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This Cape Malay Cardamom bollas recipe is a traditional yeast free buttermilk doughnut dipped in a fragrant saffron syrup that can be served for afternoon tea, iftar snacks or for breakfast when there are no Cape Malay Potato Koesisters (Spiced doughnuts) around.
A few years ago I brought these cardamom bollas to work during Ramadan for my non-fasting colleagues, and one claimed that it was the best cake he had ever eaten.
What are bollas?
Bollas are quick doughnuts leavened with baking powder instead of yeast. Bollas batter is soft and spoonable and they are similar to glazed donut holes, except that you don’t have to press out any shapes.
In a traditional Cape Malay bollas recipe the cooled doughnuts are dipped in hot sugar syrup and rolled in desiccated coconut flakes. In my modern version they are dipped in hot saffron syrup then rolled in finely chopped pistachios.
Although I had never eaten anything like it elsewhere, an Australian acquaintance mentioned that it was very similar to a Dutch recipe that she learned from her grandmother, called oliebolle. Our Cape Malay ancestry is varied as you can read in My Cape Malay DNA Ethnicity Decoded. I suspect that this was one of the many foods that we inherited from our Dutch and other European slave masters / ancestors.
In the Netherlands they have oliebollen; in France they have croustillons; in Italy they have fritole and in Serbia they have krofne. The Cape Malay bollas differ from these in that they are leavened with yeast while the bollas only contain baking powder.
Bollas are soft like perfectly rounded pillow puffs and are nothing like the crispy sugar soaked plaited koeksister recipes of the Afrikaner community. They are boiled in sugar syrup for a minute instead of being rolled in confectioner’s sugar like donut holes.
When do we eat bollas?
Bollas can be served at any time with a hot beverage like tea, coffee or boeber. It is a very popular sweet treat to serve at iftar during Ramadhan. It can also be served in the place of Cape Malay Koesisters for Sunday morning breakfast.
During one of my first Ramadhan’s in Dubai, when I had none of my recipes with me, I went online to find anything that would make it feel more like Ramadhan at home.
How to make bollas from scratch
I adapted this bollas recipe and knew from the very first batch that it is the perfect easy bollas recipe. The texture is light and airy and the bollas are perfectly rounded every time. The original recipe has been adapted to my own style of baking and the method varies slightly from the original.
- The original recipe says to let the dough stand for at least 30 minutes before frying. I do not like the texture when it is left that long and would recommend that it be fried within 10 minutes of mixing.
- For my cardamom bollas recipe I have halved the original recipe, decreased the vanilla extract and added fine cardamom to the batter. It tastes perfectly delicious with one teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you do not like cardamom.
- Traditional Cape Malay bolla recipes often had currants added, very similar to the oliebollen mentioned above. If you add currants you should only use vanilla extract for flavoring as the flavor may clash with the saffron and orange blossom.
- I have added saffron and orange blossom water to the syrup and sprinkled it with ground pistachios for color and texture. If you don’t have any of these, don’t fret, the syrup is fine with only the lemon juice and you may use fine desiccated coconut for sprinkling.
- You can make this bollas recipe without buttermilk and use natural yogurt (not greek yogurt) or laban instead. Alternately you can add 15 ml of white grape vinegar or lemon juice for every 250 ml of milk to get home made buttermilk.
These Cardamom bollas with saffron and orange blossom syrup is the perfect light doughnut recipe to break the fast or have as a sweet treat with afternoon tea.
If bollas are not your thing then CLICK on the links below to try one of the other Cape Malay recipes:
- Cape Malay Pancakes (pannekoek recipe)
- Cape Malay Potato Pudding (Aartappel porring)
- Cape Malay Pickled Fish (Ingelegde vis)
- Cape Malay Sugar Bean bredie (Suiker boontjie bredie)
- Cape Malay Pepper Steak Pie (Vleis Pastei)
Cape Malay Cardamom bollas recipe
- 280 grams cake or fine sponge flour approximately 2 cups or 500 ml
- 10 ml baking powder approximately 2 teaspoons
- 5 ml fine cardamom approximately 1 teaspoon
- 1 ml salt approximately 1/4 teaspoon
- 67.5 grams fine granulated sugar approximately 92.5 ml
- 1 egg
- 92.5 ml oil 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
- 250 ml buttermilk approximately 1 cup
- 5 ml vanilla extract approximately 1 teaspoon
- Oil for deep frying should be at least 5 cm deep
- 500 grams sugar fine granulated, approximately 625 ml or 2 1/2 cups
- 500 ml water approximately 2 cups
- 10 stamens saffron
- 5 ml orange blossom water approximately 1 teaspoon
- 15 ml fresh lemon juice approximately 1 tablespoon
- 5 ml butter approximately 1 teaspoon
- 125 ml pistachios coarsely ground
- Sift the flour, cardamom and baking powder together in a bowl with the salt and set aside.
- Whisk the eggs and sugar in a bowl until it has doubled in volume and the color has turned pale yellow.
- Add the oil and vanilla and whisk again to combine.
- Add the buttermilk and whisk again for a minute.
- Add the sifted flour and mix into a sticky dough. If your buttermilk container was larger than 250ml DO NOT add the rest of it to the dough as it makes it runny and prone to spilling out of itself when frying.
- Fry a tablespoon full in moderately hot oil until golden and cooked through. Adjust the heat if required to ensure that the bollas are not browned too quickly and undercooked. If the oil is too cold it will soak it up like a sponge. Do not crowd the frying space.
- When cooked remove the bollas with a slotted spoon and place on a tray lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Leave to cool completely before putting in the sugar syrup.
- For the syrup boil all the ingredients together until the syrup starts to bubble, about 15-20 minutes. If it is too thin it will be watery and soak into the bolla instead of forming a glossy cover.
- Remove the bollas from the syrup with a slotted spoon and toss in ground pistachios.
- Serve and enjoy.
- If you do not have buttermilk you can substitute the same amount (250 ml) of full cream milk mixed with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice (leave to stand for 5-10 minutes so that it thickens and add another tablespoon only if required). Alternatively you may use plain drinking yogurt or laban that has a similar consistency as buttermilk.
- If you do not have orange blossom water, use the finely grate rind of 1/2 an orange instead.
Disclaimer: Nutritional information for the recipe is an approximation and varies according to the ingredients and products used.
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