Buñuelos de Rodilla (Mexican Christmas Fritters) Recipe

Served unadorned and crispy or soaked in a cinnamon-anise syrup, these thin, golden fritters are worth the effort.

Close-up of a stack of buñuelos de rodilla, which have been liberally drizzled with a cinnamon-anise syrup.

Serious Eats / Kristin Teig

Why It Works

  • Leavening the fritters with baking powder ensures a light, crisp texture.
  • For extra flavor, a syrup infused with cinnamon and anise may be drizzled over the fritters or used to soak them.

Recipes with heritage—with a story behind them—are the ones that most have a hold on me. A simple cake with canned fruit, a rustic stew cobbled together with leftover root vegetables, a wholesome porridge stirred attentively by hand—these humble foods are worthy of a king's table if they are presented on a finely woven cloth of tradition.

Buñuelos de rodilla are just such a recipe. These "knee fritters" are named that way because the flat disks of translucent dough are shaped upon the knees of women. Imagine spending a whole day carefully stretching hundred of buñuelos, crafting them so they fry up crisp, golden, and airy. The picture of this scene is wondrous and really illustrates how even the humblest foods are treated with respect and affection.

While buñuelos de rodilla can be found year-round in some areas of México, they are often served as a Christmas treat, either acaramelizados (crisp) or garritos (soaked in a simple syrup) during supper on nochebuena (Christmas Eve). Atole blanco (a warm corn-based beverage), hot chocolate, or champurrado (a corn masa-based hot chocolate) are common accompaniments.

Buñuelo dough is simple, but the process is labor intensive, even when one replaces hand stretching over a bended knee with a rolling pin. A mixture of flour, lard, and eggs is moistened with anise liqueur-scented sugar water (once upon a time, this water was infused with tomatillo husks, which provided a leavening agent—today many recipes rely on chemical leaveners) then kneaded for up to 15 minutes. After a resting period, the dough is shaped into wafer-thin rounds and allowed to rest once again. This second rest dries out the dough and guarantees a crisp buñuelo.

December 2011

Recipe Facts

Active: 90 mins
Total: 4 hrs
Serves: 36 to 40 buñuelos

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Ingredients

For the Buñuelos:

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 tablespoon aniseed liqueur (optional)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted twice

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup lard or unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

  • 2 large eggs, beaten and at room temperature

  • 8 cups vegetable oil

For the Syrup:

  • 1 (4-ounce) cone piloncillo or 1 cup packed dark brown sugar or 1 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds or 3 star anise pods

Directions

  1. For the Buñuelos: In a saucepan, bring water, sugar, and liqueur (if using) to simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using fingertips, rub lard or butter into flour mixture until mixture is crumbly. Work eggs in with fingertips until incorporated, then, gradually add the warm sugar water, adding enough to make a cohesive dough.

  3. Knead the dough on a clean, dry work surface until smooth, 10 to 15 minutes.

  4. Cover dough and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

  5. Meanwhile, cover a clean, dry work surface with several clean kitchen towels.

  6. Divide the dough into approximately 1-inch pieces and roll each one into a ball. Using a rolling pin (dough should be smooth but not sticky—flouring the work surface is not necessary), roll each ball into a 6- to 7-inch diameter circle—each buñuelo should be thin enough to be translucent.

  7. Arrange the dough circles on the towel-lined surface and let rest 45 minutes. Turn the circles and allow to dry an additional 45 minutes. Dough will feel papery to the touch after the drying period.

  8. Line 2 baking sheets with 2 layers paper towels.

  9. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet with high sides over medium-high heat until temperature registers 350°F (177°C). (Oil should be 1- to 1 1/2 inches deep). Fry buñuelos 1 to 2 at a time until golden one side, 30 to 60 seconds. Turn over with tongs, and fry until opposite side is golden, 30 to 45 seconds.

  10. Transfer to prepared trays and repeat with remaining dough.

  11. For the Syrup: Combine piloncillo, brown sugar, or sugar, water, cinnamon, and aniseeds to boil over medium-high heat in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture is syrupy, 5 to 7 minutes. Strain syrup, discard solids, and drizzle over buñuelos or serve alongside.

  12. Serve buñuelos with warm syrup.

Special Equipment

Rolling pin, several kitchen towels, Dutch oven or large skillet with high sides, tongs, 2 baking sheets, paper towels, large heavy-bottomed saucepan, deep-fry thermometer, strainer

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
114 Calories
7g Fat
12g Carbs
1g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 36 to 40
Amount per serving
Calories 114
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 8%
Saturated Fat 1g 7%
Cholesterol 12mg 4%
Sodium 95mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 12g 5%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 29mg 2%
Iron 1mg 3%
Potassium 22mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)