Are you wondering what the fuss is all about with these greasy, deformed donuts? Or are they onion rings? Actually, this traditional sweet is quite a unique, local specialty from Peru. Picarones, as they are known in Spanish, are fried dough rings, crispy on the outside and a little fluffy on the inside. Compared to American donuts, the Peruvian pastry is less dense. It is pretty much obligatory to enjoy Picarones together with Chancaca, a homemade syrup made from raw unrefined cane sugar.
But what makes Picarones so special and distinct? It is the incorporation of local ingredients! In contrast to Spanish buñuelos, the fried rings are not just made from flour and eggs only. The base of the dough consists of macre and sweet potatoes. Macre is a giant squash with yellow, greenish flesh. It is native to Peru and finds use in several dishes of the country’s traditional cuisine.
If you want to taste the sweet deliciousness, don’t try looking for Picarones at restaurants. They were created on the street and this is where you can still find them today. Vendors sell them out of their mobile stalls right next to cold Chicha Morada and Papas Rellenas.
Picarones, A Cheaper Substitute For Spanish Buñuelos
When the Spanish conquistadores arrived to Peru during the colonial Viceroyalty, they brought with them the buñuelo. Although the taste of the Spanish pastry immediately appealed to Peruvians, it was simply too expensive to make. Most normal people could not afford the foreign ingredients introduced to the Andean country by the Spanish. For that reason, cooks started replacing the original ingredients of the buñuelo with local vegetables that were abundant in Peru. Basically out of necessity, they created the popular Picarones as we know them today.
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At the beginning of their triumphant procession through the country, priests would offer the fried rings together with other traditional foods during religious processions such as Señor de los Milagros in Lima. With growing popularity, they became available all year round, whether on special occasions or just any regular day. Today, Picarones are one of the most popular sweets in Peru. In fact, Peruvians love them so much that there are entire celebrations dedicated to the round pastry.
Step up your dessert game with our simple and authentic recipe:
1 pound sweet potatoes
1 pound squash (ideally Peruvian Macre, if available)
2 tsp aniseed
1 tbsp sugar
1 ¾ tbsp active dry yeast
1 pound flour
4 cups chancaca syrup
For the syrup:
2 panela pieces (raw unrefined sugar from sugarcane)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 fig leaf
2 star anise
Peel the sweet potatoes and squash and cut them in medium-sized squares.
Put the cubes in a saucepan together with the aniseed and cover with water
Cook over medium heat until soft. Then drain the cubes while containing the water and mash the sweet potatoes and squash to create puree. You can do it by hand or use a food processor
Now, cool the water until it is lukewarm. Pour one cup of the water in a bowl, add the sugar and dry yeast and stir until it dissolves. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes in a warm place, until it forms a sponge.
Put the puree in a big bowl. Add the yeast and flour and mix everything with your hands. Add ½ cup of the contained water while you keep mixing the dough until it is smooth and no longer sticky
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rest at room temperature for at least two hours. Make sure the dough has doubled or tripled in size before you proceed.
Now, fill up a large saucepan halfway with oil and heat it up
Wet both hands with salt water and take a golf ball-sized portion of the dough in one hand. Use your thumbs to form a hole in the middle and thereby make a ring shape. Quickly place the picaron in the boiling oil before it dissolves. The beginning will probably be a bit messy as this step requires some practice. After a short while you will be a pro!
Use a wooden stick or normal fork to turn the Picarones occasionally to fry them evenly on both sides
When they become golden and crispy, take the pastry rings out of the oil and drench them on a piece of kitchen roll
For the syrup, chop the chancaca and put it in a pot with all the remaining spices (cinnamon, cloves, fig leaf, star anise, pineapple peels, orange)
Cover the condiments with water and cook over medium heat. Stirring occasionally until the panela is dissolved and forms a thick syrup. Strain to remove the spices and let it cool down to room temperature
Drench the Picarones in syrup and serve them right away!
Nothing here yet – do you know of anything similar from other countries? Let us know!
Photos by APEGA Sociedad Peruana