Loukoumades, or Greek fried donut balls, are also known as lo'met el adi in the Levant countries and zalabia in Egypt. These heavenly fried donuts are super crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The simple syrup gives the perfect amount of sweetness to these addicting little bites. As a kid, I remember they were only made in the month of Ramadan and on very special occasions.
What I Love About This Recipe
Loukoumades have so many options when it comes to toppings: Nutella, white chocolate, honey, nuts, cinnamon, whatever you like! This specific recipe uses an orange blossom simple syrup and some crushed pistachios (optional) for a Middle Eastern twist.
- Flour: Use all-purpose flour for this recipe. You can try to replace it with a gluten-free flour mix like Bob's Red Mill, but any other flour won't give you the same light and fluffy texture.
- Instant Yeast: This yeast is different from active dry yeast. Its particles are smaller, which means you don't need to dissolve it in warm water and can just mix it straight into the dry ingredients. It also has a longer shelf-life. You can buy it in individually-packed packets or more commonly in larger tins.
- Powdered Milk: My family has always added some powdered milk to the batter. It helps to keep it light and airy when it's fried. Alternatively, you could cut the amount of water in half and replace it with fresh milk (¾ cup of water and ¾ cup of milk).
- Sugar: The batter only has a tiny bit of sugar to help activate the yeast, but you'll need more for the simple syrup, which is sugar-based with a hint of orange blossom.
- Lemon Juice: Use a splash of freshly-squeezed lemon juice to add a unique flavor to the simple syrup, and also to help it thicken up faster.
- Orange Blossom Water: If you've had any Syrian, Palestinian, or Lebanese desserts, you'll know that their unique floral notes come from this ingredient, which compliments sweets very well. If you don't have this on hand, it can be omitted.
- Water: For the loukoumades dough, you'll need warm water (slightly higher than room temperature, not hot because it might kill the yeast). You'll also need some more water to make the simple syrup.
How to Make Loukoumades (aka Zalabia)
Start by mixing the dry ingredients for the loukoumades batter: flour, sugar, instant yeast, salt, and powdered milk. Add the warm water and mix until there are no lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and let the batter rest for an hour.
While the batter is resting, prepare the orange blossom simple syrup. Mix the sugar and water in a pot, and bring it to a boil, stirring frequently. Once the syrup thickens, add the lemon juice and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool.
After an hour, the loukoumades batter should be ready to fry.
Pro Tip: Dip your spoon in water before scooping the dough. You'll be using two spoons to shape the dough. Dip the spoon that's scooping the batter in water after every dough ball. This will prevent the dough from sticking to the spoon and causing misshapen dough balls.
Use the other spoon to scrape off the batter and drop it into the hot oil.
It might look and feel tricky the first time you make loukoumades, but you just need to do a couple of practice ones and you'll get the hang of it. It's actually a simple technique where you use one spoon to scoop the batter and the other to drop it in the oil.
Once you repeated the process and have a couple of dough balls frying in the hot oil, use a slotted spoon or frying spoon to move them around the oil and make sure they fry evenly.
Set the loukoumades (or zalabia) on a paper towel lined plate until all of the donut balls are fried. Just before serving, top with the orange blossom simple syrup (or honey). Or, keep the simple syrup on the side so these balls can be dipped. Optionally, add some crushed pistachios on top.
Tips and Tricks
- Make the simple syrup while your batter rests. You should give the simple syrup enough time to cool and thicken before you pour it onto the deep-fried dough balls. This will also save you time since the batter has to rest for an hour anyways.
- Make sure your water is at the right temperature. Yeast needs lukewarm water in order to help the dough rise. It should be slightly above body temperature because it could kill the yeast if it's too hot. If your kitchen is too cold, you can preheat your oven to 104 ℉ (40 ℃), turn it off, and place the dough inside to rise.
- Don't overcrowd the pot. Only fry a couple of loukoumades at a time, depending on how big your frying pot or pan is. This will give them enough space to expand and fluff up and prevent them from sticking together.
- Serve immediately. Homemade loukoumades are always absolutely delicious. But they're a hundred times better when they're hot, crispy, and freshly fried.
- I find that the best way to serve these loukoumades is to just serve them plain with the syrup on the side. Some people like to soak them in syrup as soon as they're out of the frying oil, but this can make them a little more on the softer side. By keeping the syrup on the side, each person will also be able to control just how sweet they want theirs to be.
Variations and Substitutions
- If substituting milk for powdered milk, substitute ¾ cup water and ¾ cup milk for 1 ½ cups water and powdered milk.
- Instead of making the simple syrup, melt some Nutella in the microwave, and drizzle it on top with some crushed nuts. Or sprinkle some powdered sugar and cinnamon on top. Or top with crushed Oreos, just get creative!
- Drizzle the loukoumades with honey instead of the simple syrup.
- Measuring cups
- Mixing bowls
- Deep Frying Pan
- Frying Spoon or Strainer
Although I don't think you'll be left with any leftovers (my family always fights for the last piece), they can be reheated in the oven. Preheat your oven to 350 ℉ (180 ℃) and bake them for 10-15 minutes.
Hungry For More?
Loukoumades Greek Donuts (Zalabia)
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon powdered milk
- 2 teaspoon instant yeast
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Oil for frying
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ⅔ cup water
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Start by mixing the dry ingredients, then add the warm water and mix until there are no lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and let the batter rest for an hour.
- Prepare the simple syrup by mixing all the sugar and water in a pot, bring to a boil, and cook while mixing frequently until it thickens. Add the lemon juice and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool.
- After an hour, heat the oil on the stove. To check if it's hot enough, drop some batter in; if it bubbles, then the oil is ready. If not, wait a little bit for it to get hotter.
- Using 2 teaspoons, dip one spoon in a bowl of water and scoop up some dough. Use the other spoon to scrape the dough into the oil. Repeat until you have a couple of dough balls frying in the oil.
- Use a frying spatula or slotted spoon to move them around in the oil, making sure they evenly fry on all sides. Once they're golden-brown, take them out of the oil and place them in a colander or on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all of your dough is fried.
- Drizzle the simple syrup on top of the loukoumades and sprinkle your toppings of choice.
- Serve immediately, they're best when fresh and crispy.
- Substitute ¾ cup milk and ¾ water for 1 ½ cup water and 2 tablespoons of powdered milk.
- Drizzle honey in lieu of orange blossom simple syrup.
- Alternate toppings are Nutella, crushed Oreos, powdered sugar, cinnamon, and crushed nuts.