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.
1 cup all purpose flour plus more for dusting/kneading
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.
Notes cottage cheese: If your cheese is watery, strain it. Here in Tbilisi it varies greatly by brand, fat content and whether or not it's from a store or village. If you're worried, get 0% and you won't have as much liquid. jam: You can use any runny jam of your choice. In Romania, they load them up with sour cherry(which I used), blueberry and even forest fruit. oil: If you're curious how you know when the oil is ready you can do one of two things. Drop a rice grain into the oil - if it sizzles and floats to the top, it's ready. Stick a chopstick or handle of a wooden spoon into the oil - if bubbles immediately form around it, it's ready.