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Cooking with a Pinch of History: Buñuelos

by Brittany Avila

Winter has arrived (or sort of, in Santa Barbara) and for everyone enjoying hot cocoa to warm up their post-holiday spirits, I’ve created a complementary treat that is sure to leave your stomach happy! Buñuelos are a traditional Spanish and Mexican dessert cooked around Christmas time and often paired with atole, a Mexican hot beverage. Although the holidays have passed, you can still enjoy this delicious fritter by following this easy recipe from my favorite, the California Mission Recipes cookbook.


4 eggs

½ cup shortening

2 ¼ cup sifted flour

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil for deep frying (or fat, which is the traditional way)


Stick cinnamon or ground cinnamon

***This recipe makes appx. 30 buñuelos

Begin by beating the eggs until they are light in color and thickened. Melt your shortening by microwaving for about 45 seconds. Add the shortening and milk to the eggs.

Milk was often obtained from goats raised as livestock, as cows were typically raised for tallow and hides.

Combine the sifted flour, sugar and salt.

Sift into the egg mixture and blend well. This should make a soft dough that is easily handled without sticking to the hands.

Shape into balls the size of a walnut and roll on a lightly-floured board into a round-shaped cake similar to tortillas.

While shaping your dough balls, you can begin heating up your vegetable oil or fat for frying. This can be done in a deep pot on the stove. I filled my pot up about half way with oil and allowed it to heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. You can measure the heat of your oil with a sugar thermometer.

**Note: This method of frying can be used for other recipes if you are without a deep fryer!

Using a spider spoon, or another utensil that can withstand the heat and drain out the oil, submerge your dough balls into the hot oil. Allow the balls to fry about 30-45 seconds on each side.

Place the dough balls on a drying rack (preferably with something underneath to catch excess oil) and immediately sprinkle with your mixture of sugar and ground cinnamon. Allow them to cool.

From receipts from supply ships sent from San Blas Mexico, we know that sugar and cinnamon were both imported to the Santa Barbara Presidio.

The more sugar and cinnamon on top the better! Photo by Brittany Avila.

The more sugar and cinnamon on top the better! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Grab some hot cocoa or atole and enjoy!!


Cleveland, Bess Anderson. California Mission Recipes. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1965. 34. Print.

“La Purisima Livestock.” In La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, 1970, p MIS 36

Perissinotto, Giorgio ed. Documenting Everyday Life in Early Spanish California: The Santa Barbara Presidio Memorias y Facturas, 1779-1810. Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, 1998: p.353-363.

Brittany Avila is SBTHP’s Office Manager and is enjoying  pursuing her dream to be a maestro de la cocina



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