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Picarones - Peruvian sweet potato and squash fritters with a sweet, flavorful syrup

Picarones - Peruvian squash and sweet potato fritters

A Peruvian treat you shouldn't miss

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Sunflower - Last Update: April 25, 2017

Picarones are one of these Peruvian goodies that once tried there’s no way back. The deep fried picarones drizzled with a sweet and flavorful syrup are not only on the list of Peruvian “must eats”, but also absolutely delicious and addicting.

Often just referred to as a Peruvian kind of doughnut, they are actually quite different and so uniquely Peruvian.

When the Spaniards conquered the New World, they not only brought their structures and religions, customs and traditions with them, but also their food. As it sometimes was difficult or even impossible in colonial Peru to get all the ingredients for a special dish from back home, recipes had to be altered or refined with locally available substitutes. And as the cooking and baking was mostly done by locals or African slaves, the flavors and techniques mingled creating new and eventually typical Peruvian dishes.

This applies to picarones as well. It is assumed that picarones derived from the Spanish buñelos. By adding a local squash and sweet potatoes to the usual yeast dough and serving the fritters with a tasty syrup full of spices, African slaves created a sweet, flavorful and delicious treat that in no time went viral in colonial Lima. And as back then, picarones today are still sold by street vendors across the Peruvian capital (and countless restaurants) and continue to be extremely popular.

If you are far from Peru and craving this traditional Peruvian treat, just prepare it yourself at home. It really isn’t that difficult though time consuming and laborious. And please don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. Most of them you will have at home anyway or are easy to get in every supermarket; except for the “chancaca syrup” the original recipe asks for.

Chancaca syrup, a sweet sauce made of unrefined whole cane sugar, can usually be found in Latin American food shops, as well online. If you can’t find it, just substitute it with molasses, muscovado syrup or even good quality honey.

And once you taste your homemade, freshly fried, still warm and crispy picarones dipped into the sweet and flavorful syrup, you will know that all the time and effort you put into the preparation was worth every single minute.

Photos

Preparation of picarones dough - cooking the sweet potatoes and squash: first let the cloves, cinnamon and anise simmer in water, ...
... then boil the potatoes in the infused water and ...
once soft, mash them.
Preparation of picarones dough - yeast: combine the yeast and sugar and add reserved cooking water, ... ...
.... stir until yeast dissolves and let rest, ...
... after 15 minutes of rest in a warm place the yeast at least doubled in size and is ready to be used for the picarones dough
With all the groundwork done, finally the picarones dough can be prepared by first combining the sweet potato-squash puree with egg and a pinch of salt and then adding the yeast, ....
... stir well and then ...
... add the flour...
... incorporate the flour for a good 10 minutes until the picarones dough is smooth and stretchy. Let rest for at least 2 hours.
While the picarones dough is resting, there is plenty of time to prepare the flavorful syrup that later is drizzled over the picarones
Forming and frying Peruvian picarones: after about 2 hours the dough is ready to be formed into picarones.
Forming picarones: wet your hands, take a portion of dough into one hand and stretch the dough making a hole in the middle with your thumb(s) to form a ring shaped picaron. Then let it fry in hot oil.
Fry the picarones from both side until golden brown.
Serve the picarones still warm drizzled with lots of syrup and enjoy the delicious result of your hard work.

Eva's Recipe for Peruvian Picarones

Food

Ingredients:

Ingredients for the dough
750 ml water (a good 3 cups)
6 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons ansie seeds
300 g peeled squash or pumkin (original: zapallo macre) cut into cubes (1 1/3 cups or 10 ounces)
300 g peeled sweet potato (original: camote amarillo) cut into cubes (1 1/3 cups or 10 ounces)
70 g sugar (1/3 cup or 2.5 ounces)
1 egg
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
500 g all-purpose flour (4 cups or 1 pound)
oil for frying
Ingredients for the syrup
300 ml water (1 1/4 cups)
200 ml Chancaca syrup (Peruvian cane syrup) or molasses, muscovado syrup or even good quality honey (3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons)
200 g brown sugar (1 cup)
1 lime
1 orange
1 small banana
100 g pineapple (1/2 cup or 3.5 ounces)
optional: 1 fig or fig leave
6 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
pinch of salt

Preparation:

  1. Cooking Squash and Sweet Potatoes: Fill a large pot with the 750 ml (3 cups) water and add 6 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks and 2 teaspoons of anise seeds. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the water. Place the sweet potatoes in a pot, cover generously with the reserved water and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes; then add the squash and continue to cook until both are very soft. Strain and reserve the cooking water! Let the cooking water cool until lukewarm. Mash the sweet potatoes and squash and let cool.
  2. Preparing the Yeast: Combine the 3 tablespoons of yeast with 70 gr (1/3 cup) sugar and dissolve the mixture in 240 ml (1 cup) of the reserved, lukewarm cooking water. Let rest for 15 minutes. The mixture will double or even triple in size, so use a big enough bowl.
  3. Preparation of the Picarones Dough: In a very large bowl combine the sweet potato-squash puree with 1 egg, 1 egg yolk and a pinch of salt. Then add the yeast mixture and stir together with a wooden spoon. Incorporate the flour very well until you get a smooth and elastic dough (a little bit like the consistency of chewing gum). Traditionally this is done by hand with a wooden spoon and involves about 10 to15 minutes hard work until the dough is soft and stretchy. But you can use a mixer with a dough hook which will get you the same result in a about 5 minutes without too much effort. If the dough is to dry (it should be still just slightly sticky), add a little bit more of the reserved cooking water, if it's too soft and extremely sticky add more flour. Once the dough is smooth and elastic cover it with a wet, warm kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours until doubled in size.
  4. Preparation of the Syrup for Picarones: While the dough is resting, there is time to prepare the syrup or honey for the picarones. With an orange or vegetable peeler remove 3 slices of peel from the orange and 2 slices of peel from the lime. Then juice the orange and lime. Place 200 ml (a little bit more than ¾ cup) chancaca syrup, molasses, muscovado syrup or honey into a saucepan and add 300 ml (1 ¼ cups) water, 200g (1 cup) brown sugar, the freshly pressed orange and lime juice as well as the zests, 100g (1/2 cup) sliced pineapple, the small banana cut into 3 chunks, the 6 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, ½ teaspoon of anise seeds and a pinch of nutmeg. If you have, add a fig leave or a fresh fig. Bring to a boil while stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then let simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens slightly. The Picarones syrup should have the consistency of a thin pancake syrup. Strain and let cool.
  5. Some well-meant advice in between: When the dough rested and at least doubled in size, heat a decent amount of oil in a large sauce pan for frying the picarones. Be aware that the dough is sticky, even if everyone tells you it isn’t. Forming the picarones might look easy, but honestly, especially for beginners, it can get messy. As skill comes with practice, go for it. And while your first picarones might not look perfect (by the way mine never do), they will still taste great.
  6. Forming and Frying the Picarones: So let's get started. To make it easier have a bowl of salted water at hand (just take a cup of water and add 2 teaspoons of salt). Wet both your hands in the salted water and take a good golf ball sized portion of the dough with one hand. Then stretch the dough making a hole in the middle with your thumb(s) to form a ring shaped picaron. Quickly put it in the hot oil and fry from both sides until golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Repeat the process until all dough is used. You can keep picarones warm in preheated oven while finishing your task. If you just can't manage to form anything that at least slightly looks like picarones and are about to give up (which really would be a shame after you put so much time and work into it), you can as well fill the dough in a piping bag and pipe rings directly into the heated oil.
  7. Serve the picarones still warm drizzled with lots of syrup and enjoy the delicious result of your hard work.
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