Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup

Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup

Cardamom bollas with Saffron Syrup is a traditional Cape Malay yeast free buttermilk doughnut that has received a modern makeover. They are very similar to glazed donut holes, except that you don’t have to press out any shapes and it has a soft spoonable batter.

One of my colleagues at work once claimed that this fried donut recipe was the best cake he had ever eaten.

What are bollas?

Bollas are yeast free doughnuts leavened with baking powder and deep fried. When the bollas are completely cooled we dip it in hot sugar syrup and roll them in desiccated coconut flakes or finely chopped nuts.

I had never eaten anything like it elsewhere and one day 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 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.

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 / donuts from scratch

I adapted this recipe for Buttermilk bollas and knew from the very first batch that this is the perfect 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 this version I have halved the original recipe, decreased the vanilla extract and added fine cardamom to the dough mixture. It tastes perfectly delicious with one teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you do not like cardamom. Traditional Cape Malay bollas often had currents added, very similar to the oliebollen mentioned above.

Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup

Up close and personal

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 coconut for sprinkling.

My Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup and orange blossom water is the perfect light doughnut recipe to break the fast or have as a sweet treat with afternoon tea.

Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup

Tea for one

How to fry

Cardamom bollas Cardamom bollas frying
Cardamom bollas Cardamom bollas nearly there
Cardamom bollas in saffron syrup Cardamom bollas in saffron syrup
Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup

Cardamom bollas with saffron syrup

Light and airy yeast free doughnuts flavored with cardamom and dipped in a fragrant saffron and orange blossom syrup.
4 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
Total time: 1 hr
Servings: 24
Calories: 209
Author: Razena Schroeder



  • 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
  • Oil for deep frying (should be at least 5 cm deep)

Saffron syrup

  • 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
  • 15 ml fresh lemon juice
  • 5 ml butter


  • 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.
  • 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.


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.


Serving: 100g | Calories: 209kcal (10%) | Carbohydrates: 34g (11%) | Protein: 3g (6%) | Fat: 7g (11%) | Cholesterol: 8mg (3%) | Sodium: 33mg (1%) | Potassium: 126mg (4%) | Sugar: 24g (27%) | Vitamin A: 55IU (1%) | Vitamin C: 0.6mg (1%) | Calcium: 40mg (4%) | Iron: 0.4mg (2%)

Nutritional information for the recipe is an approximation and varies according to the ingredients and products used.

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  • Reply
    November 10, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Slm, can we substitute the full amount of milk with plain yoghurt? Will this change the taste, texture or how it shapes when frying?

    Shukran. xx

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      November 12, 2016 at 10:36 pm

      Wa alaykum salaam wa rahmatullah.

      As mentioned in the recipe notes, if you don’t have the buttermilk required in the recipe, a good substitute is 250 ml full cream milk plus a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice OR white vinegar. Use one tablespoon first and if it doesn’t thicken within 5-10 minutes add another tablespoon. Be careful not too add too much as it will curdle and split the milk. It won’t be as thick as the buttermilk you buy in the shops but serves the same purpose.

      If you use something like laban or plain drinking yogurt with a consistency similar to buttermilk it should be fine. Greek yogurt or other thick yogurt may make the batter too stiff and make it less likely to be cooked through to the centre.

  • Reply
    Rafeeda@The Big Sweet Tooth
    July 31, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I prefer to call Google Grandma (GGma) – she knows everything! 😉 These bollas look so much like lqeimat, but with a lot of flavors… looks so delicious!

    • Reply
      Razena Schroeder
      August 2, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      I had never heard of luqeimat until I went on a desert safari one time and they served it with Arabic coffee. The bollas have no yeast and no rising time is required. The texture is completely different from the luqeimat, less bready and less chewy.

      PS: A few years ago I bought some luqeimat at Global village, stuck a toothpick in them and told my nephews they were edible balloons since they were crying for the big balloons :O

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