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Pristiños de Noche Buena
[Christmas Eve Crullers]

From The South American Table, by Maria Baez Kijac

On Christmas Eve, we look forward to big platters pristiños (crullers) and buñuelos (buns). These fitters are the classic Christmas dessert in Ecuador and many other South American countries. Similar fritters, called picarones in Peru and sopapillas in Chile, are made with yeast instead of baking powder, and the dough is mixed with pureed squash. In Ecuador, the dough also is sometimes made with pureed squash. Variations of this type of fritter can be found throughout South America under different names. It is a European import that went through various transformations, such as the addition of sweet potatoes, squash, or a syrup made with panela [molded brown sugar], depending on the region.

Miel de panela is a very popular syrup in the Andean countries and is served over various kinds of fritters.

Ingredients:

For the Fritters:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or vegetable shortening, softened, and cut into 4 pieces
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon anise liqueur, aguardiente, or rum
Canola oil for frying

For the Miel de Panela [Brown Sugar Syrup]:

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar or finely chopped panela
1/2 cup water
2 cloves
1 small cinnamon stick
2 strips lemon zest

Instructions:

For the Crullers:

1. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the eggs and liqueur and process until the dough forms a ball. (If preparing by hand, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the butter, eggs, and liqueur and knead until the dough forms bubbles.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

2. Roll the dough into a cylinder 2 inches in diameter, cut in half, and then cut each half into 8 pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each piece into a strip measuring about 2 x 6 inches. With scissors, on one side make about 4 diagonal cuts extending about halfway across the strip. Pinch the ends together to form a wreath.

3. In a large, deep frying pan or electric skillet, heat 1 inch of the oil to 360°F (180°C). Drop in 2 or 3 wreaths at a time and fry on both sides until golden, carefully swishing the oil with a large spoon over the wreaths. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

4. These crullers are best served right away with miel de panela. Otherwise, serve at room temperature.

For the Miel de Panela:

1. Place all the ingredients in a heavy 4-quart saucepan over low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture forms a thin syrup, about 10 minutes.

2. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve and serve hot. Or let cool and store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks. Reheat before serving.

Yield: Makes 16 crullers; makes about 1 cup of syrup



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