Yiayia is offering to quickly whip up some Loukoumades. Impossible to say no.
Ancient Greek literature, specifically The Vigil by poet Kallimachus wrote that these quasi-donuts then known as honey tokens were served at the Ancient Olympiad 2000 years ago, as a reward offered to the winners of events.
But when and where did the term we Greeks use to describe them today come from?
Commonplace along the Mediterranean coast and the Levant from Greece to the Arab Gulf, the name Loukoumades or Loukouma in the case of a single piece is attributed to a recipe dating back to the 13th century.
An Arabic manuscript The Book of Dishes written by a man known as al-Baghdadi, describes a recipe for the sweet known as Luqmat al-Qadi or Judge’s morsels: yeast-leavened dough boiled in oil and doused in honey… sound familiar?
The dish could be found as far away as what is now India, as a culinary remnant of Alexander the Great’s expeditions to the region.
History aside, Loukoumades are a mainstay at Yiayia’s table. Although that’s not the only place you’ll find them these days. Recently, the delicious honey dressed balls of fried yeasty batter, have exploded across Melbourne. Either as standalone desserts or as sweet accompaniments at trendier souvlaki spots.
But can they stand up to Yiayia’s?
Retail offerings differ in ways. First, they come in a variety of flavours – peanut butter, macha green tea, Oreo and so on.
Second, the process is less labour of love and more industrial operation. A hopper contraption divides the dough into two perfectly sized spheres with each rotation of the crank and they drop into the oil. And the shocker, the place I tried fries them in vegetable oil.
I can understand, olive oil burns at higher temperatures, it begins smoke and the flavour deteriorates but I’m sure you’ve tasted the difference between the first and last batch of homemade Loukouma.
And while they’re tasty, there’s one difference between the homemade and the commercial. The former is chewy, and the latter are crispy. Different strokes for different folks, everybody’s got their own tastes.
For me, it’s Yiayia’s all the way: there’s a few steps to the traditional process as well as some good old trial and error.
To make the dough, you need warm water and yeast, then comes the flour… sifted of course and a teaspoon of salt. Add it slowly, slowly, slowly until the batter is just right, but what is just right? That’s for Yiayia to know and you to find out.
Now you have to wait, an hour, or at least until the mixture doubles in size, and if you’re doing this in winter, you’ll have to keep the batter warm too. Once that’s done work it by hand and stretch it out to develop the glutens in the mix, that’s what gives them the lovely spongey texture. Let it rest and do it again.
Now comes the hard part
Get a cup of water and wet a spoon and in your off hand squeeze the batter through the top of your fist and try as hard as you can to get something resembling a ball onto the spoon. Then drop it into the olive oil, wait for them to go golden brown and you’re done.
What temperature should the oil be you ask? Hot enough that a wooden spoon will sizzle when you place it in the pan, obviously.
It’s a bit of effort, true, and the traditional way definitely isn’t suited to a high-volume setting, but the result is unrivalled.
Golden spheres of decadent doughy delight tossed in honey syrup and topped with crushed walnuts and a dash of cinnamon. An unforgettable taste we’re all too familiar with.
And they’re vegan too…