Picarones may look like buñuelos or beignets, but they are one of a kind. For starters, they are not made with flour and eggs only, but with a terrific combination containing a local squash called macre and sweet potatoes instead. These two ingredients are boiled until tender, then mashed to make a silky puree, and finally mixed with flour, yeast and sugar, making a soft goo that sticks to your hands like bread dough. Covered with a kitchen cloth, the preparation doubles or triples in volume in a quiet spot of the kitchen.
While the dough is fermenting in a warm and draft-free place, make the syrup (although you can make it the day before to have it ready and at room temperature). You will need chancaca (piloncillo, rapadura, or papelón, as it is known in different countries), which are molds of raw sugar that need to be grated or finely chopped, and dissolved in hot water, then cook it until syrupy. If you don´t find chancaca, use molasses, dark brown sugar, or muscovado sugar.
As soon as the dough is ready, heat a pan with a generous amount of vegetable oil over high heat. When buying street picarones in Peru, this is the exact magic moment when you can see picaroneras (women highly skilled in the art of picarones-making), take a piece of dough with a light, wet hand, and with the help of their thumb only, make a well in the center and throw it in the bubbling oil, forming a free-form doughnut.
A wooden stick, especially used for frying picarones, helps them retain the round form and turn them when they are a beautiful golden brown on one side. They should be served right away, drizzled with a good amount of chancaca syrup, and eaten while almost too hot to touch with your mouth.
The almost crispy exterior contrasts wonderfully with the doughy interior, and you can feel the complexity of flavors given by the anise seed in the preparation, and the fruity and spicy syrup.
Picarones are the best dessert after anticuchos or any other creolle dish, and freshness is crucial to the wonderful experience of eating these delicious Peruvian buñuelos. Help yourself with forks or with your bare hands, and dig in!
- 1pound sweet potatoes
- 1pound pumpkin
- 2 teaspoons aniseed
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 1 ¾ tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1pound all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 4 cups chancaca syrup
- For the syrup:
- 2 chancaca pieces
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves, 1 fig leaf
- 2 star anise
- pineapple peels
- 1 orange, whole
- Peel the sweet potatoes and cut in medium sized squares. Peel and chop the pumpkin. Put in a heavy saucepan with the aniseed, add water to cover, and cook over medium high heat until soft. Drain, reserving the water, and process in the food processor or mash the sweet potatoes and pumpkin to form a soft puree.
- Cool the water to lukewarm. In a bowl put one cup cooking water and the sugar; add the active dry yeast, stirring until dissolved. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes in a warm place, until it forms a sponge.
- Put the potato and pumpkin puree in a large bowl; add the activated yeast. Add the flour, and mixing with your hands add ½ cup of the cooking water, until the dough is no longer sticky, and feels soft and silky. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest in a warm and quiet place, until double or triple in volume, at least two hours.
- When the dough is ready, heat a good amount of oil in a big saucepan to deep-fry the picarones.
- This is a fundamental step and requires skill and training. With practice, you will get there. Have a bowl with cold water nearby; with one wet hand, take a portion of dough, and quickly try to make a ring shape with your thumb while you put it in the hot oil. With a long wooden stick, turn the picarones around (you can use a kitchen fork to do this).Serve drenched with syrup.
- For the syrup:
- Chop chancaca and put in a saucepan with cinnamon sticks, cloves, fig leaf, star anise, pineapple peels, and orange. Cover with water and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the chancaca is dissolved and forms a thick syrup. Strain discarding the solids, cool to room temperature, and put in a jar to have it ready to pour over picarones. You can substitute chancaca with molasses syrup or muscovado sugar.