Saturday, March 16, 2019


It´s Fallas in Valencia! Fallas is a week-long spring fiesta ending at midnight on San José day (March 19), where the protagonists are fireworks, firecrackers and giant bonfires to burn the fallas, or ninots, effigies, usually representing satirical and allegorical characters. 

The Fallas were originally a pagan festival marking the Spring equinox, a time for cleansing bonfires as fields were prepared for sowing. Over the centuries they became a popular fiesta incorporated into the Christian holiday of St. Joseph (which, by the way, is Spanish Fathers’ Day).

Besides the noise of firecrackers and smell of gunpowder, the festival is full of music (brass bands at 8 in the morning!), thousands of feria lights and good things to eat. Being Valencia, of course there’s paella and other rice dishes. Street stalls sell sweets and holiday fritters such as buñuelos de calabaza.

Buñuelos de calabaza are puffy fritters of fried dough that's made with squash.

Buñuelos are small fried doughnuts made with a pumpkin batter. They’re delicious eaten out-of-hand or dipped in thick, hot drinking chocolate or, if the weather is warm, cold horchata, a sweet and refreshing drink made of tigernuts.

I am terrorized by loud bangs, gunshot, firecrackers and the like. So I have never been to the Fallas in Valencia. But I’m celebrating with some quiet buñuelos with friends and family and touring the fallas--tableaux of images that will soon be put to the torch--on TV.

Puffs of fried dough, sprinkled with sugar, are good dunked in thick, hot chocolate.

The squash gives the puffs a nice color; grated orange zest flavors them.

Puffs are spongy on the inside.

Serve the puffs any time of the day. Breakfast? With a fruit salad.

Fried Pumpkin Puffs
Buñuelos de Calabaza

I made this with pureed butternut squash. The directions for making the puree follow the recipe. You could also use unsweetened canned pumpkin.

This recipe makes a soft, squishy yeast dough—more of a heavy batter than dough, really. The dough is formed into balls and a hole poked through them. They are then dropped into hot oil to fry until golden. To form them takes practice. My first two rounds were just misshapen puffs. It wasn’t until the third batch went into the hot oil that I managed to get my thumb through the dough to make a hole in the middle. 

It would be easier to have two people to make these—one with hands in the sticky dough, the other to turn the puffs and skim them out when golden. 

Another option: forget the doughnut hole. Use two spoons dipped in (cold) oil to scoop up a ball of dough and push it into the oil.

Moderate the heat as needed so the balls don’t brown too fast, otherwise the dough will not be fully cooked.

Serve the puffs at room temperature. They are best on the same day they are fried, but are pretty good the following day for dipping in hot chocolate.

Makes about 45 puffs.

1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar + more to sprinkle on the puffs
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
1 ½ cups unsweetened pumpkin or squash puree (see recipe below)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
3 ½ cups plain flour
Olive or sunflower oil for frying

In a small bowl combine the warm water, 1 teaspoon of sugar and yeast. Stir and allow the yeast to set 5 minutes until it becomes bubbly.

Put the pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and orange zest. Beat in the yeast water. Use a large wooden spoon to gradually stir in all the flour. Use spoon or hands to thoroughly mix the dough until very smooth. The dough will be loose, more like a heavy batter than like dough. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours until doubled in bulk. (Dough can be prepared a day in advance of frying the puffs. Refrigerate it without rising. Remove from fridge and allow to rise before forming and frying the puffs.)

Place oil in a deep skillet or pan to a depth of at least 2 inches. Place on medium-hot heat. Place a bowl of water (for dipping fingers) near the pan. Have ready a skewer and/or heat-proof skimmer for turning and removing the puffs. Place a sheet pan covered with paper towels close at hand. 

Squeeze out ball of dough.
With the left hand, scoop up a handful of dough. Squeeze the squishy dough in the fist, extruding a “bubble” of dough (about the size of a walnut) from between the thumb and forefinger. Dip the right hand in water and pinch off the ball of dough with the fingertips. Stick your thumb through the center of the ball. Let it stretch slightly as you (carefully) drop the dough into the hot oil. Continue forming the balls and dropping them into hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan.

Skim puffs out of oil when they are golden-brown.
When puffs are golden-brown on the bottom, use a skewer or skimmer to turn them. Remove them when browned on all sides and drain on paper towels. Regulate the heat so the puffs don’t brown too fast, or the dough will not be cooked all the way through. Continue frying puffs in batches until all the dough is used.

Sprinkle the warm puffs with sugar. 

Sprinkle sugar on warm puffs.

Squash Puree
Puré de Calabaza

Hard-skinned pumpkin and winter squash are difficult to pare. But it’s easy to strip off the skin once they are cooked. I sliced the butternut squash and cooked it quickly in the microwave. You could also cook it in a little water or roast in the oven. 

To make 1 ½ cups squash puree:
1 butternut squash (approx. 1 ¾ pounds)

Sliced squash is easy to peel after cooking.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and fibers. Cut the squash crosswise into 1 ½-inch slices. Place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on “high” for 5 minutes. Stir the slices to redistribute them. Microwave on high for 5 minutes more or until squash is very tender. 

Slice away peel.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, slice off and discard the skin. Drain any accumulated liquid. Mash the squash with a fork until smooth. It’s now ready to use in the puffs.

Only about a third of my buñuelos have holes! It takes some practice to poke a hole in the dough and drop it into the hot oil.

More recipes for fritters/buñuelos:

For dunking the buñuelos:

Also for dipping in drinking chocolate: Sweet and Crunchy Fried Bread.

Another recipe for San José day:

More about Valencian horchata.

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