What are prestiños?
Prestiños (or pestiños) are dough-based deep fried pastry, which originated in Andalucía and are found commonly throughout Southern Spain. They are usually flavored with anise seeds or sesame seeds and the fried pastries are dipped in a honey-based syrup or dusted with sugar. Throughout Spain, various regional varieties of pestiños are made and enjoyed.
What is the origin of pestiños?
Pestiños date back as far as the 16th century and many say they are even older. There are several literary references for these sweet treats and the first mention of pestiño is found in the fiction work La Lozana Andaluza (The portrait of Lozana) written by Francisco Delicado in 1528. It is mentioned as one of the recipes collected by the protagonist in the novel. Pestiño is also loosely mentioned in the play Los Locos de Mayor Marca in 1791. Pedro Antonio de Alarcón also mentions pestiño as one of the foods prepared during Easter in his work El sombrero de tres picos written in 1874. Cervantes also mentions pestiño in his novel, El Quijote.
Pestiños are mostly associated with religious celebrations and are often treated as a holy dish. They are traditionally eaten during Easter and Christmas. They are also a must during Spanish carnival season.
Many believe that the pestiños were derived from the Moroccan chebakia because of many similarities. It is no surprise, as we know that the Spanish cuisine is heavily influenced by the Moorish culinary traditions. Chebakia (or shebakiya) is a delicious flower-shaped pastry topped with sesame seeds, which is prepared during the holy month of Ramadan.
Some also see this dish as the result of influence of three main cultures – Jewish, Christianity and Islamic.
The Costa Rican version of pestiño
The same traditions were carried over to the American colonies during Spanish colonization. The Costa Rican pestiños, called prestiños, are a modified version. They are more or less like flour tortillas dipped in sweet syrup made from panela. The pastry dough is stretched and made as thin as possible, stretched into almost round discs and then deep-fried until golden brown. In other times than the holidays, they can be served as a breakfast or snack.
The origin of deep-frying during Carnival
Making deep-fried pastries during the festive season (carnival and Christmas) is quite common in different parts of the world. The practice of making deep-fried goodies for the festive season can be traced back to the ancient times. Romans used to prepare small sweets called frictilla during Saturnalia, a holiday that corresponds with the present day carnival season.
There is a reason for preparing so many deep fried pastries before the beginning of Lent period. Dairy products like milk or butter, as well as eggs and meat, are not eaten during the fasting period. Hence, during the carnival (carnaval) time, people feast on treats heavy in fat and dairy. The word carnival is derived from the Latin phrase carnam levare meaning removal of meat.
In Europe, these thin pastries are commonly known as angel wings because of their ribbon shapes. Each country has its own variation. Italy is known for its deep-fried pastries made during the carnival time. Though the names differ in each region, these delicacies are very similar. They are flour-based pastries that are deep-fried and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Popular recipes are chiacchere, sfrappole, bugie, cenci or frappe depending on where one is in Italy.
The Polish enjoy faworki, ribbon-shaped pastries dusted with sugar, during the carnival. They are served with sweet syrup.
In Greece, you will find diples(or thiples). The dough is stretched thin, deep-fried and then folded. They are served with honey and topped with nuts.
The French make bugnes, also known as fritters, during this period. They are doughnut like pastries sprinkled with icing sugar and are an essential at Mardi Gras.
In Latin American countries, Ecuadorians prepare pristiños during Christmas. These fried pastries are shaped in different ways and served with panela (or piloncillo) syrup. In Mexico, there is a similar treat known as bunuelos. They are often referred to as the cousin of pestiños. The main difference is that they are served with dusted icing sugar on top.
This recipe is validated by Chef Randy Siles Leandro, first Ambassador of Costa Rica’s National Plan for Sustainable and Healthy Gastronomy. Randy is the owner and creator of OS restaurant, cofounder of Autóktono and founder of Academia Artesanos de la Gastronomía in Costa Rica.
- 1¾ cup flour , sifted
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- Water (at room temperature)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 1½ lb panela (tapa de dulce), broken into pieces
- 1 pinch salt
- ¾ cup water
- In a large bowl, mix the flour and the salt.
- Dig a well in the center and break the egg.
- Mix and add water gradually. Add enough water to form a smooth and homogeneous dough.
- Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form balls with them.
- Place the balls of dough on a tray lined with parchment paper, cover them, and put the tray in the fridge for 4 hours.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, using your hands, stretch it finely to form the prestiños. They must be round and about 6 inches in diameter. You can moisten your hands with ice water to help stretch the dough.
- Heat vegetable oil in a pan.
- Deep fry the prestiños over medium heat on both sides. The dough should form small blisters and get a slightly golden color.
- Drain on paper towels.
- In a saucepan, add the water, tapa de dulce and salt.
- Cook over medium heat until the tapa de dulce has completely melted and has formed a syrup.
- Serve the prestiños with the syrup drizzled on top.