Papanași, the Romanian Donut

Crunchy on the outside yet steamy and soft on the inside, this cheese donut topped with slightly tangy sour cream and the sweetest home-made jam, the humble papanași a dessert that will have you fall in love with instantly and most certainly ruin any current or future diet plan.

Tasty Romanian traditional cake papanasi
Tasty Romanian traditional donuts called papanasi. Photo: Marko Rupena / stock.adobe.com

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. If that’s the case, Romanian women may just have perfected their technique with this mouth-watering dessert. A mere glance can make your eyes sparkle with desire. But just wait until you bite into the delicious pastry.

Papanasi (Romanian doughnuts) with fig jam
Papanasi (Romanian doughnuts) with fig jam. Photo: Free / StockFood / Studio Lipov

Tasty beginnings

As is often the case with gastronomy, it is difficult to precisely determine where, when, or who behind the invention of papanași. According to Historia, the legends behind the creation of the tasty papanași go as far as Denmark, where it is presumed that a ship captain, trying to turn the helm while eating a doughnut, stuck the dessert on a rudder wheel spoke so that he could use both arms.

This not only saved the Captain and the crew from doom – it also saved millions from the never-ending quest of trying to perfectly bake the middle of a donut. It seems like a win-win situation – especially for all generations who have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy the dessert for all the years to come.

One may joke about the pastry’s origin, but no one can deny – Romanian papanași is sure one heck of a good dessert. You don’t have to take my word for it; try it out for yourself; they are not terribly difficult to make.

All you need to make in the comfort of your own home a delicious batch of sweet papanași is cow cheese (similar to cottage cheese, but more on the dry side), eggs, sugar (of course!), flour, and last but not least, patience not to eat them as soon as they come out of the oil. Next, you want to smother, drench, and drown those cute little doughnuts in Santana (your typically Eastern European sour cream, similar to crème fraiche) and jam, preferably blueberry, but any kind would do. Now you may finally indulge in devouring your creation. Pro tip: make more than you think you’ll want; they’re going to disappear from the plate really, really fast.

By now, we bet you’re ready to make these Romanian donuts for yourself. Follow the recipe below to enjoy the tasty papanași right away!

How to make papanasi

You will need the following:

  • 500 grams of quark (or cottage cheese/ricotta);
  • Approximately 300 grams of flour (depending on the consistency of your cheese and the stickiness of the dough, you may need to alter this amount);
  • 200 grams of sour cream;
  • 150 grams of blueberry jam (at least!);
  • 30 grams of vanilla sugar;
  • 2 eggs;
  • 1 tsp vanilla/rum/orange essence, whichever your heart or stomach desires;
  • 1 tsp baking soda;
  • pinch of salt.
    First, you want to drain any excess water from your cheese. You want your cheese to be extra dry to minimize the amount of flour needed and make the donut fluffy. After your cheese is completely dry, add it to a bowl with the eggs, sugar, essence of choice, salt, and baking soda. Mix everything until combined. Once the mixture is homogenized, you can go ahead a slowly add the flour. You may need to pour the mixture onto a floured surface for better incorporation. Once the dough is all mixed, let it rest for 10 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, it is now time to shape your papanași. Each donut should be about 120 grams, and the smaller ball about 40. It is up to you whether you want to shape them by rolling them thick and uniting the ends or by carving a hole into the dough – either way, you should be left with an equal number of donuts and balls.

Once you have all of your papanași formed, you can fry them. Remember not to overcrowd your pan; the donut should be able to move around freely. Fry them for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until they turn golden crispy. Keep in mind that the balls may require less time.
Once you’re happy with their color, remove them from the oil and place them on a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb excess fat.

And now, for the best part, it is time to drench your papanași in sour cream and jam. Don’t be afraid to smother them in the oozy goodness completely; the more, the merrier.

And there you have it! Your new culinary obsession, papanași!

Naomi Gherman

Master student in Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations at Babeș-Bolyai University, eager to share more about our world's most fascinating stories and people. Romania-based reader, writer and content creator with a strong interest in journalism, foreign languages and politics.

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