Bite: Smoutebollen

Summary

Summer in Flanders means fun fairs, festivals…and fatty food stalls

Robyn Boyle on Flemish food and drink

Literally translate smoutebollen and you’re likely to never try one. ‘Lard balls’ just doesn’t sound appetising. But let’s not forget what they are, really: scrumptious balls of deep-fried dough, with a golden crispy crust and gooey centre. Now that sounds better.

The precursor to donuts, smoutebollen are only called this in Flanders, where they were traditionally fried in animal fat (smout). In the Netherlands, they refer to them as oliebollen, which is more accurate, as these days they are dipped into bubbling hot vegetable oil instead of lard. Another difference between the Flemish and Dutch versions is that in the Netherlands, their oliebollen often contain raisins. In Flanders the recipe for the batter is kept pure and simple: flour, yeast, a pinch of salt, sugar, milk and eggs.

You’ll notice the bright stand at every festival and fun fair in Flanders. It’s an eye-catcher, oozing enough retro charm to transport any nostalgic Fleming right back to their childhood. Step right up and order a set of five (or eight, or ten…), then watch as they use two spoons or an ice cream scooper to form imperfect round shapes with the dough and drop them into the fryer where they bob to the top and bubble until golden brown. Moments later, the smoutebollen are tossed into a pointed paper sack and dusted with icing sugar.

Eat them with your hands for the full effect, being careful not to burn your tongue. They are so good, you might be tempted to make them at home. This recipe is as simple as they come. Even if you don’t own a deep fryer, a large pot of hot oil will do just fine.

Smoutebollen

Ingredients for 8 balls:

600 g flour
Pinch of salt
25 cl milk (room temperature)
25 cl water
50 g yeast
1 tbsp sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 packets of vanilla sugar
icing sugar

Add the flour and salt to a large bowl and stir in most of the milk and all of the water. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the remaining milk before adding to the mixture. Beat the egg whites with the vanilla sugar until they form peaks, and then add to the mixture, along with the egg yolks. Mix the batter until smooth. Allow to rest and rise slightly in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Heat the oil to 180°C. Use two spoons to shape the dough into balls (keep the spoons in a cup of warm water to avoid sticking) and let the balls slide into the fryer. Turn the balls continuously while frying to keep their nice round shape. When the balls start to form a crispy, golden crust, remove from the oil, shaking off any excess. Serve with a generous sprinkling of icing sugar.