Papanasi. The holy grail of all things Romanian + doughnut. This delicious Romanian dessert is made with a dough formed mostly by cottage cheese. It’s then fried and topped with fresh smetana (sour cream) and runny jam. Simple but drool-worthy. It’s also got all the characteristics I love about Romanian food; it’s dense, comforting and full of character. Which is why I eat way too many of them and have consequently created a step by step papanasi recipe to satisfy my undying sweet tooth for Romanian dessert.
The origins of Papanasi are spotty at best however its thought that the name comes from the word “pappa” meaning “food for children” in Latin. Papanasi first came about in Romania’s eastern region of Moldova and can now be found all over the country. I ate my weight in them while road tripping Transylvania last year.
The best part? They aren’t that hard to make. This Romanian staple comes together with just a few pantry ingredients. The only tricky part is the dough. With papanasi, you want a slightly sticky, shaggy dough that is not at all smooth or perfect. The key to a good papanasi is in the cheese. After all, the use of cheese is what makes papanasi papanasi and not just a plain jane doughnut with jam and cream. To get that perfect not too dense not too fluffy dough I suggest using a 0% cottage cheese or straining full fat cottage cheese.
Here’s what you’ll need for this time tested papanasi recipe
. Flour, cottage cheese, egg, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, sour cream, runny jam of your choice. Ba-da-boom-ba-da-bing, that’s it! Let’s get started.
First, strain your cottage cheese if it is too liquidy. Here in Tbilisi cottage cheese varies greatly depending on brand, fat content and whether or not it comes from a village or store. Add your egg, vanilla, baking soda, sugar and combine. Leave sour cream and jam out on the counter while you prepare – it’s better to top these at room temperature.
Add flour and mix together until a shaggy dough forms. Knead lightly until you can pull a small ball together. You want a dough that is slightly sticky but still manageable. Try not to add more flour unless absolutely needed.
After resting divide ball into 5 pieces. To do this I take away a small bit and then quarter the remaining ball. Like this:
Now to assemble the doughnuts and perfect little spheres that will serve as their hats 😀
Take a piece and roll it out into a sausage-like shape that is even in thickness from end to end. Now connect the two ends to make an O shape. Press down to flatten. Now take your spare piece (the one you separated before quartering the dough) and divide it into four pieces. Roll those four pieces into balls. They should look like this:
Heat 2-3 cups (depending on how wide your pot is) of vegetable oil in a pot for frying. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side for each doughnut. The dough is a bit sensitive so I recommend using a spatula or sticking a chopstick through the opening to lower it into the oil.
How do I know when the oil is ready?
You’ll know it’s ready by doing two things: You can drop a grain of rice. if it immediately floats to the top, it’s ready. Alternatively, stick in a chopstick or wooden stick into the oil. If bubbles form around it, it’s ready.
Remove from oil once golden brown and place on a napkin lined area.
Now for my favourite part – the topping! Add a dollop of sour cream and a dollop of jam to each doughnut. Then, top with “hat” and add a small dollop of both again.
Delicious Papanasi (Romanian Doughut) Recipe
- 1 cup all purpose flour plus more for dusting/kneading
- 1 egg
- 2 cup cottage cheese see notes
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup runny jam of choice see notes
- Start by mixing cottage cheese, sugar, baking soda, vanilla and egg. Leave sour cream and jam on counter. it's easier to top with room temperature toppings vs cold,
- Once incorporated, add flour and stir together until a dough forms. Knead lightly for a few minutes. You want a dough that is sticky and shaggy but managable. Add flour very sparingly.
- Cover and let dough rest for 20 minutes.
- Divide dough into 5 equal pieces. Do this by taking a piece off and quartering the rest.
- Start with the quarters. Roll each piece out into a sausage shape that is even in thickness from end to end. Stick the ends together to create an O shape. Press down with your palm. (photos above)
- Divide the remaining piece (the one you tore off first) into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. This will serve as the "hat" for the papanasi.
- Heat 2-3 cups of oil in a pot depending on how wide your frying pot is. Once ready for frying (see notes if unsure) fry for two-three minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove and place on a plate lined with napkins. Repeat with the rest of the doughnuts and balls.
- Stir sour cream vigourously to get a smooth consistency. Add dollop of sourcream and jam to each donut. Place ball on top of each and add an additional small dollop of sour cream and jam to each one.
- Enjoy!! 🙂
And that’s it, folks! I hope you enjoyed making this recipe. it is one of my all-time favourites. So comforting, so delicious and bring back so many memories of my time in Romania. I’d love to know if you’ve ever visited or plan to someday visit Romania.