“You could say that picarones are like a sweet potato-and-squash doughnut, but that doesn’t pay enough respect,” says Hender Gonzales. “Doughnuts are, what, Dutch? This is something we Peruvians came up with ourselves.” Gonzales’s version, which they doled out during their pop-up at Ursula in Brooklyn, is made of a sweet potato–based dough that’s fried until crispy and soaked in spiced syrup. The syrup is sweetened with chancaca (also known as piloncillo and panela), which is a type of unrefined whole cane sugar that you can find in most Latinx grocery stores, in the Latinx section of supermarkets, and online.
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Makes about 12
small apple, halved
medium orange, zest removed in wide strips with a vegetable peeler
3″ cinnamon stick
oz. chancaca (piloncillo) or 1 (packed) cup light brown sugar
cup dried figs
cup plus 2 Tbsp. (125 g) granulated sugar
Tbsp. cardamom pods
medium sweet potatoes (about 1 lb.), peeled, coarsely chopped
tsp. active dry yeast
tsp. granulated sugar
cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¾ tsp. Morton kosher salt, divided
Vegetable oil (for frying)
A layer of cheesecloth; a deep-fry thermometer; a wooden chopstick or skewer
Bring apple, orange zest, cinnamon stick, cloves, chancaca, figs, granulated sugar, aniseed, and 1¼ cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom of pan, until reduced by about a third, 40–50 minutes. Strain syrup into a medium bowl; let cool.
Do ahead: Syrup can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before using.
Bundle cardamom and aniseed in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine. Place sachet in a medium saucepan; pour in 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes to infuse.
Add sweet potatoes to pan; cook until fork-tender, 17–19 minutes. Remove sachet and drain sweet potatoes, reserving ¼ cup cooking liquid. Let cooking liquid cool slightly.
Meanwhile, purée sweet potatoes in a food processor or blender until smooth. Scrape purée into a large bowl.
Whisk yeast and sugar into reserved cooking liquid, then whisk into purée. Add flour and ¼ tsp. Diamond Crystal or Morton kosher salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until a sticky dough comes together, about 5 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in volume, about 1 hour, or chill overnight.
When ready to fry, fit a medium heavy pot with thermometer; pour in oil to come 2″ up sides. Heat over medium-high until thermometer registers 325°.
Stir remaining 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal or ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt and ¼ cup water in a small bowl until salt is dissolved. Dip your hands in salt water, then punch down dough. Pinch off a golf-ball-size piece, roll into a ball, and flatten slightly. Push your thumb through the center to create a hole. Carefully slide into oil. Stick chopstick or skewer through hole and spin doughnut around to widen hole slightly and set shape. Fry until deep orange-brown and crisp, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining dough, dipping your hands in salt water to prevent sticking and adjusting heat as needed to maintain oil temperature. (Pan should fit 3 or 4 doughnuts at a time.)
Generously spoon syrup over doughnuts to coat.