Cleveland has a huge amount of Slovenian culture and Slovenian descendants, so it it perhaps not surprising that Cleveland is home to a local celebration of Slovenian Mardi Gras – Kurentovanje. The emblem of Kurentovanje are the Kurents, big fuzzy beasts who romp through town during Mardi Gras (called Pust in Slovenia), ringing bells loudly. The Kurents are rumored to have the power to chase away winter with their ruckus. For Slovenian Mardi Gras, a traditional food is Krofi – or doughnuts. Doughnuts are a popular choice for Mardi Gras celebrations around the world, since they would use up some of the ingredients that would then be forbidden in Lent: sugar, butter, and oil! Slovenian krofi are simple to make, and mirror the other Mardi Gras fried sweet fritters found worldwide like Paczki, Malasadas, Semla and Chiacchiere. Here are recipes from homemade krofi from E-Slovenie and Homemade Slovenian food. Though krofi looks delicious, we are more intrigued by the Kurents!
Over the years we have discovered that one of the most universally beloved foods is the fried dough ball. In the Netherlands, fried dough balls are a traditional New Year’s food called Oliebollen (which translates to “oil balls” – the singular is oliebol). They have been variously known in the US as “Dutch doughnuts” and are called smoutebollen and croustillons in Belgium. Oliebollen have a long history in the Netherlands and were part of Germanic Yule celebrations, and the first written recipes date from the 1660s. The painting below, “Meid met oliebollen,” by Aelbert Cuyp is from 1652.
The legend behind Oliebollen is actually more morbid than I was expecting. According to Paste Magazine:
Eating oliebollen was considered a surefire way to ward off the whims of a cruel pagan goddess named Perchta. Her Teutonic name meant bright or glorious, but she was not always friendly. During the 12 Days of Christmas the goddess was said to fly around with evil spirits looking for something to eat. In her quest she might even use her sword to slice open the stomachs of those who’d already eaten to get at their food. Tradition said that eating oliebollen protected you because the fat absorbed from the cooking oil made Perchta’s sword slide off of her victims.
Oliebollen doesn’t stick to its fearsome origins anymore, and is mostly sold on the streets, accompanied by fireworks! There are tons of recipes for Oliebollen online including The Dutch Baker’s Daughter, Allrecipes and The Dutch Table.
Today is Fat Tuesday – aka Mardi Gras – which means it is Paczki Day! In Cleveland (and Chicago…and elsewhere) this is a pretty big deal – and the Polish jelly-filled doughnuts called Pączki pop up nearly everywhere. If you have a sweet tooth, you don’t want to be left out of this tradition. Cleveland.com has a guide to the best places in town the get a paczki, and they will even be live-Tweeting and Instagramming from Rudy’s Bakery in Parma, epicenter of the Paczki madness. Traditional Polish fillings are prune, jelly and poppyseed, but every year brings more unique flavors. There is even an enigmatic cannoli paczki at Colozza’s (seen below), which may just be the most Cleveland thing ever! Or go one step further, with a paczki filled with ice cream at Mitchell’s.
Photo by Cleveland.com.
We’ve made it to Friday – time to celebrate with donuts! This week we are featuring Vietnamese hollow donuts – Bánh Tiêu. Banh Tieu are crunchy, hollow donuts covered in sesame seeds, with a light texture. The technique is a bit harder to master than an American donut, but if you have already attempted deep-frying you have a leg up. I am a Food Blog and Vicky Pham have good recipes for Banh Tieu to try at home. Banh Tieu are found throughout Vietnam as street food, and you can also find them at some Vietnamese markets or restaurants in the US and Canada, especially on the West Coast.
The appeal of fried dough seems to be nearly universal – and we have seen it pop up again in Tanzania as Vitumbua (though popular in Tanzania, it can be found elsewhere throughout East Africa). Vitumbua (singular: kitumbua) is a sweet, fried, rice and coconut cake flavored with cardamon. Vitumbua is usually eaten as a snack, but could even pass as breakfast for those with a sweet tooth. Vitumbua are sometimes cooked in special donut-hole shaped pans, a la Aebelskivers, but you could use muffin tins, or a regular frypan as well. Most of the ingredients in Vitumbua are pretty common (you may have everything but the coconut in your pantry already), so get your muffin tins out and try a recipe from Immaculate Bites.
Vitumbua from Immaculate Bites
Tomorrow is the Thursday before Mardi Gras – fat Thursday – which means it is paczki day in Chicago – an unofficial holiday which is an opportunity to gorge oneself on Polish filled doughnuts called paczkis. We have done a little bit of paczki coverage over the years, and there are ton of places in the Chicagoland area that serve up great paczkis around this time of year, both traditional and inventively-flavored. Time Out Chicago has a shortlist of paczki bakeries, and DNA info has paczki locations mapped out. Evanston bakery Bennison’s even has a paczki-eating competition on Feb 14 for diehards.
Ich bin ein bola de Berlim. Yep, this is an offshoot of the Berliner, the classic German jelly donut. The Bola de Berlim is popular throughout Lisbon, and is a basically a fried donut split and filled with yellow egg yolk-based cream found in many Portuguese pastries, creme pasteleiro. However, we have also seen them filled with chocolate cream, occasionally. The regular and mini-sized classic BdB above are from the Padaria Portuguesa bakery chain, though you can get them pretty much anywhere pastries are sold in Lisbon. M liked these as a Portuguese replacement fix for his beloved American donut (though we saw some bizarre prepackaged versions of “American donuts” in the supermarket as well). You can even make Bola de Berlim of your own at home.
Dominique Ansel Bakery’s Infamous Cronut
Happy National Doughnut Day! So we’ve been out of the country for roughly the past 9 months, and we definitely feel out of sync with current American culture. We’ve definitely missed out on doughnuts, and most American food trends. It was just yesterday that we learned of the latest food craze sweeping the US (which happens to be doughnut related): the cronut. A cronut, as the name might imply, is croissant dough shaped like a doughnut, and then fried (which is apparently extremely difficult). The confection was first created at the Dominique Ansel bakery in New York City, and every day’s fresh batch draws a huge crowd. The cronuts sell out so fast there is something of a gray market springing up around the coveted cronut (only 200 are produced per day), and many are resold to cronut fans at inflated prices. You can try your hand at diy cronuts with ready-made croissant dough. Of course, along with a meteoric rise to fame, there is a backlash. Only in America!
When we discovered Eggettes, a Hong Kong sweet we profiled previously, little did we know that there were similar popover confections present around the world (though we should have guessed). Ranging from India to Denmark, all of these treats are made in special pans with round indentations (as can be seen above). First up are poffertjes, mini-pancakes made with buckwheat flour that originated in the Netherlands in the 15th century. Kitchen butterfly has a recipe for poffertjes from Dutch Cooking Today (Kook ook Holland).
Aebelskivers in a pan.
Similar to poffertjes are ebelskivers / abelskivers / aebelskivers from Denmark, not surprising, given the proximity of the two countries. The recipes are quite similar, but an aebelskiver (or their pan, rather) is larger. For those ready to commit to the recipes: Fante’s Kitchen Shop in Philadelphia has both poffertje and aebelskiver pans, as does William-Sonoma. Also falling into this small-popover milieu are Paniyaram (seen above), an Indian snack that can be made sweet or savory. We think this serves as evidence that some things – like bite-sized carb-y snacks – are universal.