There is no doubt that many of the best sweet treats are simple and often just make use of basic everyday ingredients. Rice pudding comes to mind, and that is the case with a dessert, that although not very well known, originates from Murcia. Paparajotes go back many centuries, and it is thought that they were introduced into the Iberian Peninsula by the moors, although there is also evidence that Sephardic Jews were responsible for introducing them into Murcia.
Traditionally, they are prepared in the Spring, when the lemon leaves are at their best, usually paler in colour and more tender, but they are a star treat during the fair in September too, and can be prepared all year round as the ingredients are always available. Very much a dessert prepared at home, part of the ‘cocina de la abuela’ concept, it is actually difficult to find it in restaurants. It is however being kept alive in the region by institutions promoting artisan traditions and heritage, and those who move away from the area, remember these with nostalgia.
Paparajotes are part of the numerous desserts prepared in Spain using flour, eggs and milk, and fried in a pan like for example churros, buñuelos, rosquillas, orejas, flores or tortas fritas. The twist is of course the use of the lemon leaf and the lemon, which is very common in Murcia, and I am told that they’ll use ‘un chorrico de limon’ even in soups.
The elderly lady I had the pleasure of chatting to about these, originally from Murcia, but now a resident of Marbella, had a number of stories to tell about how each family had their own little twist based on the same generic base, but she burst into fits of laughter telling me how it was common to serve these to ‘los guiris’ who would attempt to chew through the lemon leaf ‘como una cabra’ and they were later told ‘¡la hoja no se come!’
So now that this is settled, paparajotes are eaten much like you would an artichoke leaf, by removing the flesh with your teeth, in this case the dough, let’s look at the ingredients and method.
For 4 people you would need about 12 lemon leaves, one small egg, 125ml of milk, a spoonful of lemon zest, ½ a sachet of yeast, 110g of flour, sunflower oil for frying, 75g of sugar and 5g of ground cinnamon. I used a little orange blossom water and almond milk instead of milk and I am told that best results are when these are fried in ‘aceite de orujo de oliva’ that’s olive pomace oil, although I used extra virgin olive oil.
So first of all the egg is beaten, adding a pinch of salt, the lemon zest, the yeast and the milk, making sure it is all well mixed and there are no lumps. It mustn’t be too thick or too runny, but it must adhere to the lemon leaf, which you wash well and pat dry. I added a few drops of orange blossom water, a few drops of lemon juice would have also been great, and then let the batter rest for 15 minutes.
At that point the oil would be hot and one by one, the leaves are soaked in the batter, making sure the leaf is well coated. Removing any excess batter, they are gently dropped into the hot oil one at a time. They are ready in a matter of minutes but you do need to make sure you turn them over so they brown equally. As and when these are cooked, you let them drain on kitchen paper and prepare a plate with the sugar and the cinnamon, and then coat each leaf in this mixture, although I just sprinkled some caster sugar and cinnamon over each instead.
They need to be eaten immediately, to ensure they are crispy but spongy in the inside, and an idea in the springtime is to lay them on a platter, and scatter some lemon blossom, resulting in the most beautifully intoxicating aroma.
To give them a further twist you could add a few drops of anis, orujo or limoncello to the dough, and paparajotes are usually eaten with good coffee, anis or mistela, a fortified wine.
However you have them, and I quite enjoy them with a cold limoncello, paparajotes are a treat and a must have at some point. But remember… ‘¡la hoja no se come!’
Text And Photography By Mark Montovio