In high school I was part of a program that required you to complete international related activities for credit, like watching a foreign film or going to a cultural event. One of my favorites was the Greek festival, which stood out for the iconic dish I would get to eat there: loukoumades, or fried Greek donuts. You’d think the classic standout dessert would be the baklava, but it was always about the loukoumades for me. Maybe it was the spectacle of it, giant vats of oil frying little balls of dough which are quickly tossed, piping hot, in honey and served with sprinkled cinnamon. Or, I simply never got them anywhere else beside the festival. It was a once a year treat and I always looked forward to it. Now that I’m back in Portland, I couldn’t wait to experience the festival again after so many years.
Despite the growth in size since I last went, the festival is still located under several sprawling white tents in front of the same Greek orthodox church. Plastic coins called talents can be used to buy the many different types of food or drink available, and there is quite a large selection! You can pick quick to-go items like salads, hummus, gyros and spanikopita, sample one or several of the various Greek pastries, deliberate between a regular or a large portion of the loukoumades, and enjoy draft beer and Greek wines. They have a rotating schedule of entertainment, with dancing and music, but perhaps the biggest spectacle are the 7 whole lambs on spits roasting over coals. Tickets for each lamb are sold separately and you can expect to wait at least an hour until your lamb is ready to be carved up.
Unfortunately I missed the boat on the lamb, by the time I realized the tickets were separate the wait for the next available one was over an hour and I didn’t think I’d be at the festival that long. Instead I enjoyed tastes of other items, like a platter of souvlaki, sausage & spanikopita, a delicious icy frappe, & my favorite loukoumades.
There is something so satisfying about the texture of them. They are somehow equal parts crispy, airy and chewy, the sweetness from the honey balanced by the spice of the cinnamon. I wanted to try my hand at making them at home, because really, when is it ever a bad time to make deep fried balls of dough covered in sugar?
Mine came out much denser than the festivals, albeit equally delicious. I made revisions to the recipe several times, testing out each batch, but to get super airy donuts you need a thin dough which is SO hard to work with. The trick is to also make sure your oil doesn’t get too hot, so they cook through and get crispy without getting too dark. Covered in a cinnamon-honey syrup, these were hard to keep my hands off.
To jazz them up a little (not that they need it) I decided in addition to a coating of cinnamon infused honey syrup I was going to sprinkle my donuts with chopped candied nuts for a little crunch factor. And whoa…. it was such a good choice. I used a combination of pistachios and walnuts and candied them in a mixture of egg whites, sugar, and spices.
Once cooled, I chopped them up and sprinkled on top of the syrup glazed donuts.
Until you get the hang of how to drop the dough into the hot oil, keep in mind that yours will not be perfect rounds, and that’s ok. Severely deformed donuts should probably be sacrificed for taste testing, amiright? Like I said, you can sprinkle the crushed nuts on top of the finished donuts or pro tip: dunk the loukoumades directly in the honey syrup immediately followed by the crushed nuts. That extra crunch makes the difference between great and life changing. Ok maybe not life changing, but seriously try it. It will be life…. enhancing.
The donuts should be served immediately. They don’t keep very well, especially once soaked in the honey syrup.
Ok I dare you to try and eat only three of these. Better off to serve them family style in a heaping bowl with sides of syrup and nuts for toppings.