The Best Recipe For Oliebollen

The best recipe for Oliebollen, from Dark Rye and Honey Cake.
The best recipe for Oliebollen, from Dark Rye and Honey Cake.

Belgian culinary historian and photographer, Regula Ysewijn, has previously produced two wonderful books. Both Pride and Pudding and Oats in the North, Wheat from the South were focused on British baking — a passion of the author, who fell in love with Britain after hearing a nursery rhyme when she was a child.

Both were diligently researched, exceptional tributes to British baking, but it was time for Ysewijn to turn her attention to the land of her birth. Thus was born Dark Rye and Honey Cake: Festival Baking From The Heart Of The Low Countries, published by Murdoch Books.

In the same inimitable style, Ysewijn uses history and art to guide readers through a fascinating period, and paints – through her photography and recipes – the landscape of the region’s rich baking culture.

With my Dutch heritage, this is a book that is dear to my heart, with so many recipes a reminder of the baked treats I have enjoyed and loved. But even for those who aren’t familiar with Belgium or The Netherlands, the book is a joy from beginning to end.

The photos alone are divine, many of them looking like still life paintings from the Old Masters. The stories and historical insights are fascinating.

Ysewijn explores a whole year of rustic bakes, unearthing long-forgotten recipes and reviving treasured favourites. There are waffles and winter breads for the 12 days of Christmas, pancakes for Candlemas and Carnival, pretzels for Lent, vlaai and fried dough for Kermis and all the special sweet treats that make up Saint Nicholas and Saint Martin.

With 14 variations of the Belgian waffle alone, this is not just a cookbook but an educating read, a work of art, and a love letter to the Low Countries.

These oliebollen (which literally translates as oily balls) are doughnuts traditionally consumed during celebrations at New Year, Carnival, Mardi Gras and village fairs. The author explains how in times past, frying in oil was expensive, so even though the dough was made of humble ingredients, these were special treats reserved for celebrations.

Lekker oliebollen are one of my favourite treats so it’s a pleasure to share this recipe, which the author developed with the help and approval of Gebakkraam Abel, a Ghent bakery which produces her favourite oliebollen. Ysewijn suggests using a deep-fryer or a deep heavy-based saucepan.

Buy your copy of  Dark Rye and Honey Cake from Australian-owned Booktopia.

Dark Rye and Honey Cake by Regula Ysewijn.

Recipe For Oliebollen

Makes 12 oliebollen

200 g (7 oz) strong (bread) flour
1 tablespoon caster (superfine) sugar
5 g (⅛ oz) salt
7 g (¼ oz) instant dry yeast
200 ml (7 fl oz) full-fat milk, at room temperature
80 ml (2½ fl oz) water
1 tablespoon melted butter or oil
2 litres (70 fl oz) oil or lard, for frying
Icing (confectioners’) sugar, for dusting

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer. Pour in the milk, the water and the melted butter or oil, and whisk until your batter is smooth. It should be wet and scoopable, but it shouldn’t pour from a spoon like pancake dough. Cover the bowl and set the batter aside to rest for 45 minutes.

Heat the oil to 180°C (350°F) in a deep-fryer or deep heavy-based saucepan. The oil is the correct temperature when a cube of bread is added and turns golden brown in 60 seconds. Use an ice-cream scoop to make nice scoops of the batter and let them slide into the hot oil. Fry for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown: use your visual cue and don’t leave the fryer unattended. Transfer to a tray lined with paper towel while you cook the remainder, then pop them on a serving tray – or, if you want to go traditional, put them into a paper bag or paper cone – and dust generously with icing sugar. Eat them hot and with your hands: licking your fingers is essential.

Variation:Mix caster sugar with a little cinnamon and use that instead of icing sugar to dust the oliebollen. (The author says this is not traditional but very nice indeed!)

Recipe and image from Dark Rye and Honey Cake, by Regula Ysewijn. Published by Murdoch Books and reproduced with the publisher’s permission.

This story originally appeared in PS News.

**Enjoy many more delicious recipes from our Food Wine Travel files here.**


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