Sunday, December 18, 2011

Que voltean solos

As I mentioned last week, December in Colombia involves some very specific foods that certain people around here are particularly nostalgic for. Once we had tackled the natilla, we figured, why not try buñuelos? Buñuelos are springy fried cheese-cornstarch balls. I know that sounds bizarre, we don't really have anything like them in the U.S. They are addictively sweet-salty (Felipe claims they are straight-up salty, but the recipe calls for sugar, so I disagree), and they are ever-present in Colombia this time of year.

Let me tell you, there are actually a good number of reasons for us not to try to make buñuelos. For example: 
1. Brazil doesn't have the kind of cheese that is normally used in buñuelos, which is key to their success.
2. People in Colombia normally use a box mix for buñuelos. Even Felipe's mom, who is known for her buñuelos, uses the box, meaning that it's hard to find a reliable recipe that doesn't start with "take the box mix and..."
3. Even with the box, buñuelos are known for being tricky to get right. 
4. I'm no expert at deep frying, and we tried to make buñuelos once in Colombia with the box and the right cheese, and they came out looking like cancer growths. 
Colombian grandmothers say it takes years of experience to get the heat just right-- too hot, and the perfect balls explode into weird hollow shapes; too cold, the buñuelos get oily, don't expand well, and develop an unpleasantly thick skin. You know the heat is right when the buñuelos begin to rotate by themselves. Colombians, when they are bullshitting around (per their usual) and trying to decide on what to do, have a saying, "Que hacemos, empanadas que es lo que mas se venden, o buñuelos que se voltean solos?" (What should we do, empanadas which sell the most, or buñuelos that turn over by themselves?) They also say, give me 10 buñuelos for 1,000 pesos (.50 cents) and let's call it breakfast along with a mug of cafe con leche, which is about when my American stomach takes a rain check and wanders off to look for an arepa and some fruit.

If this doesn't look like breakfast to you, you are clearly not Colombian.

Being American, I prefer to substitute years of experience with gadgets, and I would have used a thermometer if mine hadn't broken back in Colombia. We got lucky this time-- our front burner set on low was the perfect temperature, and the buñuelos did indeed voltean solos, at which time I proceeded to jump around the kitchen and yell mira amor mira! Felipe would claim that he was duly impressed, though I maintain that he was way too nonchalant. Then we ate almost the whole batch between the two of us. I'd say that I don't want any more for at least another year, but it's likely we'll make them later this week, too, and I will eat a good 5 or 10, along with an ungodly amount of latkes. Happy middle of December, guys.

3.5 oz. (100 g.) queso costeño, or other semi-hard, crumbly, salty cheese, finely grated (can be done in the food processor or with a microplane grater, which is what I used)
3.5 oz. (100 g.) cornstarch
1 scant tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tsp. tapioca starch
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 small egg (or use half a large one-- ~35 g.)
salt (if you aren't using queso costeño, which is so salty it's not eaten by itself, add a good pinch)
2-3 Tbsp. whole milk

Oil for frying, canola, sunflower or soy work just fine-- make sure you use fresh oil for these, buñuelos will suck up any off flavors or odors in used oil

Using your fingers, rub all the dry ingredients together with the cheese, then rub in the egg. Add the milk little by little until you have a smooth, pliable dough that you can form balls from. Taste for salt-- the mixture should have a notably salty taste. Roll balls 1 in. in diameter-- I find it easiest to pinch the dough into a more or less square shape, then roll it to smooth it out.
Heat a small pot with several inches of oil over medium heat. You need enough oil so that the buñuelos can float (and voltear solos).  If you have a thermometer, you want to get the oil to around 300-350F. Once the oil is hot, drop the buñuelos one at a time into the pot. You can fry quite a lot at once, but you need to give the oil a couple of seconds each time to come back to temperature after adding each buñuelo. They should slowly begin to expand, and if you have the heat right, turn over by themselves. Take them out with a slotted spatula when they are a nice golden brown, and transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Serve hot, or at room temperature, the same day. If you have any left over, know that they will be unpleasantly hard the next day; Colombians crumble them into their morning hot chocolate, a practice that I can't say I've taken to. Makes ~ 20 small buñuelos.

Buñuelos colombianos

100 g. de queso costeño, o queso semi-duro (en Brasil usamos queijo coalho), rallado fino
100 g. de Maizena (almidón de maíz)
1 cucharada pequeña de azúcar
1 1/2 cucharita de almidón de yuca
1 1/2 cucharita de polvo de hornear
1 huevo pequeño (~35 g., o usa la mitad de uno grande)
sal (si es otro queso que no sea costeño que es menos salado-- para el queijo coalho, eché 1/2 cucharita de sal)
2-3 cucharadas de leche entera

Aceite para fritar-- hay que usar aceite fresco para estos, los buñuelos cogerán cualquier mal olor o sabor de aceite usado 

Usando los dedos, amasa todos los ingredientes juntos con el queso, después echa el huevo y amasa para que esté distribuido uniformamente. Echa la leche de a poquitos hasta que tengas una masa suave de la cual puedes formar bolitas. Fijate que está bien de sal. Haz bolitas de 2.5 cm. de diametro-- a mi me parece más facil apretar la masa a un cubito y después rollarla entre las manos para darle más la forma redonda.
Calienta una ollita con 4-5 cm. de aceite a fuego medio. Necesitas suficiente aceite para que los buñuelos puedan flotar y voltear.  Si tienes un termometro, quieres que el aceite esté entre 150-180ºC.  Cuando el aceite esté caliente, echale los buñuelos uno por uno a la olla. Puedes fritar varios juntos, pero tienes que dar el aceite un par de segundos para subir de temperatura de nuevo después de echar cada bolita. Deberían empezar a crecer lentamente, y si el calor está bien, voltear solos. Cuando estén bien bronceaditos, sacalos con una espatula y colocalos sobre un plato con papel de cocina para absorber el aceite en exceso. Servilos caliente, o a temperatura ambiente. Si te sobran para el día siguiente, ten en cuenta que se ponen duros. Los colombianos típicamente echan los buñuelos que sobran al día siguiente en pedazos a su chocolate en el desayuno. Rinde ~ 20 buñuelos pequeños.

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