Bimuelos: An Historical Recipe
By David Gitlitz and Linda Davidson
Honeyed Fritters from the time of the Inquisition
Judging from Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition testimonies and from other documents relating to Iberian Jews, Hanukah seems to have been an extremely minor holiday in late medieval Iberia. Despite the holiday’s minor status in the lives of Iberian Jews, a memorandum was prepared as a guide for Inquisitors in the late fifteenth century. It stated that Judaizers “celebrate the Feast of Candles and they light them one at a time up to ten, and then they blow them out; and they pray Jewish prayers.” There are only a handful of indications showing that individual Sephardim, prior to the Expulsion, observed the holiday. After 1492, we find little more than the charge in 1536 that Dr. Antonio Valenta, in the Portuguese village of Mogadouro, told his colleagues the date of the holiday and hints that around 1615, in Coimbra, Antonio Homem was seen observing the paschoa das candelilhas with some friends.
Traditional festive foods for Hanukah tend to be those fried in oil. This custom harks back to the story of the miraculous oil that burned for eight days and allowed the Maccabees in 165 BCE to keep the defiled temple filled with light. In modern times, Sephardim in the Mediterranean lands delight in honeyed puff fritters, most generally termed bimuelos at Hanukah. The treat has also found its way into modern Spanish and Mexican cuisine; the round puffs, which resemble American doughnut holes, are called bunuelos, while those shaped in rings are termed rosquillas. Greek Romaniote communities refer to them as xvingous, while the dessert is known as loukoumades among the general Greek population.
Despite their modern association with Hanukah, bimuelos seem to have been more closely associated with other holidays (e.g. the breaking the fast meal of Yom Kippur, Passover) and life-cycle events (e.g. weddings), which were more prominent in the lives medieval Iberian Jewry. While we have found no fifteenth-or sixteenth-century Iberian references tying these fritters to Hanukah, we do know that a young girl in Valencia in the 1480’s was rhapsodic about these treats, for she was overheard exclaiming in the Valencian dialect of Catalan: “Ai, maestro! Gran festal Que menjam gallines e bunyols, e arras amb oli I mel” (Oh, master, what a great party! They served hens and fritters and rice with oil and honey!)
Here is a recipe for the fritters, one that would be familiar today to Sephardi cooks from Fez to Istanbul:
1 Package dry yeast 3 Cups honey
11/3 Cups warm water % Cup water
3 Cups non-sifted white flour Topping
2 eggs, well beaten Cinnamon
34 Teaspoon salt Powdered sugar 1 Tablespoon olive oil
Enough oil to cover deep pan
to a depth of 1 inch, approximately
1% Cups vegetable oil and % cup olive oil
§ Dissolve the yeast in 1/3 cup warm water; let sit for 10 minutes.
§ Place the flour into a medium bowl. Stir the yeasted water, the beaten eggs, salt, and olive oil into the flour all at once. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup of water to make the dough slightly tacky.
Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour until in bulk.
Frying the Dough:
• In a large deep skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil to approximately 375°F or hot enough for a drop of water to sputter.
• Dip a tablespoon into the oil to coat it. Dip out a scant teaspoon of the dough and drop it into the boiling oil. You can fry several bimuelos at once as long as you do not crowd them in the pan. As they fry, turn them several times until they turn up and become golden in color, about 8 minutes.
• Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels.
• Mix the honey and water in a medium saucepan and simmer 3-4 minutes until warm. (Editor’s note: Do not boil the honey. Boiled honey becomes indigestible!) Drizzle syrup over doughnuts and serve.
The bimuelos are best served fresh. Place the fritters on a plate. Drizzle the honey syrup over them, and sprinkle them with cinnamon and powdered sugar. In a pinch, or when serving to a crowd, the fritters can be made ahead, and then drizzled with the honey syrup just before serving.
This article is an excerpt from David Gitlitz, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002) and from David Gitlitz and Linda Davidson, A Drizzle of Honey (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999). The authors live in Rhode Island. More can information on their publications