I’m going to provide you with one of my favorite childhood comfort foods: honey doughnut-holes (loukoumades). In this version, these melt-in-your-mouth-morsels are dressed up to new sweet and savory heights, allowing you to make them the dazzling focal point of an appetizer spread or to conclude the meal on a dessert high note.
Doughnuts are made with yeast or baking powder/soda. Bakers refer to the latter as cake doughnuts. The traditional Greek type uses yeast. The ingredient list for loukoumades is fairly consistent across regions in Greece, baring variations in spices and the use or not of feta cheese.
As mentioned in this page’s intro, Greek immigrants often switch up the old country’s recipes. When making loukoumades, they’ll usually employ a higher ratio of flour to water, as much as 1:1 as opposed to the original 1:0.5 ratio. It results in a lighter doughnut, which perhaps reflects a “British” approach to this pastry.
I’ve adapted a recipe by Greek-Australian Kathy Tsaples from her wonderful Sweet Greek Life cookbook. Kathy makes these doughnuts downright airy by using sparkling spring water and cuts back the preparation time by switching over to baking powder from yeast. No more sitting around for an hour waiting for the dough to rise with these Greek “cake” doughnuts!
This recipe will take you less than twenty minutes cooking time from start to finish. Like the best rustic cuisine, they’re inexpensive, simple to make, and simply spectacular. I actually had to make two final batches, since I ate the first one before photographing them!
Ingredients (makes around twelve doughnut-holes)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour; 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1/8 tsp salt; 1/2 tsp anise seed*; 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese*; 1/2 cup cold sparkling water; 1/2 cup chopped fresh figs (cut into pieces about the same size as the crumbled feta)*; honey*; vegetable oil for frying
I encourage you to change this recipe to suit your own taste. Cooking shouldn’t be fascist, so feel free to experiment. That’s how great new dishes are created! Here’s a few suggestions to get you started.
For grown-ups only: ouzo is a Greek anise-flavored aperitif. Adding a bit to your honey will complement the doughnuts’ anise spice, lifting them into the stratosphere of culinary delights! If you’d like to give this a try, warm the honey to a thinner consistency and stir in the ouzo.
Alternatively, if you want to make these doughnuts more savory than sweet, drizzle them with balsamic or pomegranate reduction sauce.
While we’re on the subject of spices, perhaps licorice-flavored anise isn’t to your taste? Use another spice more to your liking: pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg . . . (you get the idea).
Or go old school and eliminate the figs, using just feta cheese, one cup of it, to be precise. More of a ricotta cheese sort of person? Switch out the cheeses and be sure to incorporate a spice that complements the milder flavor of ricotta.
Finally, I’m using Greek flavors, hence the figs. Your food, your choice of fruit.
1.Turn a stove top’s element to medium-high and heat about two inches of oil in a deep saucepan (for safety reasons, the oil shouldn’t be higher than the pan’s mid-point). This will take a few minutes to warm to a suitable 375 degrees Fahrenheit, giving you ample time to make the doughnut batter.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and anise seed.
3. Add the feta cheese and gently toss the crumbs in the flour mix.
4. Pour in the water and stir with a spoon.
5. Taking care not to mash the fruit or cheese, incorporate the fresh fig pieces.
6. The batter should be thick but still fall off the spoon easily (you might need to push it all off using another spoon). Too thin? Add more flour. Too thick? A bit more water should make it just right.
7. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, test the oil with a drop of batter. When it sizzles, you’re good to go! Drop in walnut-sized amounts. They’ll end up different shapes, which increases their rustic charm.
You’ll have to turn over the doughnuts to ensure even cooking. When a doughnut is a golden brown color on all sides (that takes a minute or two), remove it using a slotted spoon, placing it on paper towels to drain.
Make sure the frying oil doesn’t get too hot. If that happens, the doughnut’s interior won’t cook, even as their exterior burns. For this reason, I usually reduce the element heat to slightly below medium-high right after putting in the second batch. But don’t turn it down too low: your doughnuts then will take a long time to cook and absorb a lot of oil in the process, becoming a greasy mess.
8. All done? Now, you’ve reached the best stage in cooking–eating! Have them plain or drizzle with the sauce of your choice.
These doughnuts are best served warm. Have company coming and want to make them in advance? Keep them nice and toasty in an oven heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit or heat them up when your guests arrive (never with a microwave, mind–they’ll turn mushy).
Stack the doughnuts in a triangle-shape and drizzle with honey or sauce for a sensational focal point on the table.
Live like a Greek and make mezes (appetizers) the entire meal. It’s a fabulous, easy way to entertain, too. Serve loukoumades alongside dishes with complementary flavors. I suggest Greek olives sprinkled with lemon zest. Include some sort of Greek cheese garnished with Cretan balsamic vinegar (it has a lovely sweet, spicy taste) and pomegranate seeds. A dish of toasted walnut pieces wouldn’t go amiss in this Greek-inspired grouping. Roast the nuts in the oven with a bit of olive oil and your preferred spices. I like them with cinnamon, a tiny bit of sugar, and chili or paprika.
What to drink with this feast fit for the gods? Greek sparkling rosé wine, of course. Like all Greek wines, it’s still vastly underpriced compared to similar excellent wines from other countries.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. I’m especially interested in learning about your recipe tweaks. Let’s share the doughnut comfort love!