Pumpkin fritters: how to make authentic Valencian buñuelos
Las Fallas, the great festival of the city and Province of Valencia, and also celebrated by many towns of the Valencian Community, is synonymous with gunpowder and a festival atmosphere. It is also known for its deeply-rooted gastronomic tradition which goes back to no less than the 19th century: pumpkin buñuelos.
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The origin of this traditional Valencian sweet began with the Fallas, when the carpenters’ union of Valencia was given permission by the local government to bring their surplus wood out onto the streets in order to burn it on bonfires. This was the starting point of the current Fallas, which are so well known the world over and, from 2017, included on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Large metal drums would be place right next to the bonfires. These would act as stoves in which the wood from the bonfire would be used to heat oil in which to fry the delicious fritters for the people to eat while the fires were burning. That is exactly where the first ‘buñoleras’ (a person who is an expert in making buñuelos) came from.
Today, buñuelos are still made in the street although, for many years, the steel drums have been replaced by gas cookers, and the anis or firewater that accompanied the buñuelos has been replaced with a rich hot chocolate.
How to make pumpkin fritters (buñuelos): the recipe
The buñuelo recipe has been passed from one generation to the next since the 19th century to the present day. They are still made in the same way today, although as is commonly said, ‘each master cook has their own recipe’. With such simple ingredients as pumpkin, yeast, flour, water and salt, you can make fritters which are crisp to the bite on the outside, yet soft and spongy on the inside.
Ingredients for 8 – 10 fritters
• 250 g pumpkin, boiled
• 125 g of baking flour
• Pumpkin stock
• 5 g of fresh yeast
• Olive or sunflower oil
• Cut the pumpkin into pieces and boil until soft. When soft, remove it from pan and rinse in cold water, then remove the skin. Reserve the water from boiling the pumpkin.
• Place the pumpkin in a bowl and mash with a fork until it is manageable. Add a little flour, a little stock and crumble in the fresh yeast, mixing everything well. When everything is well mixed, add the rest of the flour and slowly add the pumpkin stock until you have a mixture which is neither runny nor thick. Cover it with transparent film and leave it to double in size for approximately half an hour.
• Heat the oil in a deep-sided frying pan on a medium heat. Wet your hands in water and take a little of the mixture and shape it by making a hole in the middle. Let it drop into the frying pan and fry it for 1 to 1.5 minutes, turning it once halfway through cooking.
• Lift out the fritter and place it on a plate on kitchen paper so it absorbs some of the surplus oil.
• Once the fritters have been fried, you can eat them sprinkled with sugar and accompanied by a good quality hot chocolate.
Traditionally, a buñuelo is round in shape with a hole in the middle. They are made by hand by taking a ball of the mixture and putting your index finger through the centre before you let the fritter drop into the very hot oil. For those less skilled in cooking, you can now buy a type of spoon called a ‘buñolera’, which is rounded in shape like a buñuelo and helps you to create and fry them perfectly.
Experts say that the secret of the buñuelo lies in the quality of the ingredients, particularly the wheat flour, as well as how the mixture is worked and allowed to rest. Of course, the time that the fritter is fried in the oil is also important, and we recommend not frying them for any longer than a minute to a minute and a half.
You could also substitute the boiled pumpkin for roasted pumpkin. If you do this, you won’t have any stock, so you would need to use warm water instead.