Why This Recipe Works
- Leavening the fritters with baking powder ensures a light, crisp texture.
- For extra flavor, a syrup infused with cinnamon and anise may be drizzled over the fritters or used to soak them.
Recipes with heritage—with a story behind them—are the ones that most have a hold on me. A simple cake with canned fruit, a rustic stew cobbled together with leftover root vegetables, a wholesome porridge stirred attentively by hand—these humble foods are worthy of a king's table if they are presented on a finely woven cloth of tradition.
Buñuelos de rodilla are just such a recipe. These "knee fritters" are named that way because the flat disks of translucent dough are shaped upon the knees of women. Imagine spending a whole day carefully stretching hundred of buñuelos, crafting them so they fry up crisp, golden, and airy. The picture of this scene is wondrous and really illustrates how even the humblest foods are treated with respect and affection.
While buñuelos de rodilla can be found year-round in some areas of México, they are often served as a Christmas treat, either acaramelizados (crisp) or garritos (soaked in a simple syrup) during supper on nochebuena (Christmas Eve). Atole blanco (a warm corn-based beverage), hot chocolate, or champurrado (a corn masa-based hot chocolate) are common accompaniments.
Buñuelo dough is simple, but the process is labor intensive, even when one replaces hand stretching over a bended knee with a rolling pin. A mixture of flour, lard, and eggs is moistened with anise liqueur-scented sugar water (once upon a time, this water was infused with tomatillo husks, which provided a leavening agent—today many recipes rely on chemical leaveners) then kneaded for up to 15 minutes. After a resting period, the dough is shaped into wafer-thin rounds and allowed to rest once again. This second rest dries out the dough and guarantees a crisp buñuelo.
This recipe was cross-tested in 2023 and updated with more accurate measurements and timing to guarantee best results.
Buñuelos de Rodilla (Mexican Christmas Fritters) Recipe
Served unadorned and crispy or soaked in a cinnamon-anise syrup, these thin, golden fritters are worth the effort.
For the Buñuelos:
3/4 cup water (6 ounces; 180ml)
1 1/2 tablespoons (22g) granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (11ml) aniseed liqueur (optional)
3 cups all-purpose flour (13.5 ounces; 390g), sifted twice
1 tablespoon (15g) baking powder
1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
1/2 cup lard or unsalted butter (4 ounces; 113g), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
2 large room temperature eggs, beaten
8 cups (1.9L) vegetable or other neutral oil
For the Syrup:
Four 1-ounce (113g) cones piloncillo (see notes)
1/2 cup (120ml) water
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon (10g) anise seeds or 3 star anise pods
For the Buñuelos: In a small saucepan, bring water, sugar, and liqueur (if using) to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together sifted flour, baking powder, and salt. Using fingertips, rub lard or butter into the flour mixture until mixture is crumbly. Work eggs in with fingertips until fully incorporated. Gradually stir in the warm sugar water with a silicone spatula until a cohesive dough comes together. Knead dough with stand mixer fitted with hook attachment until smooth, 10 to 15 minutes (dough will be slightly sticky). Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature until slightly puffed, about 1 hour.
Cover a clean, dry work surface with several clean kitchen towels. On a separate clean, dry work surface, shape dough into a 6-inch square, about 1-inch thick. Divide dough into 1-inch pieces (36 total). Roll each one into a ball. Using a rolling pin (dough should be smooth but not sticky—flouring the work surface is not necessary), roll each ball into a 6- to 7-inch diameter circle (each buñuelo should be thin enough to be translucent). Arrange dough circles in an even layer on the towel-lined surface and let rest, uncovered, until dry and papery to touch, about 45 minutes. Flip circles over and allow to dry an additional 45 minutes.
Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with 2 layers of paper towels. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet with high sides over medium-high heat until temperature registers 350°F (177°C); oil should be 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep.
Working 2 or 3 at a time, fry buñuelos until golden on one side, 30 to 60 seconds. Turn over with tongs, and fry until opposite side is golden, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer to prepared baking sheets and repeat with remaining dough, adjusting heat as necessary to maintain temperature.
For the Syrup: Bring piloncillo (or brown sugar or granulated sugar), water, cinnamon stick, and anise seeds or star anise to a boil over medium-high heat in a medium-heavy heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring often until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 7 minutes. Strain syrup through a fine mesh sieve set over a heat-safe measuring cup, discard solids, and drizzle over buñuelos or serve alongside.
Transfer to prepared trays and repeat with remaining dough.
For the Syrup: Combine piloncillo, brown sugar, or sugar, water, cinnamon, and aniseeds to boil over medium-high heat in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture is syrupy, 5 to 7 minutes. Strain syrup, discard solids, and drizzle over buñuelos or serve alongside.
Rolling pin, several kitchen towels, Dutch oven or large skillet with high sides, tongs, 2 baking sheets, paper towels, large heavy-bottomed saucepan, deep-fry thermometer, strainer
If you can’t find piloncillo, you can substitute with 1 cup dark brown sugar (6.5 ounces; 186g) or 1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces; 200g).
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 103g||133%|
|Saturated Fat 10g||48%|
|Total Carbohydrate 24g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|