Saturday, April 27, 2019


As I was rolling out matzo balls earlier this week, it occurred to me that, if they were cooked in caramel syrup instead of chicken soup, they might be rellenos dulces, a dessert typical for this time of year in La Mancha (central Spain). 

The rellenos are balls or blobs, sort of like dumplings, made with stale bread—definitely not allowed during the Passover holiday. But they can also be made of ground crumbs, much like matzo meal. Many small La Mancha towns have a repertory of foods—especially sweets—that derive from their Jewish heritage. So, it’s not so far-fetched to make the comparison. In any case, Passover ends at nightfall today, so these dumplings in caramel syrup can be enjoyed by all.

Dumplings made of bread crumbs are first fried, then poached in caramel syrup with cinnamon.

What makes rellenos different from most dumplings is that they are fried in olive oil before being poached. Because they are sweet, not savory, the poaching medium is caramel syrup inflected with cinnamon and orange zest.

In La Mancha, the rellenos are served as dessert. But, their similarity to French toast might make you happy to serve them at breakfast, as well.

This is the sort of homespun dessert that children love. And, it's a great way to use up stale bread.

To serve, sprinkle the dumplings in syrup with pine nuts. Add any fresh fruit.

Dumplings soak up the caramel syrup and become spongy-soft.

Sweet Dumplings in Caramel Syrup
Rellenos Dulces

Use a heavy pot to make the caramel syrup, preferably one with a light-colored surface so you can tell when the sugar becomes caramel-brown in color.

Add hot water to the melted and caramelized sugar very carefully, as it will splutter and foam.

Serve the dumplings chilled, spooning some of the syrup over them. A sprinkling of pine nuts or slivered almonds is typical. Ice cream, whipped cream or—my preference—unsweetened Greek yogurt—makes a lovely accompaniment.

Dumplings start with bread crumbs.
Makes about 20 dumplings.

For the bread dumplings:
10 ounces day-old bread (5-6 thick slices)
¼ teaspoon saffron, crushed (optional)
3 tablespoons hot water
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
Olive oil for frying

For the caramel syrup:
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
4 cups hot water
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick

To serve the dumplings:
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Sliced oranges or other fruit to garnish
Whipped cream, ice cream or Greek yogurt to serve

Remove and discard crusts from the bread. Break into pieces and put in a food processor. Process to make coarse crumbs (3 ½ -4 cups). Put them in a mixing bowl.

Saffron for a golden touch.

If using saffron, dissolve it in the 3 tablespoons hot water. Dribble over the bread crumbs with the salt and mix. Add eggs, one by one. Stir to combine very well. Chill the mixture at least 30 minutes. 

Place oil in a deep skillet to a depth of 1 inch and heat on medium-high. Scoop up dough with a tablespoon. Use a second spoon to smooth the dough into an oval shape and slide it into the hot oil.  Continue shaping and frying dumplings, turning them once. When dumplings are golden-brown, remove them.  (Dumplings can be fried up to a day before finishing them in the syrup.)

Fry spoonfuls of the dough in oil.

Dumplings can be made in advance, simmered in the syrup later. They don't need to be crisp.

Sugar melts and gradually turns caramel-brown.

To make the syrup, combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a heavy pan large enough to hold all the dumplings. Cook the sugar on a medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely melted and turns an even golden-brown color. 

Remove the pan from the heat. Gradually add the 4 cups of hot water. The molten sugar will sputter and foam at first. Return the pan to the heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved in the water. Add the orange blossom water, if using, the strips of orange and lemon zest and the cinnamon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let the syrup bubble gently, uncovered, until reduced, about 20 minutes. Skim out and discard the zest and cinnamon.

After frying, the dumplings are poached in caramel syrup.

Add the fried dumplings to the syrup. Bring again to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer them 15 minutes. Let the dumplings cool in the syrup, then chill them before serving.

Serve dumplings and syrup sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. Garnish as desired with sliced oranges or other fruit. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream or yogurt if you like.

Puffy dumplings in sweet syrup go nicely with a spoonful of unsweetened yogurt.

Recipes for savory dumplings (rellenos):

More desserts made with bread:


  1. I love torrijas and "leche frita" (fried thick and sweet bechamel sauce), so I am sure I would love this as well. Nice photos!

    1. MarĂ­aLuisa: Me too--I love those old-fashioned, home-style desserts. Glad you like the photos.