Buñuelos, a crunchy Christmas dessert
Buñuelos are delicious - Photo: Pepe Escárpita/EL UNIVERSAL

Buñuelos, a crunchy Christmas dessert

05/12/2019
20:17
Newsroom
Mexico City
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Buñuelos are a must of traditional Mexican cuisine

One of the oldest traditions in the Mexican Christmas season are buñuelos glazed in piloncillo honey, flavored with cinnamon and clove. In Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s recipe book are three buñuelos recipes, best known as “puñuelos” in Colonial times since the dough was mashed with the fist.

A Mozarabic heritage, buñuelos could be made with cheese, curd, or to have holes, as explains Mónica Lavín in her book Novohispanic Viceregal Cuisine. Some recipe books from the 18th century such as that of Priest Ávila Blancas, include recipes of buñuelos made with rice, pulque, and milk.

During Colonial times, it was common for this dessert to be made in convents, according to Teresa Castelló Yturbide in her book Ancient Delicacies. One of the most famous was that of Santa Brígida, which in addition to their exquisite flavor, was famous for their presentation in big Talavera plates.

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Another convent famous for buñuelos was that of San José de Gracia. In the evening, nuns would go to the doors of the convent with big trays of buñuelos and delicious piloncillo honey in copper pots.

Buñuelos are made with a mix of wheat flour, eggs, water, salt, and lard, which is left to rest, stretched and shaped. They are fried and sprinkled with sugar or glazed with piloncillo honey.

In some regions, they use water with tomato peels or tequesquite to ferment the dough. Some kinds of honey contain fruits like Mexican hawthorne or guavas. Ingredients like anise and cinnamon are also used in some places.

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Buñuelos are eaten throughout the year but especially in the Christmas season and fairs. Although its name is of uncertain origin, some say it comes from the Latin bunko, which means bulb; in French, they are known as beignet, which also means swelling because it inflates when fried. Other historical information suggests that it can be of Arabic origin taken to Europe during the Crusades.

Of course, the ancient recipes vary from those present in Mexico nowadays due to the mix of ingredients. Back in the day, buñuelos were stretched with the help of a knee covered with a wet rag, the reason why they were called knee buñuelos to differentiate them from those made with molds.

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The elaboration of buñuelos continues nowadays among certain groups of nuns, such as in the Community of Santa Catalina de Siena of the Order of the Dominican Sisters in Mixcoac who prepare wind buñuelos (those with holes) in December.

Buñuelos are part of the cuisine of most states in Mexico, although some have interesting variants. In Veracruz, for instance, they are usually prepared with crabs, pineapple, rice, or boiled.

In Oaxaca, there are original recipes that include radish, starch, sweet potato, raisins, or milk. Others are fried with lard and served in dried maize leaves sprinkled with colored sugar.

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