Every year at carnival, my family meets at my mother’s house to make Berliner, a jam filled doughnut dusted with cinnamon sugar. It’s a heavenly ball of sweet sponginess so tempting that all of us end up eating far more than we should. We all have our favourite filling, so we use a selection of blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and red currant jam. The only problem is, once they are cooked, you can’t really see the difference anymore. So we guess blindly and exchange Berliner across the table when we pick the wrong one. It’s quite a funny scene! You could also use chocolate, gianduja or eggnog to customize them to your personal taste and come up with your own perfect creation. Unfortunately, after this culinary experience, you might never be satisfied with store-bought doughnuts ever again! It’s already been a year since I shared our traditional Berliner recipe, and next week, it will be that time of year again, we’ll all meet in my mother’s kitchen in the countryside to celebrate our silly little family feast!
Although I’m not the biggest fan of deep-fried sweets, at carnival I love them. They belong to this season like spooky costumes and exuberant music. In Cologne, where I went to university, I used to buy Muzen from a little bakery. They look like tiny diamond shaped doughnuts, crisp on the outside with a spongy centre. It’s a local speciality only made at this time of the year. They are so good, I could eat them by the dozen! In Berlin, Berliner are called Pfannkuchen (meaning pancakes in German) and they are often filled with plum jam. There are many other names all over the world, Krapfen, Fastnachtküchle, Krof in Slovenia or Pączki in Poland, all customized after the regional preferences.
After some research, I discovered something new, Greek doughnuts called Loukoumades! I called my sister as her husband is half Greek and they often spend their summers in Greece. Nina got very excited about this sweet and told me that they savoured it all the time during their last holiday on the island of Thassos. Her husband would play Bouzouki in a mountain village in the evenings with his friends while my sister enjoyed plates of Loukoumades, with lots of honey and cinnamon. After her colourful description, my decision was made, I had to try them! The next morning I made an orange flavoured yeast dough, a bit softer and with more yeast than my usual recipe. You have to scoop out the little Loukoumades with a spoon and cook them in hot fat. It only took a few minutes and I had a plate full of golden doughnuts in front of me, coated voluptuously with orange-honey syrup and sprinkled with chopped pistachios and a bit of cinnamon. It was amazing, I know I can trust my sister when it comes to sweet treats!
Loukoumades with Honey, Cinnamon and Pistachios
For 24 small Loukoumades you need
plain flour 400g / 14 ounces
dry yeast 2 sachets (each 7g / 1/4 ounce)
sugar 1 tablespoon
salt 1 teaspoon
milk, lukewarm, 150ml / 5 ounces
water, lukewarm, 125ml / 4.5 ounces
orange zest 1 heaped teaspoon
honey 1 tablespoon
pistachios, unsalted, chopped, 60g / 2 ounces
cinnamon, for serving
vegetable shortening for deep-frying 1kg / 2 1/4 pounds
For the syrup
good quality honey (liquid) 150g / 5.5 ounces
freshly squeezed orange juice 50ml / 1 3/4 ounces
sugar 1 tablespoon
orange zest 1 teaspoon
In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the milk, water, honey and zest to the mixture and mix with the dough hooks of your mixer for about 5 minutes. The dough should be elastic and come off the sides of the bowl, it will be a little sticky so don’t mix with your hands. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rise in the warm oven (35°C / 95°F) for 45 minutes (top/ bottom heat and not fan-assisted!).
For the syrup, bring the honey, orange juice and sugar to the boil and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until it’s a thick syrup. Stir in the zest and keep warm.
In a large pot, heat the vegetable shortening. Check the temperature with a wooden spoon, it’s hot enough when little bubbles form around it. Scoop out a small walnut sized ball off the dough (this works best with 2 tablespoons) and carefully drop it into the hot fat. Start off with one ball, the Loukoumades should cook for 3-4 minutes to turn into golden balls. If they become too dark after a shorter cooking time, turn down the temperature (which is what I had to do after the first batch), they will need at least 3 minutes for the centre to cook through. They should be golden and not dark brown. Take them out with a slotted ladle and put them on a kitchen paper to remove excess fat. Serve with the warm syrup, chopped pistachios and a little cinnamon.