Historic 1800s Oly Koek Recipe | The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Oly Koek: Grandfather of the Donut

Known as the grandfather of the modern American donut, the oly koek is one of many foods eagerly described at the Van Tassel’s feast in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Exploring foods like the oly koek is more than a taste of Sleepy Hollow at Halloween; it’s a chance to explore the Dutch culinary heritage of the Hudson Valley in New York State in the 1800s, and a way to connect with early American life.


“Such heaped up platters of cakes of various and almost indescribable kinds, known only to experienced Dutch housewives! There was the doughty doughnut, the tender oly koek, and the crisp and crumbling cruller…”

Oly Koek in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

At the Van Tassels’ feast, the table overflows with Dutch treats, including the oly koek, offering a glimpse into early American and Dutch culinary traditions. While Ichabod Crane has attended to win the heart and hand of Katrina, Van Tassel’s daughter, the narrator pauses to enthusiastically describe the table laden with food, capturing a snapshot of the culinary heritage of the Hudson Valley region during this era.

Historical Bites: What is an Oly Koek?

In its basic form, an oly koek (which translates as “oil cake”) is a deep-fried ball of dough. It would have been one of the traditional recipes brought to the New World by Dutch settlers sometime in the early 1600s.

However, like many historically captured recipes, variations depend on the source. The Sensible Cook, a translation and historical reference of Dutch cooking in the New World, captures many of these differences, in this case, varying from family to family. Some families stuff the dough with ingredients such as apples and almonds. Other variations feature raisins and dried citrus pieces soaked in brandy, folded into the centre. These techniques allow for the dough to be fried and cooked evenly through without burning, as well as adding extra flavour and potentially retaining moisture to the fried dough.

Evolution into the Doughnut

As the 19th century progressed, the oly koek began to morph with the term dough-nut. At this point, these are both still described as fried balls of dough so one can assume it comes from the dough being the size of a nut, like a whole walnut. Washington Irving captured the interchangeable use of the terms, olykoek and the dough-nut, at the turn of the century in his literary parody, A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty (1809).

The introduction of the dough-nut being larger fried dough cakes with a hole through the middle—whether by design for more even cooking or by happy accident—has many historical timelines and threads, many running in parallel. The Oly Koek will likely have been one of these threads that can be traced, blending Dutch culinary traditions with new American influences.


1800s Oly Koek recipe | Sleepy Hollow

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  • Author: Bryton Taylor; In Literature
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Rise Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Yield: 18 1x


Units Scale
  • 1 cup mixed dried fruit (raisins and citrus)
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/8 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 (7g) packet active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 67 cups vegetable oil (for frying)


The night before

  1. In a measuring cup, cover mixed dried fruit with brandy to soak. Cover with a tea towel at room temperature.

The day of

  1. In a large mixing bowl, pour in warm water, sprinkle yeast with a pinch of granulated sugar, stir, and cover in a warm spot.
  2. Warm milk and butter in large measuring cup in microwave for 1 minute, 50% power.
  3. Use fork to mix in eggs, remaining sugar, and nutmeg into the milk and butter.
  4. Stir into yeast.
  5. Sift flour into the wet mixture a cup at a time, mixing until you reach the consistency of a soft dough.
  6. Cover with tea towel and set aside in a warm place to rise for an hour.
  7. After one hour, drain the fruits from the brandy. Tear off an egg-sized piece of dough, create a well in the middle with your fingers, fill with a teaspoon of fruits and close dough back up, pinching shut.
  8. Create all the balls first before frying.
  9. In a 5 /2 quart heavy Dutch oven, heat vegetable oil to 338-347F/170-175C. Use a sugar thermometer. If oil goes over 356F/ 180C, the dough on the outside with cook too fast, leaving the inside uncooked. Remove pot from heat and allow temperature to lower before placing back on and continuing. 
  10. Deep fry a few dough balls at a time until golden before removing with a wooden or metal ladle with slots or holes. Do not use plastic when removing dough from oil.
  11. Olykoeks can be served hot or cold. Dust with icing sugar to serve.


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For those looking to explore more, pick up “The Sensible Cook” for a deeper look at traditional Dutch recipes or re-read Irving’s works to catch more references hidden within his tales.

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