Photo: KnowInsiders
Photo: KnowInsiders

If you go to the Netherlands at the end of November or in December you will definitely see stalls with oliebollen everywhere.

What is Oliebollen?

Oliebollen are small balls of dough that have been fried in a pan with a layer of oil — hence, the (translated) name: oil balls.

This Dutch dessert is usually eaten on New Year’s Eve, with raisins/currants inside or powdered sugar on top. You can also add other ingredients to the batter, such as cinnamon or apple pieces.

They are called oliebollen or smoutballen in the Netherlands, smoutebollen in Flanders, croustillons in Wallonia, and schmalzkugeln in Eastern Belgium and Germany.

New Year’s Eve

It is a custom for Dutch to have oliebollen on New Year’s eve, which explains the extra long queues at most of the oliebollen mobile stalls set up on various spots around the city. An oliebol generally costs some more than 1 Euro per piece and with discount if you purchase in bulk.

Ingredients To Make Oliebollen

12 servings

Photo: The Spruce Eats
Photo: The Spruce Eats

1 (0.6 ounces) cake compressed fresh yeast

1 cup lukewarm milk

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 egg

¾ cup dried currants

¾ cup raisins

1 Granny Smith apple - peeled, cored and finely chopped

1-quart vegetable oil for deep-frying

1 cup confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preparation for Oliebollen

Step 1

Break up the compressed yeast, and stir into the warm milk. Let stand for a few minutes to dissolve. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Stir the yeast mixture and egg into the flour and mix into a smooth batter. Stir in the currants, raisins and apple. Cover the bowl, and leave the batter in a warm place to rise until double in size. This will take about 1 hour.

Step 2

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer, or heavy deep pan to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Use 2 metal spoons to shape scoops of dough into balls, and drop them carefully into the hot oil.

Step 3

Fry the balls until golden brown, about 8 minutes. The doughnuts should be soft and not greasy. If the oil is not hot enough, the outside will be tough and the insides greasy. Drain finished doughnuts on paper towels and dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve them piled on a dish with more confectioners' sugar dusted over them. Eat them hot if possible.

Nutrition Facts

Per Serving: 270 calories; protein 4.5g; carbohydrates 45.8g; fat 8.5g; cholesterol 17.1mg; sodium 404.7mg.

Oliebollen Personalization Options

You can personalize your Dutchies and fill them with sweet and savory ingredients. Just add the options to the dough and stir through:

• Currants

• Raisins

• Apple

• Banana

• Chocolate chip

You can also use savory ingredients:

• Salmon

• Bacon

• Ham

How to Store Traditional Dutch Oliebollen

Just in case you do not eat all of these treats in one go, there are a number of ways you can store oliebollen:

• Outside the fridge – when you are going to eat them on the same day put them in a bowl and leave them out of the fridge

• Fridge – Store them in the fridge for a day or two

• Freezer – if you want to preserve longer store them in the freezer

How To Reheat Oliebollen?

There are also various ways to warm oliebollen.

• Oven – you can warm them in the oven. Preheat the oven to 200℉ put the oliebollen on a baking tray and heat them for 5 minutes or until warm.

• Skillet – you can also warm them in a skillet with a small layer of oil. Put the Dutch donuts in the skillet and turn them continuously to warm them through

• Air Fryer – if you have an Air Fryer it is a great way to warm oliebollen. Preheat the Air Fryer to 200℉ then put some parchment liner in the basket and put the oliebollen on top. Do not crowd the basket. Bake for 5 minutes or until warm

• Microwave – when you warm Dutch donuts you can put them in the microwave and warm them in 30-second increments. Check to see if the oliebollen are warm else repeat. Caution oliebollen turn soft and chewy in the microwave.

Oliebollen: Welcoming the New Year with a Dutch Tradition

Photo: Bakkerij De Greef
Photo: Bakkerij De Greef

In the Netherlands, where New Year’s Eve temperatures usually dip below freezing, it’s traditional to indulge in a warm, deep-fried, powdered-sugar-dusted confection known as the oliebol. The translation for this time-honored treat is literally “oil ball,” but don’t let that dissuade you. Oliebollen are just the right palate-pleasing combination of oil, dough and sugar. This crispy, satisfying cousin of zeppolis and fritters can be a delicious way to warm up on a snowy night.

Although the Dutch don’t only eat oliebollen on New Year’s Eve, when celebrating the arrival of another year it’s often savored with a glass of champagne. Both are savored while watching holiday fireworks or the sparking city bonfires that annually consume discarded Christmas trees.

Variations on the oliebol exist in several countries. In Belgium they are called smoutebollen or lard balls, another unfortunate name for the tasty treat, and in France they are more elegantly called croustillons. In Italy, Croatia or Slovenia, these flavorful fried balls are named fritole or blinci. In Serbia they’re named ustipci and in Denmark a similar treat is the ebleskiver, which looks a little more like popovers.

The ritual of eating these luscious lumps of sugary dough started with a less-than-appetizing story, perhaps meant as a warning to eat well before the advent of mid-winter want. Eating oliebollen was considered a surefire way to ward off the whims of a cruel pagan goddess named Perchta. Her Teutonic name meant bright or glorious, but she was not always friendly.

During the 12 Days of Christmas the goddess was said to fly around with evil spirits looking for something to eat. In her quest she might even use her sword to slice open the stomachs of those who’d already eaten to get at their food. Tradition said that eating oliebollen protected you because the fat absorbed from the cooking oil made Perchta’s sword slide off of her victims. No one worries about the vengeful Perchta anymore but the fat in the oliebollen may help insulate some Dutch citizens from the hypothermia associated with another traditional New Year’s celebration, the habit of swimming in icy waters on New Year’s Day.

Although mentions of Perchta date back to at least the 10th century, no one is sure exactly when the recipe for oliebollen was first written down. The earliest mention in Dutch cookbooks was recorded in the 17th century. Around that time, one Dutch Old Master painter, Albert Cuyp, also included a basket of oliebollen in a painting.

In that same century Dutch settlers brought oliebollen, then called oliekoeken, to New Amsterdam and other Dutch colonies. According to Peter G. Rose, a Dutch food historian based in the U.S., like many American transplants, oliebollen began to adapt, eventually morphing into a similar but less deliciously oily treat known as the doughnut.

The Dutch recipe for oliebollen has not changed much since the 17th century, with a batter that usually contains flour, eggs, a leavening agent and milk. The dough is then deep-fried in hot oil and later dusted with sugar. There are variations, as sometimes the recipe is made with currants, candied peel or raisins. Some recipes contain cinnamon.

More Traditional Dutch Recipes

Oven-baked puff pastry appelflappen Dutch apple beignets

Traditional Dutch pancakes

The best Dutch apple pie

Dutch Christmas kerststol stollen bread

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