Before I share today's recipe for an old school sweet treat, I just want to let you know that this will be my only post for this week and the next, as I will be leaving for Barcelona in two days and will not be back until the week before Christmas. Yes, I'm expecting the time of my life and I hope I don't forget to take photos in the midst of the fun I wil be having. Now about those doughnuts....
My grandmother loved to regale me with stories of the war she witnessed and just barely survived. The one thing she missed, or so she told me, while evading bombs and eking out a living as a widow with three children, during World War Two, were these simple but oh so moreish doughnuts. She sure was right about that much - of the dozen that I made, six went on a treacherous journey, down my gullet, never to be seen again.
Had hubby, second son and mum not put up a fight for the remaining six, I'm pretty sure I would have made short work of them all, myself. You would be surprised how delicious something so simple as mashed sweet potatoes, shaped and fried, then dipped into sticky syrup and left to set to a brittle glaze, can be. I suppose you have to like sweet potatoes, to begin with, but there is something irresistible and maddeningly addictive about the crackled glaze contrasting with the creamy, tender, pillow-soft and almost fudge-like consistency of the interior.
So, while my grandmother ate whatever scraps she could find to survive during the war, including banana peels (she actually cooked banana peel titek, a type of peppery soup quite often), the odd tapioca or yam (taro) tuber, whose stems, leaves and even peels, were back then deemed too precious to discard, she dreamed about these doughnuts for tea, and perfect, pearly white, whole grains of rice, without the added crunch of weevils, too numerous to separate from the grains of rice, for dinner.
Kind of puts the way we view and treat food today, in painful perspective, doesn't it? I know I feel like eating plain congee and soy sauce for lunch, right now and resolving never, ever to throw away any food, again. But enough with the guilt trip down memory lane, let's talk about what I plan to have for tea again, really soon - kueh keria! The best kind of sweet potato for this is the deep orange fleshed variety for its intense flavour and fragrance and moist, fudgy texture. As I couldn't find it though, I used the purple skinned, yellow fleshed variety from Japan, which will do in a pinch.
Keep the dough slightly dry for a fluffier doughnut and avoid overhandling the mixture for the same reason. Traditional recipes don't include any raising agent but I find traditional kueh keria a bit too heavy textured and the double acting baking powder really helps here. I hope you will give these a try. They are worthy subjects for foodie daydreams.....
Prep 30 mins Cook 15 mins Makes 12 small doughnuts
500 g yellow or orange fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender then thoroughly drained
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
50 ml (1/4 cup) water - if potatoes seem dry when mashing
75 - 100 g (3/4 - 1 cup) plain or all purpose flour - stop adding flour when the mixture gels but is slightly dry
1 1/2 tsp double acting baking powder
100 g (2/3 cup) white sugar
50 ml (1/4 cup) water
Combine hot potatoes, sugar, salt and water (if using) in a large mixing bowl and mash as finely as you can, using your hand.
Sprinkle over the flour and baking powder and mix everything to a slightly dry but pliable dough. Divide into 12 portions and form each into a compact ball.
Flatten balls slightly and make a hole in the middle of each. Neaten doughnuts and set aside.
Heat enough oil for deep frying and when hot, lower heat to moderate and fry doughnuts in batches until puffed and golden. Turn doughnuts over a few times, to ensure even colouring.
Remove from oil and drain well on kitchen paper.
To make sugar coating, combine the sugar and water in a heavy based pot and heat over moderate heat until sugar dissolves. Do not stir.
Heat until syrup boils vigorously and thickens. When syrup is opaque and foamy, dip in both sides of each doughnut then gently shake off excess syrup.
Cool doughnuts on a rack with a tray beneath to catch any sticky drips. When syrup cools and sets to a crisp and crackly glaze, serve doughnuts.