This holiday season go beyond pumpkin pie and try Peruvian picarones

The fall season is upon us and, as the chill air begins to creep in, it's time to take out those coats and start warming yourself up with delicious fall foods.

Nothing screams out seasonal change like the classic look and smell of pumpkin, sweet potato, cinnamon and clove. These iconic food items have been engraved into our memories, having become key ingredients of the holiday season.

The best part of using these fall ingredients, particularly pumpkin and sweet potato, is that they offer an array of nutrients like iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. They also offer health benefits from the phytonutrient, beta carotene, with its antioxidant power to boost immune strength.

I would like to introduce into the fall American kitchen mix a classic dessert that is near and dear to my heart, picarones. When I was a kid, my family and I use to eat these delicious morsels from street vendors as a Sunday treat. Picarones are in the doughnut family, deep-fried and anise-sweetened pastries from Peru.

Finally, after many years living in the United States and two Peruvian superfood cookbooks, I finally decided to make picarones at home. Although they are deep fried, these bad-boys are made with pumpkin and sweet potato. How can you say "no" to that?

In Spanish, the word "picarón" refers to someone who is a flirt or a tease, and likewise these doughnut-shaped treats will tease your taste buds. Living in Peru, picarones are a must-have dessert that everyone enjoys.

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. Making picarones takes time, but it is well worth the wait, at least all the friends who have tried my picarones have come to love and enjoy the flavors and keep coming back for more.

The making of picarones requires a little bit of skill, but it is definitely not impossible. This is why I am writing this post to give you a good direction. You can also watch the video to visualize the steps better.



300 grams (about 10 ½ ounces) sweet potato, cooked
3 cinnamon sticks
5 cloves
1 tablespoon anise seeds
300 grams pumpkin, cooked or canned puree
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 package rapid rise active yeast
600 grams (21 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup cooking water (from sweet potato & pumpkin)
4-6 cups canola oil
2 cups water


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 reserve the cooking liquid.

3. Once cooled, mash up the sweet potato and pumpkin until there are no lumps. Use a handheld mixer to ensure a smooth consistency.

4. Add the sugar and yeast to the puree and mix.

5. Add about a third 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 might not use all the liquid.

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 picarones, 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 the 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.

Chancaca Sauce


600 grams (21 ounces) chancaca, piloncillo, panela or brown sugar
3 cups of water
3 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
1 tablespoon anise seeds
Peel of 1 orange

Directions for Chancaca Sauce

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine all of the ingredients with water to cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the syrup thickens lightly. It should have the texture of maple syrup. Strain and discard the spices and peel. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Servings: 12   Serving Size: 3 each (each one is 60 grams, or 2 oz.)