They are called hojaldres, also known as hojaldas or hojaldras, and they are without a doubt one of the most popular breads in Panama.
What are holjadres?
Hojaldres are fried breads and the term puff pastry is definitely misused and looks nothing like the famous puff pastry of the delicious millefeuille of French cuisine, for example.
Hojaldra is not a multilayered dough. It is a fried round flat bread, made of a very simple dough, that is crispy and airy at the same time, and which typically measures 4 to 6 inches in diameter.
What is the origin of holjadres?
This recipe was introduced with flour by the Spaniards, who received it from the Moors. The Moors transmitted to the Spaniards their love for fritanga, the name given to the frying in Latin America.
But beware, fritanga has nothing to do with frintagas, these famous fast-food restaurants from Nicaragua that serve dishes such as gallo pinto, ropa vieja, enchiladas, queso frito, crunchy plantain chips (tajadas), tacos, tortillas, corazón assado, or tamales, to name a few.
Fried breads around the world
This Panamanian bread, hojaldra, is therefore a fried bread, and the Panamanians are not the only ones to deep-fry the dough.
In Argentina and Uruguay, this fried roll is known as torta frita. In Chile, it is called sopaipilla and it is, after frying, dipped in a sauce based on panela, vanilla, and citrus zest while in Peru, where it is called cachanga, it is generously coated with honey, condensed milk or jam.
In southern India, a similar bread is called puri and is consumed at breakfast or often to accompany vegetarian dishes.
In the western United States, it is called frybread or fried bread, and it is the traditional food of the native Navajo tribes in Arizona.
In Mexico, it is prepared in differently depending on the region. It is a round or semi-spherical shaped, airy and soft, dark brown bun. It measures 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Sometimes, it is consumed by itself, but it is almost always cut in half and stuffed. In Oaxaca de Juárez, it is prepared with wheat flour, salt, yeast, sugar, water and lard. It is shaped like a volcano and is spread with lard, sprinkled with red sugar and white sugar; the bread is almost painted red. Its texture is smooth and crisp on the outside, as if it were a biscuit. In Apizaco and Tlaxcala, it is called pan de muerto (bread of the dead). It is small or just individual size, and usually includes pieces of nuts and anise seeds. Pan de muerto, with such a macabre name, is at the center of one of the most colorful and joyous festivals in Mexico, el dia de muertos (the day of the dead), celebrated between November 1st and 3rd. Mexican communities living in the United States are also preparing them for Halloween.
Tips for successful frying
If the recipe for the hojaldres dough is quite easy, the frying step, if it is badly done, can make the bread inedible.
Let’s talk about frying and let’s be honest, everything is good when it’s fried!
So I will give you some tips to bring perfect fried dishes to your table.
If frying makes food particularly irresistible, it is truly an art. As simple as it may seem, frying is not a simple task and it is important to know the techniques of this method of cooking so as not to make mistakes that could spoil a good meal.
Let’s start with a brief distinction between all the oils we can use to fry food. Be aware that not all oils have the same “smoke point”. The smoke point is the maximum temperature that an oil can reach before it starts to burn and release this unpleasant smoke that causes eye burns and fills the house with a very unpleasant odor.
To that end, there are thermometers available that will be very useful if you want to achieve a perfect result and bring to your table a crispy, tasty and light fritter, which will be achieved at temperatures between 330 F and 355 F.
Extra virgin olive oil has the highest smoke point at around 410 F. It is an oil, which even when used for frying, keeps its taste. You should therefore choose to use it only to prepare a fried dish with the certainty of not feeling too much its taste that could alter the taste of the fried food. It is excellent for savory preparations such as accras de morue (cod fritters from the West Indies), latkes, tod man pla (Thai fish croquettes), dilis (Filipino fried anchovies), or rissóis de camarão (Portuguese shrimp croquettes).
Otherwise, you can choose peanut oil, which reaches its smoke point at about 355 F, but has a more subdued taste that does not impact the final taste of the dish. It is perfect, for example, for sweet preparations such as banana fritters, nuégados de yuca, churros, mandazi (East African donuts), Polish faworki, or Moroccan sfenj.
Sunflower, rapeseed and corn oils are the least recommended for frying because they have a lower smoke point.
Good frying is achieved only with a good fat and, if it is oil, it is important to know that the appropriate amount is several cups. It is calculated based on the weight of the food to fry, and it should exceed at least ten times this weight!
Do not panic, the ideal frying is the one in which the pieces are totally immersed in the oil. Contrary to what one might think, the more foods are fried in an abundant oil, the lighter they are, because that is how a protective crust will immediately form. If, on the contrary, the pieces float in contact with the air, they become very absorbent and therefore become very greasy. The right amount of oil allows foods to get that golden and even color that is the trademark of any good fry.
Also note that it is important to fry little food at a time because adding too many foods in the oil causes an immediate drop in temperature.
So remember this golden rule: little food and plenty of oil to ensure the irresistible crunch that hides a tasty inside.
The temperature of the food to be fried is also very important to watch. Be sure to fry only perfectly dry foods to avoid splashing oil.
Once you have dipped the food in the oil, you do not need to touch it until it has heated up. As soon as the fried foods comes back to the surface, you can then move them and rotate them to allow a homogeneous frying.
Regarding fried battered foods, remember that salt and sugar should only be added after cooking, and not in the batter itself.
A little trick to prevent the smell of fried oil from spreading everywhere in the house: dip a slice of apple in the hot oil and replace it with another as soon as it has changed color. You can also prepare an infusion of orange and lemon zest in boiling water and place it near the pan.
Hojaldres are a perfect blend of sweet and savory, by themselves or with sausages, cottage cheese or other cheeses, or even sprinkled with sugar, for breakfast, or as an afternoon snack and why not for lunch or dinner?
For us, it was hojaldras con salchichas guisadas at dinner. Hojaldres with sausages that are cooked in tomato sauce and herbs. They were simply irresistible.
- 3 cups flour , sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3 teaspoons caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 cup water (more or less)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Make a well in the center and break the egg in the center of this well. Add the oil.
- Using the dough hook, mix the ingredients at low speed, gradually incorporating the water until obtaining a smooth and homogeneous dough. The given amount of water is approximate and depends on the quality of the flour that is used.
- Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface, cover it and let it rest for 2 hours, away from drafts.
- Divide the dough into 12 to 15 pieces and form balls the size of a golf ball.
- Pour a large amount of oil into a skillet and heat.
- On a lightly oiled work surface, flatten each ball and, using both hands, stretch it until it is round, thin and flat (about ¼ inch thick).
- You can also use a rolling pin to flatten them.
- Fry each bread a few minutes on each side until golden brown.