Buñuelos, otherwise known as bimuelos or levivot, are small fried dessert fritters topped with sweet syrup or honey. They are Mediterranean in origin. Sephardic Jewish families make buñuelos for Hanukkah, a holiday when fried foods are traditionally served. Jewish versions of these Hanukkah dessert fritters tend to be small and somewhat round in shape. In our family, we make a version that was handed down through my mother-in-law’s Sephardic side. Our Israeli family calls this dish bimuelos or levivot. They are made with a delicious fried batter, then topped with a sweet and aromatic rosewater sugar syrup. Alternatively, these buñuelos can be topped with warm honey. They are simply divine, and so much easier to make than sufganiyot. Hanukkah buñuelos are an unexpected treat at the end of a traditional holiday meal.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BUÑUELOS
Buñuelos originate in the Mediterranean. The earliest versions of buñuelos, or sweet fritters, were found in Ancient Rome. In Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura, he shares a similar recipe for fritters made with flour and cheese, topped with honey and poppy seeds. The sweet fritter concept exists in different forms throughout the world. Buñuelos rose to popularity in Spain, then later spread to Latin American countries, as well as Sephardic Jewish communities throughout the Levant. Jewish people tend to make this dish as a Hanukkah dessert. Latin American countries tend to make flat or disc-shaped buñuelos, or the dough is molded into lovely shapes before it is fried.
Some Jewish families, like my husband’s, call these fritters bimuelos or levivot. Before I learned this recipe, I thought that the Hebrew word levivot only referred to fried potato pancakes. However in some families, the word levivot can be used to refer to any small fried food for Hanukkah.
The Sephardic Jewish side of my husband’s family makes buñuelos with a yeast dough that is similar to this dough for sufganiyot. Additionally, when we’re in a hurry, we use the baking powder batter that appears below. Admittedly, this version is much faster and easier than the yeast dough variety.
SYRUP TOPPING IDEAS FOR BUÑUELOS
In many families, buñuelos are topped in a warm honey syrup. My mother-in-law’s approach to this Hanukkah dessert has a Middle Eastern twist. Essence of rose water or orange blossom water is added to a warm sugar syrup. And then that syrup is poured over the crispy fried buñuelos, soaking them in floral-scented sweetness.
You can find rose water or orange blossom water in most kosher or Middle Eastern markets; Cortas brand has kosher certification. This aromatic floral water is scented with the essence of roses or orange blossoms, which gives it a wonderful perfume and a flavor unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. A little goes a long way– add sparingly.
If you can’t find rose or orange blossom water, you can get creative with your sugar syrup by adding a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract, orange flavoring, or even coconut flavoring! The idea is to lightly flavor the syrup and add a lovely scent. You can also use warmed honey as a topping, which is the way it is traditionally served in Spain. Or you can treat these fritters more like beignets and dust them with powdered sugar, then pour warm chocolate sauce over the top.
The best way to cook these little fritters is to start making the sugar syrup first, so that it slowly reduces and thickens while you are frying. That way, the buñuelos will be hot and fresh right when the syrup is ready to pour.
As these buñuelos fry, they may take on all kinds of crazy shapes. They will basically be round, but little bits of batter may spread in the hot oil, which end up frying into delicious little crispy bits.
I hope you all are having a terrific holiday season, no matter which holidays you might be celebrating. Hanukkah Sameach!
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Hanukkah Buñuelos - Sephardic Jewish Dessert
- 1 1/2 cups (6.9 ounces) all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (2.7 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/8 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup milk (you may substitute unsweetened almond milk or soy milk)
- Avocado oil or ghee for frying
Levivot Syrup Ingredients
- 1 cup (8.1 ounces) granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon rosewater or orange blossom water
How to Make Levivot
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and sea salt. In a separate bowl, beat the egg. Whisk the milk and vanilla into the egg until well combined. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and stir until a thick, lumpy batter forms.Fill your frying pan to 1 inch depth of oil – in a 10.5 inch fry pan, that takes about 4 cups of oil. Warm oil over medium heat to 325 degrees F. Use a thermometer to test oil temperature before the first fritters are added – if oil starts out too hot, fritters will brown before they are cooked through.
- Use a metal soup spoon to scoop up each portion of batter. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls into the hot oil. The oil should sizzle but not splatter-- if the oil pops or splatters, let it cool slightly before proceeding. Test one buñuelo first to see if you've got the oil temperature right.
- Make 4 to 5 fritters at a time. Keep a metal slotted spoon handy to turn the fritters as they become golden. Turn the fritters at least once during cooking, until golden brown on both sides. If the oil is at the right temperature, it should take roughly 3 1/2 minutes for the fritters to brown completely and cook all the way through.
- Drain fried buñuelos on a rack or paper towels, then serve topped with syrup (instructions below).
How to Make Levivot Syrup
- Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring liquid to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Reduce the heat and lightly simmer the liquid for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flavoring to the liquid. You can use rose water or orange blossom water, which are the most traditional, or you can get creative with adding flavorings to taste like vanilla, orange, or coconut! Continue to simmer for about 5 minutes more until liquid thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.Pour warm syrup over freshly fried buñuelos. Serve.