Of all the dessert recipes I’ve made and consumed over the years, many stand out for their deliciousness and for the many requests over holidays, gatherings, and birthdays. But these days, since a large number of my "boomer" friends and family need to watch what they eat (and not just from plate to fork), I’ve had to find ways to adapt them for a variety of dietary concerns. My father, for instance, was diabetic; my brother-in-law doesn’t eat dairy; another has developed allergies to a gazillion foods; and I have cholesterol issues and need to avoid salt for my blood pressure. While almost anything in moderation can't be too bad, sometimes it’s not possible or even desirable to avoid the urge to splurge.
Take the Romanian delicacy, papanasi (pronounced pop-a-nosh). I tasted it for the first (second and third) time while visiting Romania in 2000. From Bucharest, my friend and I traveled to scenic Transylvania to the mountain resort of Sinaia and to the medieval city of Brasov, where I had the equivalent of gastric euphoria after sampling what my kids (and many others) have come to refer to as Romanian jelly donuts. They used rose petal jam in the restaurant, which was heavenly. My friend and I split a serving, consisting of two of those darlings.
Because they are fried in oil, papanasi is perfect for Hanukkah, along with latkes (yum), and other artery-choking, heart-stopping delights. Papanasi are lighter in texture than donuts and distinctive due to the soft cheese that is an integral ingredient in the dough.
I wish to thank my dear friend (and moose enthusiast), Professor Liliana Popescu, for sending me this recipe back in July 2001, which I have used on more than one occasion for our Festival of Lights celebration feast.
By the way, papanasi, or dumpling, can be prepared and cooked in a number of ways for a number of purposes (think of shrimp a la "Bubba" Buford from “Forest Gump”). The following recipe is as close to the papanasi I remember from my trip. Most of the online recipes nowadays feature an actual donut shape, topped with a munchkin. (The comments in parentheses are mine.)
Papanasi cu branza de vaci
(Fried dumplings with “Cow Cheese”)
makes four large “donuts” or eight small ones
400 g. soft cheese such as farmer cheese (make sure it’s Breakstone), cottage cheese, ricotta
500 g. flour
250 g. sugar (use your judgement; sugar probably is not necessary)
Zest of one lemon
½ tsp. rum extract
Oil for frying
1 Tbs. confectioners sugar
Jam or preserves
Sour cream or crème fraiche
- Mix all ingredients (except the oil, jam, powdered sugar) until the batter is the consistency of a sticky dough.
- Mould the papanasi into balls (the ones in the Brasov restaurant must have been nearly tennis ball-size)
- Fry in hot oil until golden (best done submersed until they rise, or turned frequently).
- Dry on paper towels
- While still warm use a spoon to pierce the papanisi to create an opening for the jam or preserves
- Fill with your choice of jam or preserves
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with sour cream or crème fraiche
Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, "The Serpent’s Tooth" trilogy: Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the Devil, The Partisan’s Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her BWL Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from a host of online and brick and mortar retailers. Look for Where the River Narrows (wriiten with BWL author Ron Crouch), the 12th and final novel in BWL’s Canadian Historical Brides series, coming in July 2018.