‘Oliebollen’ or ‘smoutebollen’, Belgium’s answer to American donuts, are firmly planted in youth sentiment for me. They bring back lots of teenage memories, of spending hour upon hour parading up & down the snowy fairgrounds with my friends, often in sub-zero temperatures, in hopes the cute fair hands would notice us and score us a free paper cone of hot beignets or a free ride.
When the weather gets dreary or downright mean, there’s nothing more comforting than to bite into a crispy hot ball of freshly fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar. The sugar instantly melts on the hot surface and forms a crackling coating on the outside of this deep fried dream. I’m telling you now, oliebollen are a ‘must have’ when the temps drop and your nose hairs are starting to congeal.
You can buy yourself some sugary warmth at the many quaint stalls that line the town squares in Holland & Belgium, and waft invitingly through the cold Fall & Winter air. Especially during the times the ‘kermis’ or fair is in town, or the annual Christmas Markets that start showing up in late November, both of which add much needed light & coziness to the short, dark evenings. I mean, just look at it:
I figured that if I wanted ‘oliebollen’, I would have to learn to make them at home since Los Angeles is short on this kind of campy quaintness… and who can wait for the county fair to arrive… in July! No. I needed to have access to this greasy happiness in Fall & Winter, when evening temperatures drop well below 65F. Don’t judge.
I’ve probably spent too much time browsing the Internet for the perfect recipe, but the winning recipe came from a former colleague of mine, who was tasked by yours truly with the impossible mission of
seducing prying the recipe out of our favorite ‘oliebollen‘ baker from the city fair in Ghent. I completely forgot about these, until I recently found her grease-stained email folded neatly in a cookbook of mine… Enjoy!
(aka Flemish beignets… per Marktkramer De Kuijper‘s recipe)
– 1.5 oz of good quality unsalted butter
– 10.5 oz of self-rising flour (or pastry flour or all purpose flour, if you can’t find self-rising flour)
– 1 oz of fresh yeast (or 0.5 oz of dry active yeast)
– 8 oz of whole milk
– 1 tsp of natural vanilla extract
– a pinch of salt
– 1.5 eggs (2 whites + 1 yolk)
Make sure to use room-temperature ingredients, and measure everything precisely!
In a large bowl, sift flour. In a small bowl, crumble fresh yeast into milk, and stir until dissolved. Add yeasted milk & vanilla extract to flour, and stir to create a batter.
Melt butter in the microwave on medium power, and add egg yolk and butter to batter. Stir until well combined.
Beat egg whites in a grease-free bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter, and also add a pinch of salt.
The batter should be fairly loose, so if it feels a bit too stiff, add a splash more milk.
Let the batter rest for 20-25 minutes while you fill a large Dutch oven with peanut oil and heat it to 375F. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil doesn’t overheat, which causes uneven cooking.
Use an ice cream scoop to drop 2-3 scoops of batter into the hot oil at a time. Cook each side until golden brown. Doughnuts will cook very quickly in the right temperature oil, so check them quickly after you place them in the oil. Flip and cook the other side. Don’t crowd your pot, as this will cause the temperature to drop too rapidly, causing uneven cooking and can potentially cause your pot to overflow, which is dangerous!
Use a spatula to take the beignets out of the oil and let them sit on a paper towel lined plate for a minute or so, to absorb the excess oil. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven while you cook the rest of them.
When done, dust with powdered sugar and prepare to eat more than one!