Martin Van Buren's Delicious Doughnuts
Our 8th president was born in a bar and loved his Dutch desserts. Here, his recipes for fall doughnuts and apple cake.
Donald Trump would have despised Martin Van Buren. First, he would have had pure unadulterated hair envy. Martin’s luscious sideburns commanded a far stronger look than the orange come-over. “Little Van” was also 5 foot 6 inches of pure career politician. From Senate, to Governor, to Vice President and on to President, van Buren is historically credited as being the first professional politician. I guess it was all downhill from there huh Donald?
Like every good story, Van Buren’s started in a bar. Born to a Dutch tavern keeper in Kinderhook, New York, Van Buren was the first President to be born a citizen, not a subject. His exposure to visitors made him very plugged in at a young age and his social skills helped his climb to the top. President van Buren took the Presidential office right as America’s worst depression rolled in. Receptions were thus limited to New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July, with private smaller dinner parties in between. A certified Anglophile in his tastes, Van Buren’s chef was from London (they met when the President was Foreign Minister to the UK). Those lucky enough to attend the small dinner parties raved about the President’s sophisticated taste, while those invited to the two parties during the year, complained about the slim pickings. This was no Jackson cheese fest of '37.
A widower, Van Buren relied on his daughter-in-law, Angelica Singleton Van Buren, to be the hostess with the mostess. A relative of Dolly Madison and a South Carolina girl, her tastes kept the menus sprinkled with a hint of Southern influence. Truth be told, our selection of sweets this week would not have been the President’s favorite. He was not a big sweet guy, claiming fruit (notably apples) were sufficient in fulfilling any craving. Gorgeous desserts were; however, offered to the guests at his small gatherings and these were some of the Dutch favorites at the time. Oliebollen, sometimes called “Dutchies”, are little donuts that are often filled with currants, raisins, or candied fruit. I made these without any goodies inside but feel free to chuck them in.
Dry half a pound of good brown sugar, pound it and mix it with two pounds of flour and sift it; add two spoonfuls of yeast, and as much new milk as will make it like bread; when well risen, knead in half a pound of butter, make in cakes the size of a half dollar, and fry them a light brown in boiling lard.
—Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, 1824
- I ended up using about a cup of milk till my dough stuck together in a firm ball.
- Get your oil up to 360 so they fry but don’t overcook. You don’t want the dough to be raw in the middle.
- I used light brown sugar but regular granulated will work just fine.
- Sprinkling them with powdered sugar is a must in my book and they are best served warm!
Dutch Apple Cake
Fond as President Van Buren was of apples in any form...
Mix together 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 egg. Add 1/2 cup milk, 1 1/2 cups sifted flour, and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Peel and slice several tart apples. Spread the dough into a round greased baking dish. Place the apples in rows on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake in a moderate (350 degrees F.) oven about 35 minutes."
—Poppy Cannon & Patricia Brooks “The Presidents’ Cookbook”
- Easiest cake ever and really lovely if you are having folks over last minute. It is life-changing with ice cream.
- I added pecans to the top and dotted butter over the apples for some extra shine.