Sunday, January 2, 2011

Oliebollen--A New Year's Eve Tradition

To be honest, I'm not much into deep frying my food. Don't get me wrong--I like to eat deep fried foods (well, most of them anyway--I saw Paula Deen do a deep fried cupcake once...that's just wrong), I just don't like to deep fry at home. It's the smell in the house I'm not fond of. Some things, however, are worth digging out the deep fryer. Take, for instance, our new New Year's tradition: Oliebollen.

Oliebollen, the Dutch version of doughnuts, is literally translated as "oily balls". Not the most appetizing name, to be sure, but there is a history to these delectable pieces of fried dough. They are said to have been first eaten by Germanic tribes in the Netherlands during the Yule, the period between December 26 and January 6. The Germanic goddess Perchta, together with evil spirits, would fly through the mid-winter sky. To appease these spirits, food was offered, much of which contained deep-fried dough. It was said Perchta would try to cut open the bellies of all she came across, but because of the fat in the oliebollen, her sword would slide off the body of whoever ate them.[1]

Whatever the background, I couldn't wait to figure out how to make them. I searched the Internet for a recipe and settled on one that I found on You can click on this link to find it: Oliebollen (Dutch Doughnuts)

I mostly followed the recipe, not knowing quite how to change it up. That will come with the next batch. :)

Oliebollen are generally made with bits of apple, raisins or currants added to the dough. I decided to use an apple for the first batch, since there was at least one raisin hater in the house.

Start by chopping up a Granny Smith apple. The first change I'll make the next time is to chop it up a little more. My daughter liked the bigger chunks, however.

Next, warm a cup of milk until it is about 110 degrees---bathwater warm---and sprinkle an envelope of yeast over it. While the yeast is proofing,  put 2 1/2 cups of flour in a large bowl and whisk in a teaspoon of salt (the recipe calls for 2). Make a little well in the middle of the flour, and add a slightly beaten egg and the yeast/milk mixture. Beat it all together with a wooden spoon (it makes a pretty wet dough) and add the apple chunks and/or raisins. Once the apples are mixed in, cover the bowl with a towel and put it in a warm place to rise for about an hour, until it doubled.

Heat up the oil (I used a bottle of vegetable oil) to 390 degrees, then grab 2 ordinary spoons, dip them in oil, and scoop up some of the dough, using the spoons to shape the dough, and drop it into the hot oil. I put about 4 of them in the oil at a time. The oliebollen should turn by themselves, but use your spoon to turn them over, if needed. Let them fry until they are golden brown, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the oliebollen from the oil and put them on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle them with some powdered sugar and enjoy them warm.....although they are good the next day, split open, with a little jam. ;)

I decided I wanted to try them with raisins, so I did add some to the dough after I made a few apple-only ones. I liked them.

These had the raisins.

I wish the lighting in my kitchen was better. The picture makes them look like they have warts. Those would be the raisins....

While everyone loved these (my mother-in-law got a little misty-eyed, remembering something similar her grandmother used to make), there are some changes I will make the next time. Initially, I thought to add sugar to the dough, but that is totally unnecessary---the fruit and the powdered sugar make these sweet enough. Aside from chopping the apple a little smaller, I would add a teaspoon or so of lemon zest. I also might switch to bread flour or use the stand mixer to beat the dough for a few minutes, as these seemed a little dense. Last, I might add a couple of tablespoons melted butter to the dough...I've seen this in a few recipes and it may add to the flavor. 

They say that the whole country of Holland smells of oliebollen on New Year's Eve. I'm not sure how true that is, but our house will be smelling of them again next year.


  1. I'm not much of a food frier either, but I would have to make an exception for these. The fruit in them would add a wonderful depth to the simple donut.


  2. I fry more often these days than I used to, but still, I agree the after odor isn't one I prefer. Those oliebollen sound like a great once a year treat!

  3. Reminds me of my days making doughnuts - only these have a wonderful middle to enjoy. Thanks for sharing - I must confess I love using my deep fryer!

  4. same here. when it is a special thing I'll fry, but lately I move it outdoors.

  5. I love the story behind the Oliebollen. I always find the history of food incredibly fascinating and I've never heard of them before. They look incredible and the raisins in them sound sooo good! :)

  6. I love these. It looks like a great tradition. The apple chunks are real appealing to me.

  7. As a Dutch reader, I can tell you, you really did a good job! You can them make with little pineapple pieces too.
    And it's almost true, at New Year's Eve you can smell the oliebollen everywhere, except in the big cities. And you know what, if the oliebollen are a few days old.... they even taste better.

  8. Ya know, I don't fry anymore either, only once or twice a year...but I too could make an exception LOL Thanks for the back story on these lil' cuties, very cool stuff!

  9. This brought tears to my eyes - good memory. My mother used to make these for my father every year. Thanks for sharing this.

  10. I love learning about all the traditions out there - these look and sound so tasty...I love to fry so this is all the push I need.

  11. Thank you, everyone--I really liked these! I'm impressed with how many people have such fond memories of Oliebollen. I'm trying really hard to remember my father making them (I know he did) and I just can't remember. :( Now, I'm all hyped up to make some more Dutch food...I think krentebollen (raisin rolls) might be next, but as long as I've got the deep fryer out I might try those! :D

  12. I made these last night, for the first time. They turned out really good. My recipe made 40, so I brought them to church for coffee time. We have several Dutch people who I thought would really enjoy them. Not only did they enjoy them but several non Dutch people did as well. I had people asking me for more and some who missed out on them totally.I probably could've made a double batch! I do not like deep frying but the Dutch croquettes,with leftover turkey, and now oliebollen,make it worth it once a year.

  13. I, too, make oliebollen on New Year's. I suggest instead of chopping the apple that you shred it with the larger holes on a grater. That way the apple has a better chance of getting cooked and not making the dough too cool. Also, my recipe (from my Dutch mother) uses buttermilk and baking soda rather than yeast--much easier.

  14. I was raised by a Dutch woman (I am Irish)and we would have these New Years morning. She did things a bit different and I have enjoyed these the same way she did. Instead of dicing up the apple and putting in the dough, we take a thinner but larger chunk of apple and coat it in the dough before dropping in the oil. Everyone gets a bowl of icing sugar to dip their appelflappen into.

  15. Hi! My Oma died in 2014 and we had these on new years eve too! I've been trying to find the recipe forever, and while these look like it they're not exactly the same and I was hoping you could explain it to me? My Oma's Olibollen were not round like this but more like a donut. She cored in apple and then cut them up to be circles, like a donut, you know? The circles with the holes in the middle?
    But otherwise, the outside looks the same, except that you know the apples chopped up.
    Do you know if that is a different recipe? I'd greatly appreciate anything you could tell me!

    1. Might you be thinking of these?

  16. Yes! Thank you so much! I really appreciate it!