Saturday, 3 January 2015

Here's Wishing you the Fat of the Land

I’ve been blogging now for 18 months, and have never posted a recipe. Never. Some of you may be thankful for that. If so, I’m warning you now: this post ends with a recipe.

This blog is not about cooking. But when I posted a picture on Facebook of my gluten-free oliebollen, a Dutch New Year’s traditional food,  I got a ton of requests for the recipe – well, okay, three or four, but that’s a lot, for me. Apparently, some of you are more interested in gluten-free recipes than in crows. Who knew?

The whole subject of food and New Year’s Eve traditions is fascinating. Check out this link, published by NPR, and you’ll find that traditional food for the year’s changeover range from lentils to pig trotters stuffed with sausage. The foods are often symbolic: round things like lentils, raisins, and beans symbolize coins and wealth, the fat speaks of an abundant life, and other foods betoken good health and good luck.

Traditional Italian New Year's Eve dinner. (Photo: Arcangelo Clemente, iStockphoto)

And then there are oliebollen. Literally translated, the word means Oil Buns. They are a sort of fritter studded with raisins, currants and apples, deep-fried like a donut. Growing up in a Dutch immigrant community, my childhood memories of New Year’s Eve are sitting in church with my family. The scent of incense that surrounded us was the distinctive smell of deep-fat frying. We could hardly wait for the service to be over so we could dig in to the goodies waiting at home. Eat too many of them, and yes, they live up to their name: you will have "fat buns."

This year, for the first year in our memory, all our grown kids, plus the 6 grandchildren, were going to be here for New Year’s Eve, and it was time to introduce the non-Dutch in-laws to this delicacy. Better than dried salted cod boiled with kale, don’t you think?

The problem, however, is that some of us are GF: gluten-free. What to do? We had my mom’s recipe for oliebollen, similar to many which you can find on the internet if you google “oliebollen.” Sons #1 and #3 began stirring up Oma’s recipe, while I opened up my favorite GF recipe book, Sweet Surprise, locally published. With a few changes, perhaps the focaccia bread recipe would do. And if it didn’t, well, who needed all those extra calories, anyway? But it worked! And a great time was had by all, as we ushered in the New Year while gobbling down oliebollen dipped in icing sugar, licking off our greasy fingers afterwards. While they’re best fresh from the fryer, oliebollen are good warmed up for breakfast on New Year’s Day, and then as a snack with the morning coffee, and if there are still some left over, a nibble to accompany afternoon tea. In the Bible it says “Weeping will last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Our family’s new motto is,  “Feasting will last for a night, but fasting will wait till morning – or maybe next week.”

Our Dutch-rooted daughter-in-law says that in her family, the women mixed the dough and the men did the frying. In our house, the sons did both. So traditions, as well as recipes, change, but the sentiment is the same: good food eaten together with people you love is a great way to start a year.  Happy New Year to all of you!

Sons #1 and 3 frying oliebollen at their dad's workbench in the garage.

Waiting for the countdown to midnight to begin...

If you’d like to try making oliebollen, here’s what you do:

First, make a gluten-free flour mix of equal parts tapioca starch, potato starch, white rice flour, brown rice flour, and sorghum flour. This is a basic mix I always have on hand for recipes that call for flour, and it’s the one recommended by Sweet Surprise. You may have your own GF mix, and you can try making oliebollen with that. No guarantees, though.

The dough is as follows:
Proof the yeast by stirring 1 tbsp. Yeast into  ½ cup warm water and 2 tsp. Sugar. While it is dissolving, stir together

3 cups gf flour
2 tsp. gelatin (e.g. Knox unflavoured gelatin)
1 tbsp. Xanthan gum
1 ½ tsp. Salt
1/3  cup sugar

In a 2nd large bowl, beat together 1 cup very warm water, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tsp. Cider vinegar, and 4 eggs. Now add the dry ingredients and the yeast mixture and beat well for five minutes.

Lastly add about 2 cups of mixed goodies, like raisins, dried currants, dried cranberries, and finely diced peeled apples to the dough, stirring to distribute evenly. Let rise for about an hour, then drop by heaping tablespoons into oil heated to 355 degrees in a deep fat fryer. When they're nicely browned all around, lay them on a paper towel, then eat while still warm. If you wish to prevent your house from smelling like a french fry factory, do this in the garage or outside. (Makes several dozen.)

If you’re interested in more GF goodies, you can’t go wrong with the Sweet Surprise bakery here in Courtenay, or buy the recipe book. You can find it at

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