I am very intrigued by these very special Epiphany fritters of Amorgos, the southernmost island of the Cyclades. Instead of the plain water or milk used in the dough fritters of Greece and the Middle East (called lokma, zalabia etc.), photopites are made with a spicy brew laced with hot peppers, and scented with bay leaves and anise seeds. I have no idea where the recipe comes from; I suspect that it was either brought to the island by North African sailors, or is a medieval remnant of the savory-spicy-sweet dishes that we still find in some Aegean islands.
Makes about 50 walnut-size fritters
2 cups water
4-5 dry chilies, or a good pinch red pepper flakes, to taste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon anise seeds
2 teaspoon instant dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup ouzo (or other anise-flavored drink, like Pernod)
Olive oil, for frying
Honey for drizzling (if too thick, dip the jar in hot water)
Toasted sesame seeds, for sprinkling (optional)
Bring the water, chilies, bay leaves and anise seeds to a boil on medium-high heat, and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm. Pass through a fine sieve and discard the solids. Measure 1 1/2 cups and discard the rest.
Place the flour in a large bowl, mix in the yeast, the sugar and the salt, and then gradually stir in the lukewarm infusion and ouzo. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth and elastic, 5-10 minutes. Cover with plastic film and leave to rise for 1 hour, then beat again for 5 minutes, and let it rise again for 30 minutes.
In a deep skillet or small saucepan pour about 2 inches olive oil and heat to 375 Fahrenheit (190 C). Fry the fritters in batches: Drop tablespoon of batter into the oil. Use 2 tablespoons, dipped in cold oil first, filling one with batter and pushing with the second spoon to drop the batter into the oil. Wipe the spoons with paper towels after each drop. Fry the irregular dough fritters, turning them with a slotted spoon, until puffed, golden brown, and crisp all over, about 4-6 minutes. Do not crowd the skillet, because the temperature of the oil will drop and the fritters will be soggy and flat, instead of puffed and light.
With a slotted spoon lift the fritters and place on paper towels to drain. Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with sesame seeds if you like. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Loosely based on a recipe by Sofia Loudarou, from the book ‘Cycladic Tastes’ by Nikoletta Foskolou.