Peruvian Sweet Potato - Squash Fritters


Even though picarones are often referred to as a kind of donut, they are actually something quite different and unique Peruvian. Most probably developed from the Spanish buñuelos in Colonial times, African slaves created an addicting, delicious sweet by adding sweet potato and a local squash to the yeast dough. Today picarones are still quite often sold by street vendors. The deep fried picarones served with a cane syrup called chancaca are surely a must eat.

Preparing picarones at home isn't that difficult, but time consuming. Be assured when you finally have the freshly fried, still warm and crispy picarones drizzled with the sweet and somehow spicy syrup on a plate, you know all the time and effort you put into the preparation was worth every single minute.

The original recipe asks for chancaca syrup that might be difficult to find. Some Latin American food shops, even online, sell chancaca syrup. You can as well substitute it with molasses, muscovado syrup or honey.

LimaEasy's Recipe for Peruvian Picarones


Picarones Dough
  • 750 ml water
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 300 gr peeled sweet potato (original: camote amarillo) cut into cubes
  • 300 gr peeled squash or pumpkin (original: zapallo macre) cut into cubes
  • 240 ml water from cooking
  • 80 gr sugar
  • 3 tablespoon of active dry yeast (instant yeast works fine as well)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • pinch of salt
  • 500 gr all-purpose flour
  • rest of water from cooking
  • oil for frying
Picarones Syrup
  • 200 ml Chancaca syrup (Peruvian cane syrup) or molasses
  • 300 ml water
  • 200 gr brown sugar
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lime
  • 100 gr pineapple
  • 1 small banana
  • (fig leave or 1 fresh fig optional)
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • half a teaspoon anise seeds
  • pinch of nutmeg

Preparation of the Picarones Dough - Cooking Squash and Sweet Potatoes

Fill a large pot with the water and add cloves, cinnamon and anise. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the water. Place the sweet potatoes in a pot, cover generously with the reserved water and cook over medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes; then add the squash and continue to cook until both are very soft. Strain and reserve the cooking water (!). Let the cooking water cool to lukewarm. Mash the sweet potatoes and squash to a soft puree and let cool.

Preparation of the Picarones Dough - Prepare the Yeast

Combine the yeast with the sugar and dissolve the mixture in 240 ml of the reserved, lukewarm cooking water. Let rest for 15 minutes. The mixture will double or triple its size, so use a big enough bowl.

Preparation of the Picarones Dough

In a very large bowl combine the sweet potato-squash puree with the egg, egg yolk and salt. Then add the yeast mixture and blend very well with a wooden spoon. Incorporate the flour very well until you get a smooth and elastic dough (a little bit like the consistency of chewing gum). Traditionally this is done by hand with a wooden spoon and involves about 10 to15 minutes hard work until the dough is soft and stretchy. But you can use a mixer with a dough hook and will get the same result in about 5 minutes without too much hassle. If the dough is to dry (it should be still just slightly sticky), add a little bit of the reserved cooking water, if it's too soft and extremely sticky add more flour. Cover with a wet, warm kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours until doubled or even tripled in size.

Preparation of the Syrup for Picarones

While the dough is resting, there is time to prepare the syrup or honey for the picarones. With an orange or vegetable peeler remove 3 slices of peel from the orange and 2 slices of peel from the lime. Then juice the orange and lime. Place Chancaca syrup or molasses into a saucepan and add the water, the brown sugar, the orange and lime juice as well as the zests, the sliced pineapple, the small banana cut into 3 chunks, the cloves, cinnamon, anise and a pinch of nutmeg. If you have, add a fig leave or a fresh fig. Bring to a boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then let simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens slightly. The Picarones syrup should have the consistency of a thin pancake syrup. Strain and let cool.

Preparation of the Picarones - Some advice

As soon the dough is ready, heat a decent amount of oil for frying the picarones. Be aware that even when everybody tells you the dough isn't sticky, it is. And while it looks so simple to form the picarones, especially for beginners this step might be a bit of a messy issue. As skill comes with practice, go for it. And while your first picarones might not look perfect (by the way mine never do), they will still taste great.

Preparation of Picarones - Let's get started with Frying

So let's get started. To make it easier have a bowl of salted water at hand (just take a cup of water and add 2 tablespoons of salt). Wet both your hands in the salted water and take a good golf ball sized portion of the dough with one hand. Then stretch the dough making a hole in the middle with your thumb(s) to form a ring shaped picaron. Quickly put it in the hot oil and fry from both sides until golden brown. As soon the picarones are cooked, remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels. Repeat the process until all dough is used. You can keep picarones warm in preheated oven while finishing your task.

In case you can't manage forming picarones and are about to give up (which really would be a shame after you put so much time and work into it), you can as well fill the dough in a piping bag and pipe rings directly into the heated oil.

Serve the picarones still warm drizzled with lots of syrup.

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