I would like to introduce a classic dessert that is near and dear to my heart, picarones.
As a kid, my family and I used to go to the street vendors to eat these delicious morsels as a Sunday treat. Finally, after many years living in the United States and two Peruvian superfood cookbooks, I decided to make picarones at home. A fried dough that belongs to the doughnut family, picarones are anise-sweetened, deep fried pastries from Peru. Although they are deep fried, these bad-boys are made with pumpkin and sweet potato. How can you say no to that?
The best part of the picarones ingredients, pumpkin and sweet potatoes, is that they offer an array of nutrients like iron, and calcium, but specifically vitamin A and vitamin C. They also offer health benefits from their phytonutrient, beta carotene, with its antioxidant power to immune-boosting strength.
In Peru, the word picaron actually refers to someone as a ‘flirt’ or ‘tease,’ and rightfully so since these doughnut shaped treats will tease your taste buds. When living in Peru, picarones are a must-have dessert that everyone enjoys.
Servings: 12 (three 60 gm picarones each)
1. Peel and cut the sweet potato into ½ inch cubes. If you are not using canned pumpkin puree, cut and peel the pumpkin as you would the sweet potato. Place in a pot and fill it up with cold water. Add the anise seeds, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until sweet potato is cooked through.
2. Drain sweet potato and discard the cinnamon and cloves. Leave the anise seeds and make sure to save the cooking water.
3. Once cooled, mash up the sweet potato and pumpkin to remove any lumps. Use a handheld mixer to ensure smooth consistency.
4. Add the sugar and yeast into the puree and mix it around.
5. Add about 1/3 of the flour into the mixture and fold in the batter with your hand. Add about ¼ cup of the cooking liquid to help incorporate the flour. Alternate these two steps until you have used all the flour and the dough does not stick to your hands. You may not use all the liquid that was set aside.
6. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 2 hours. The dough needs this time to rise.
7. Once the dough is ready, heat up 4-6 cups of oil in a deep frying pan at high heat, then reduce to medium heat. Set up the 2 cups of water in a medium sized bowl. This will be used to dip your hands in before handling the dough.
8. To make the picarone, wet your hands with water so that the dough does not stick to your fingers. Grab about 2 ounces of the dough and pierce a hole in the middle. This will create a doughnut shape. Be sure to shape the sides a little. Place in the oil and fry for about 4 minutes on each side. Serve with chancaca sauce (recipe after video).
You can also watch my video to visualize the steps better:
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine all of the ingredients with water to cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the syrup begins to thicken. It should have the texture of maple syrup.
2. Strain and discard the spices and peel. Cool to room temperature before serving.
As I always say, one of the main ingredients needed for any recipe is love, and this one for sure is going to need love and patience (and a bit of skill). Making this recipe takes time, but it is well worth the wait. All my friends who have tried picarones have come to love and enjoy the flavors, and keep coming back for more.
Cover photo: Manuel Villacorta
This article has been edited and updated since its original publication in 2015.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, including Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes; and his latest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.