While it seems like the holidays begin earlier every year, in Colombia the season has always started on Dec. 7 with la noche del alumbrado, or Day of the Candles. People light candles in their homes and by parks, public landmarks, stores and churches. The celebration continues on Dec. 16 with the first of nightly novenas that will continue until Christmas Eve, when families and friends gather for prayers, petitions, villancicos (carols) and, of course, food.
While the observances vary from family to family, one constant element is the buñuelos: fritters made out of a smooth dough composed of fresh cheese blended with cornstarch, an egg and milk. I was given this recipe by family friend Oscar Marin who recalls buñuelos made with freshly ground corn in his youth. He makes sure to get the oil to just the right temperature so that the buñuelos rise to the top and swell up as they turn in the oil. If they rise too quickly, they won’t cook all the way through — too slowly, they’ll take on too much oil and become heavy. Traditionally served with hot chocolate or natilla made with whole cane sugar for the perfect combination of salty and sweet, buñuelos are a seasonal treat that are longed for year-round.
Buñuelos Colombianos: Colombian Cheese Fritters Recipe
Yield: 24 buñuelos
1 pound fresh cheese, like costeño, cotija, or mozzarella, finely grated
1 cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 large whole egg
1 large egg yolk
2 to 4 tablespoons whole milk
4 cups canola oil
Combine the cheese, cornstarch, sugar and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the egg and mix until well-combined. If the dough appears dry, add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to form a smooth dough that holds together. Scoop out 2 tablespoons of dough and shape into individual balls.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy 4-quart pot to 375 degrees F, then reduce the heat to medium (see note). Working in batches, fry the buñuelos up to 6 at a time, until they are golden on all sides, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Serve with natilla de panela or hot chocolate.
Cooking note: The oil is at the right temperature when a buñuelo added to the oil sinks to the bottom, then rises to the surface in 45 to 60 seconds. Test with the first buñuelo, adjust temperature accordingly, then proceed with the remaining buñuelos.
Ana Sofia Peláez covers the spectrum of Spanish and Latin American cuisine on her blog, hungrysofia.com. From the rich smells and flavors of the Cuban food she grew up with to modern Peruvian causas, hearty Brazilian feijodas and delicate Mexican flor de calabaza soup, she’s always looking for her next great meal.