By the time we arrived to Miraflores – the hip, urban heartbeat of Lima – I was on a mission. I had only heard of Picarones from one friend, but her passionate description for the rings of friend dough was enough to fuel the hunt for them on our first night in Lima.
She had explained them to me as “Peruvian Doughnuts” but just using that word made them so much simpler than they really are. Picarones, she assured me, are no ordinary doughnut. A beignet, perhaps, like the crispy pillows served with a mountain of icing sugar in New Orleans, could be a similar comparison. In addition to the standard flour, sugar. and egg mixture, Picarones dough has the addition of a silky pumpkin and squash puree that is spiked with spices like cinnamon and anise.
Picarones, we had learned, were an evening affair and were to be eaten fresh, hot, and drenched in their signature sugar cane syrup on the spot. We patiently waited until the sun hung late in the sky to begin our walk to Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, where we had heard rumors of the best Picarones being sold. The streets were full of local Limñeos, and the parks gardens wrapped around a central patio where several vendors had begun setting up.
We were some of the first in line, and watched as the woman selling them reached under her damp towel to pinch off a piece of the airy yellow dough. She twirled her finger creating a free form doughnut and plopped it into the oil where it floated to the top and a man pushed it in line with the rest of the rings using a small wooden stick. For less than $2, we happily exchanged our soles for our plate of freshly-fried and perfectly golden rings. The final touch was a large pour of the caramel-colored syrup that had been flavored by fig leaves.
We ate them as directed: nearly too hot for the mouth and hunched over our small plate, soaking up the syrup with every crisp yet doughy bite. Bees, love-sick for the syrup swarmed nearby and waited for the plates to be discarded, and little old ladies lined up for their own plate of Picarones in our absence. We considered a second helping before abandoning our plate to the bees, and continued our walk through the park – feeling perfectly content, a little more cultured, and with the sweet spice of Picarones still lingering on our tongues.