There are four generations of women on hand to rustle up a mountain of Loukoumades (AKA Greek Doughnuts) at Yiayia Theiocleia’s house – her daughter, granddaughters and great granddaughter welcome me with the kind of warmth I’d expect from my own family, all smiles and tight squeezes – the Cretan way, it seems.
We quickly get to making up an assembly line with Yiayia Theiocleia at the head, sat in a chair, rifling through a recipe book she’s been adding to for the past 70 years, followed by me, her daughter and granddaughters, all on hand to sift, mix, whisk and fry at her every command.
Essentially Greek doughnuts but much more elegant, Loukoumades are theorised to be a very greek dessert. Yiayia Theiocleia makes a point of telling me they were served at the first Olympic games thousands of years ago, but variations of these sweet doughnut balls can be found in Persian and Turkish kitchens too.
We eat them with a drizzle of honey, cinnamon and sesame seeds, but a blob of vanilla ice cream wouldn’t go amiss here – especially if you’re serving them warm (the very best way to enjoy them).
- 8 g (1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
- 520 ml (17 fl oz/generous 2 cups) lukewarm water
- 1 heaped teaspoon salt
- 500 g (1 lb 2 oz/4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 700 ml (24 fl oz/scant 3 cups) sunflower oil
- Ground cinnamon
- sesame seeds
- In a bowl or small jug (pitcher), combine the yeast with half the water and leave in a warm place for about 5 minutes, allowing the yeast to react.
- In a separate bowl, combine the salt with the remaining water and set aside.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl, create a well in the middle and pour in the water and yeast mixture bit by bit, mixing as Yiayia Theiocleia does, by hand.
- Once the yeast and water mixture has been added, pour in the salted water, again adding it bit by bit as you continue to mix by hand. As you mix, squeeze the very loose dough mixture in your palm and lift it into the air, allowing the yeast to do its magic. Keep doing this and stirring until the mixture is smooth. If you’re still encountering lumps, work with a large whisk to smooth them out. You want the mixture to be very light and silky, which might require an extended whisking period. It’s worth it in the end.
- Once you’re happy with the dough’s consistency, leave it somewhere warm, covered with a kitchen towel, for 30–40 minutes until it has triple in size.
- When it has risen and you can spot a few small bubbles in the dough, you can get going with the frying.
- Heat the oil in a dry, deep frying pan (skillet) or wok over a high heat. Drop a tiny piece of dough in there to check if the oil is hot enough – you want it to sizzle immediately on contact.
- Time to work fast. For perfect, round loukoumades, work with your hand and a tablespoon, dropping your hand into the dough mixture and lifting some out, making a fist with your hand so that some of the dough slips neatly through the space between your thumb and forefinger. Swiftly scoop this with your tablespoon and drop it in the frying oil. (It helps to have a mug of water next to the bowl so you can dip the spoon in and clean it before adding each new dough ball.)
- Allow the dough ball to fry for 30 seconds or so, then use a slotted spoon to turn it over. It should be nicely browned all over. Fry in batches, but be sure not to overcrowd the pan because the loukoumades will stick together. Transfer the loukoumades to paper towels to drain.
- Serve with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon and sesame seeds.