Recipes with heritage—with a story behind them—are the ones that most have a hold on me. A simple cake with canned fruit, a rustic stew cobbled together with leftover root vegetables, a wholesome porridge stirred attentively by hand—these humble foods are worthy of a king's table if they are presented on a finely woven cloth of tradition.
Buñuelos de rodilla are just such a recipe. These "knee fritters" are named that way because the flat disks of translucent dough are shaped upon the knees of women. Imagine spending a whole day carefully stretching hundred of buñuelos, crafting them so they fry up crisp, golden, and airy. The picture of this scene is wondrous and really illustrates how even the humblest foods are treated with respect and affection.
While buñuelos de rodilla can be found year-round in some areas of México, they are often served as a Christmas treat, either acaramelizados (crisp) or garritos (soaked in a simple syrup) during supper on nochebuena (Christmas Eve). Atole blanco (a warm corn-based beverage), hot chocolate, or champurrado (a corn masa-based hot chocolate) are common accompaniments.
Buñuelo dough is simple, but the process is labor intensive, even when one replaces hand stretching over a bended knee with a rolling pin. A mixture of flour, lard, and eggs is moistened with anise liqueur-scented sugar water (once upon a time, this water was infused with tomatillo husks, which provided a leavening agent—today many recipes rely on chemical leaveners) then kneaded for up to 15 minutes. After a resting period, the dough is shaped into wafer-thin rounds and allowed to rest once again. This second rest dries out the dough and guarantees a crisp buñuelo.