor of modern American doughnuts. In fact, the recipe goes back several centuries. Food historian Peter G. Rose has traced a similar recipe from the Hudson Valley area in what was once part of New Netherland (now Albany in Upstate New York) back to the seventeenth century Dutch cookbook De Verstandige Kock ("The Sensible Cook"), noting also that the "Albany method" of preparing this tasty treat is the typical New Netherland preparation: "four pounds flour, one pound sugar, one pound butter and 12 eggs, a teacup of yeast and as much milk as you please say near or quite three pints."*

In 17th century New Netherland, this delicacy was called olie-koecken. Later descendants of the early Dutch immigrants would soak the raisins in brandy overnight to give the snack a festive flavor. Whether you use the "Albany method" of preparing this snack, or your own traditional recipe, it does make a New Year's Eve party festive. Chances are my early Dutch ancestors in New Netherland enjoyed the treat as much as my modern family did.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.

Dutch vocabulary:

tarwebloem (n.)  =  whole wheat flour
gist (n.)  =  yeast
melk (n.)  =  milk
krenten (n.)  =  currants
rozijnen (n.)  =  raisins
sucade (n.)  =  candied fruit peel
zout (n.)  =  salt

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* Rose, Peter G., Food, Drink and Celebrations of the Hudson Valley Dutch. The History Press, Charleston, SC. 2009; p. 75.

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