A popular dessert with variations in many Latin countries and Spain, bunuelos play as important a role in Christmas in Mexico as decorated cookies do in the United States.
The crisp, fried pastries are often served at family dinners and other holiday events, including posadas, the celebrations that re-create Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging. In Oaxaca, the tradition is to eat bunuelos on Dec. 23, which is known as the Night of the Radishes. On that occasion, decorations made with radishes and vegetables are displayed, and stalls around the plaza sell syrup-soaked bunuelos in new clay dishes. The custom is to shatter the dish on the ground after eating.
Bunuelos are made in different ways. One style is the bunuelo de rodillo, a circle of pastry flattened with a rolling pin. Another is the bunuelo de molde, made by dipping a decorative iron into thin batter and then placing the iron in hot oil. When the batter starts to firm, the bunuelo slips off the iron to be fried until golden brown.
Bunuelos de molde are as light and lacy as snowflakes. The irons made in Mexico come in a variety of designs, usually circular. But there are also fanciful shapes, such as butterflies. In the United States, a rosette iron may be used.
When making bunuelos de molde, be careful not to submerge the iron in the batter. If any comes over the top, it will cook onto the iron rather than float free. Pry the bunuelos gently from the iron, using a sharp knife or turner, before they are fully cooked. Then continue to fry until nicely browned. The bunuelos may be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container.
BUNUELOS DE MOLDE
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Oil for deep frying
Add sugar to eggs and beat. Add milk and continue to beat while adding flour and salt. Stir in vanilla and baking powder. Set aside for one hour.
Heat oil for deep frying to 375 degrees. Place bowl of batter near container of oil. Dip bunuelo iron in hot oil until thoroughly heated. Drain quickly and dip in batter. Do not allow batter to come over top of iron or bunuelo will not come loose when fried. Immediately submerge iron in hot oil. When batter begins to set but is still soft, pry bunuelo gently from iron with tip of knife or edge of turner. Remove iron and fry bunuelo until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.
For the next bunuelo, heat iron again in oil, then place in batter and return to oil. Continue in this fashion until batter is used. Sprinkle bunuelos with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Makes about five dozen, depending on the size of iron.
Food styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane.