Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nonnevotten

If you're a fan of Carnaval, and if you find yourself in the southern regions of the country in the next week or so, you are in luck! This year, February is the month that the traditionally Catholic parts of the Netherlands celebrate this colorful festival, but the planning for these events already started on November 11 of last year. During these meetings, princes are elected to rule the temporary kingdoms, routes need to be established, floats designed, costumes sown....it is an unstoppable beehive of activity that involves many members of a community.

All this hard work culminates, during the five days before and after the weekend of February 11th, in a myriad of activities. The party starts on Thursday and ends the morning of Ash Wednesday. In the province of Limburg especially, carnaval is a colorful revelry of non-stop music, dancing, laughter and drinking, five days long. Five days long!!! (If you want to see what carnaval is all about, check out the excellent documentary "Nao Ut Zuuje",about carnaval in the city of Venlo.)

As you can imagine, all that physical energy has to be fed and maintained somehow – and in the southeastern part of the province, it's the deep fried nonnevotten that provide that much needed fuel. The combination of grease, sugar, carbs and warmth provide enough energy to keep going, especially when it’s cold outside. And with carnaval being so early this year, it's bound to be a chilly one!

Nonnevotten are pillowy knots of deep fried dough, rolled in sugar, and are traditionally from the city of Sittard, in Limburg. Their name translates as "nuns' bums" but it is unclear where the name comes from. Some claim it's because the pastries are tied into a knot and look like the bows on the aprons of the Franciscan nuns (another name for the pastry is "strik", bow). Others say "vot" comes from "vod", rags, since the Franciscan sisters presumably exchanged fried goods for donated worn clothing that they would pass on to the poor. So far, I haven't been able to find a reliable and conclusive source for its name, but these two sound plausible.

The nonnevotten are made with flour, milk, yeast and butter, and are rolled in sugar before being served. In the old days, these knots were great for using up the last of the perishable ingredients before Lent kicked in, but they proved to be so popular that they can be found in bakeries year round. Nonnevotten are best eaten warm and fresh straight from the baker’s store. 

Somehow the whole "let's-party-like-it's-going-to-be-Lent-in-five-days" doesn't really work when you live so far away from it all.  I cherish the memories of walking in the carnaval parades with my grandma Pauline, tossing candy to the kids, long days going from village to village dressed up either individually or in a group - it was a lot of fun!

So, although I don't dress up anymore, am not dancing any polonaises anytime soon, or even engage in loud song singing while dressed in a colorful costume, I will honor this traditional festivity by frying nonnevotten. Just because I'm not a part of the carnaval festivities back home, doesn't mean I have to forego all pleasures. Time to whip up a batch of dough and fry up some sugary, doughy goodies! Alaaaffff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nonnevotten
1/2 cup (125 ml) milk, lukewarm
3 teaspoons (10 gr.) active dry yeast*
1 3/4 cup (250 gr.) flour
5 tablespoons (60 gr.) butter, melted and room temperature
2 tablespoons (20 gr.) sugar

Fryer oil (sunflower, canola, rapeseed....)
Deep fryer or fryer pan for stove top

Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the lukewarm milk. The larger the surface, the better so that all the single particles can expand in the liquid, and not clump together. Set it aside so that it can proof. This should not take long, a good five minutes, where the yeast will start forming small bubbles.

While you wait for the yeast to proof, mix the flour and sugar together in a bowl and check the oil in your fryer. Make sure it's clean and that you have enough oil.

Pour the warm milk with the yeast in the bowl with the flour, add the melted butter and knead everything together into a scraggly dough. Continue to knead the dough for five or six minutes on the counter top until it's smooth. Roll it into a ball, put it back into the bowl and cover it. Let rest and rise for about 30 to 40 minutes in a warm spot.

After the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl onto the counter, and roll it into a log, with just a few strokes. Divide the dough into six equal parts. Roll each part into a long rope, about 16 inches (about 40 cm) long, place a loose knot in it and set aside until all ropes are done. Some bakers tie one single knot, others wrap the dough ends twice, so take your pick. After you've knotted the dough, cover them loosely with plastic wrap, and let the nonnevotten rest and rise for at least fifteen to twenty minutes, while you heat the oil.

Heat the fryer or a skillet with oil to 350F/180C. Fry two or three nonnevotten at a time until golden-brown, but don't crowd the pan. Stack them on a plate with paper towels to drain some of the fat, and when cooled down, roll in sugar.

Enjoy warm or cold, and have a wonderful, fun and safe Carnaval!



* Or 30 grams fresh yeast.

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