Loukoumades with honey and cinnamon… And maybe some crushed walnuts on top… Simply delicious! These Greek fried dough treats will make our lives a bit sweeter in these though times. Let’s stay home, watch a nice movie, read a good book, cook a warm comfort food, and something sweet maybe too…
It’s also a chance to read some things about our favourite desserts! So, in our new sweet and fragrant article we will learn the history of Greek loukoumades, various fried dough variations from around the world and the history of their good friend, cinnamon. And as always we will accompany our new knowledge with making our own batch of loukoumades!
In a brochure of the Loukoumades and Pancakes Feast in Archipoli, Rhodes in 2017 -where we’d love to go!- we read that loukoumades with honey were offered to the winners of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. They are first mentioned by Callimachus, which consists the oldest reference to a dessert in Europe!
In an article of History magazine we read that cinnamon has been possibly used in Egypt since 2000 BC, as a perfume during the embalming process. Also, it is mentioned in the Old Testament as an ingredient in the anointing oil. During Middle Ages, cinnamon was imported to Europe by Arabs, in small quantities and at a very expensive price. Therefore it was considered a status symbol for the aristocracy. It was also very much desired by the middle classes, as it was used as a meat preservative.
When did cinnamon meet our Greek loukouma though? In the book Tastes of Byzantium: The cuisine of a legendary empire (2010) by Andrew Dalby we read that in the 9th century two kinds of cinnamon were being imported to Constantinople, Ceylon cinnamon and Chinese cassia. The first mention of Ceylon cinnamon, “the best kind of cinnamon”, is probably the one in Symeon Syth’s text about dietary habits of the 11th century. Ceylon cinnamon, along with other delicacies, was coming to Constantinople from Mosul, a town in Middle East (Iraq) and was being imported by Arab traders. In fact, it originated from much further than Mosul, but the Byzantines didn’t know that at the time.
According to History magazine, the Arabs kept their secret about the origin of cinnamon well hidden, in order to maintain their monopoly and keep the prices high. They would narrate stories about the ways they obtained the valuable spice. According to ne of those stories, related to the Greek historian of the 5th century Herodotus, giant birds used to carry cinnamon sticks to their nests up high on mountains unsurmountables to humans. People would leave ox meat for the birds, so that when the birds carried them to their nests, they would fall because of the weight. This way the cinnamon sticks would fall to the ground.
In order to meet the huge demand, European explorers travelled to faraway places to find cinnamon. Columbus thought he had found it in America, but he was wrong. In 1518 the Portuguese spotted the desired spice in Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka, and conquered the island for over a century. The monopoly passed to the Dutch when they took over the island from the Portuguese in 1638. In 1784, after the British victory in the Anglo-Dutch war, the island and the monopoly changed hands once again. However, by the beginning of the 19th century cinnamon had stopped being so expensive and desired, as it had begun being cultivated in other parts of the world too.
And somehow like that cinnamon ended up being an everyday ingredient in our kitchen. Together with honey it goes great with Greek loukoumades! Fried dough is so delicious, that it is loved in many other countries of the world too. How much do other fried sweets resemble our loukoumades? Let’s see their various forms and flavors!
Although the idea was probably brought to the New World by European immigrants, the Americans have made doughnuts their trademark. Fried dough, ring-shaped with glaze or round-shaped with a filling, we all know them, needless to say!
Fried dough, usually in a rectangular shape, dusted with powdered sugar. In another version the dough is round, filled with jam. Those kind of beignets, as we read in The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer, used to be made by French bakers only on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). And, how else could it be, the authentic beignets are made with butter. Beignets are also found in New Orleans’ cuisine, brought by French colonists of the 18th century.
Soft and sweet, round, fried dough, filled with pastry cream, chocolate, praline paste or jam and dusted with powdered sugar. There are many variations depending on the region. For example, in Tuscany -where, as we read, they originated from- and norther, bomboloni have no filling, just a coating of powdered sugar. In some places the dough contains eggs, while in other places it doesn’t. They are traditionally made during Carnival, but nowadays one can find them all year long.
Germany: Berliner Pfannkuchen
Sweet fried dough, a traditional German sweet, prepared especially during Carnival. As we learned, they are known as Pfannkuchen in Berlin, Kreppel in Essen, Krapfen in West Germany and Berliner everywhere else. They are usually filled with jam, but also vanilla cream, chocolate, even eggnog.
The legend says that they were created in 1756 by a Berliner baker. When he got declared incapable of military service but was allowed to serve as a baker, he made these sweets to express his gratitude. He gave them a spherical shape to resemble cannon balls and because of the lack of an oven, he fried them in trays with fat, on an open fire.
Fluffy fried dough, filled with jam before or after frying, and sometimes glazed. They are traditionally made in Poland during Carnival season and specifically on Fat Tuesday.
One of their differences with other countries’ fried doughs is that their dough is richer, as it contains eggs, butter, sugar and sometimes milk, as well as some alcohol which helps so that they don’t absorb too much oil. We learned that the trademark of correctly made pączki is the bright ring in the middle, which shows that the dough has been properly leavened and is light and fluffy. If so, when fried, the dough goes up and floats on the oil’s surface.
The Netherlands: Oliebollen
Traditional Oliebollen (which means oil balls) are said to be the precursor to American doughnuts. We read that they are usually consumed on New Year’s Eve, but we can find them also on November and December at street stands, as well as all year long at fairs. They are made with plain fried dough or with raisins and apple. Also, they can be flavored with lemon zest and candied cherries or filled -after baking- with whipped cream, pastry cream or jam.
Munkki are traditional Finnish sweets made with fried, buttery dough flavored with cardamom, a difference from other countries’ fried doughs we have seen. They come in a round shape with a fruity filling or in a ring shape dipped in fine sugar.
We learned that their name means monks and that there are various theories on its origin. Some claim that the round shape resembles the characteristic hair style of the monks or their brown clothing. Another explanation says that Munkki were originally prepared by monks during Lent. Today they are made for celebrating May Day.
Spain, Portugal, Mexico: Churros
And now a different fried dough, the beloved churros of Spain, Portugal and Mexico. They are made with choux pastry (pâte à choux), coated with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and accompanied with chocolate sauce.
Looking for their history, we learned that they come from Spain, but for the rest, various stories exist. Some historians relate them to Chinese youtiao (you will see them later), claiming that Portuguese explorers brought them to Iberia, and the Spanish gave them the star-shaped look. Others say that churros have been invented by Spanish shepards and that they took their name from the horns of the Churra sheep. In the 16th century Spanish colonists took churros to South America and brought back to Spain cocoa. This way their chocolate accompaniment was born.
Portugal, Brazil: Bolinhos de chuva
Small fried balls one will find in Portugal and Brazil. They are prepared with flour, milk, eggs and baking powder or baking soda, in contrast to other fried doughs we saw, which are leavened with yeast. They are served dusted with sugar and cinnamon.
Their name means “rain cookies”. Weird? The myth says that on a rainy day, some kids were sad because they couldn’t play in the yard. Their mother wanted to cheer them up and so she made fried cookies, covered them in sugar and cinnamon, and named them “rain cookies”. Another theory is that their name is due to the raindrop shape they gain when they fall into hot oil.
A quite different sweet from India, fried dough in a spiral shape that is served on celebrations, weddings and special occasions. Also, they are a beloved street food in India. We read that they are made with flour and sugar syrup, and are traditionally served with milk or Rabri, a cream of boiled condensed milk. To make their spiral shape, Indians place the dough into a cloth with a hole and squeeze it to fall into hot oil.
Chinese fried, long sticks made with light, airy fried dough. They are traditionally eaten for breakfast and sold at street stands and restaurants.
According to mythology, we read that youtiao, which in Cantonese means “fried devil” were made as an act of revolt against the politician of the 11-12th century Qin Hui, who is considered a traitor in China. Their initial shape was two sticks joined in the middle, depicting Qin Hui and his wife, as they both conspired with the enemy.
Fried sweets eaten during the Jewish Hanukkah celebration. They are usually filled with fruit jelly or jam. According to Tori Avey, sufganiyot originate from a German dessert of the 15th century, two round pieces of bread with jam in the middle, fried in lard. The recipe spread through Europe and the Jewish adapted it by using chicken or goose fat to substitute lard, which is not kosher.
South Africa: Koeksister
Traditional South-African sweets with a characteristic and original braided shape. They are made with fried dough moistened in sugar syrup or honey and scented with cinnamon, lemon and ginger. They are very popular in South Africa, where they are lately sold in supermarkets too.
Their name comes from the Dutch word “koekje” that means cookie. Looking for their history, we found that they are the combination of two different recipes Dutch colonists brought in the 17th century. The first recipe was for a fried treat similar to a doughnut. The second was for a thin dessert made with pasta dough, shaped like a bowtie. At a moment someone thought of combining the two recipes, using the doughnut dough, but braiding it and the result was a great success!
Deep fried goodies and sweet stories don’t end here… We just tried to take a sweet taste of the various corners of the world, even just through short stories and photos. Greek loukoumades are some of the best fried doughs and therefore we will make a big batch and enjoy it with honey and cinnamon, in the traditional way!
Traditional loukoumades with honey and cinnamon
Ingredients for the loukoumades
|Self-raising flour||500 gr|
|Instant dry yeast||9 gr|
|Lukewarm water||2 cups|
|Caramel extract (optional)||4-5 drops|
How to make loukoumades
Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the dry yeast and honey. The yeast needs some sweetness to grow well! Gradually add lukewarm water, stirring constantly with a hand whisk. Finally, add the caramel extract (or vanilla or vanillin powder if you don’t have vanilla extract) and the vinegar. The texture of the mixture must be quite thick, like a cake batter.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place of your house for 45-60 minutes.
A little secret!
To create a warm environment with some humidity, so that the yeast grows better and the dough rises nicely, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a turned off oven together with a cup of boiling water. The vapor from the boiling water will create humidity in the closed environment of the oven and the dough will rise quicker!
As soon as the dough has risen in volume, has bubbles on the surface and trembles when you shake the bowl, it is ready. Heat some vegetable oil in a saucepan or in a deep fryer if you have one. There are more traditional ways to make the loukoumades’ shape, but we find it easier to fill a piping bag with the dough and press it into the hot oil.
Fry your loukoumades for some minutes until they gain a golden colour, stirring them every now and then so that they fry evenly. Take them out with a slotted spoon and place them on some kitchen paper to strain. Finally, dust them with cinnamon and soak with lots of honey. Yummy!
So, enjoy your loukoumades! Let’s stay home, make some goodies and be patient… The sun always shines after the storm!
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