Traditional Romanian fried doughnuts – papanasi (papanash) - made with cottage cheese and topped with smetana and jam.
These papanasi or Romanian fried donuts/doughnuts are the best donuts ever!!! Soft yet crunchy, oozing with sour cream and blueberry jam, ever bite is a complete delight. No wonder that they are the most popular Romanian dessert!
I am not a doughnut person generally, I buy them rarely and make them myself once every five years or so, I would say. It is not that I don't like them at all, but at least not as much as to ever crave them unless I see a scrumptious photograph on one of my favorite blogs.
But what I do crave from time to time are these papanasi (pronounced papanash).
These cheese doughnuts topped with jam are one of the best known Romanian desserts, something you will probably find on the menu of every Romanian restaurant out there.
They are quick and easy to make and utterly delicious, something that both children and grown-ups will love.
I am telling you, if you tried them once, you will remember them for the rest of your life, and you will probably look for a recipe and try to make them yourself at home. They are that good!
What are papanasi?
- They are a typical Romanian dessert, basically cheese doughnuts. There are two kinds of Romanian fried doughnuts: fried or boiled papanasi.
- Both kinds are made with the Romanian branza de vaci, which means cow's cheese. Branza de vaci is a fresh kind of cheese, low in fat, and high in protein. It has a soft consistency and a mild and fresh taste. It is similar to cottage cheese, but a little milder I would say.
- However, branza de vaci is a typical Romanian product, something that I cannot buy in Germany.
- It was my dear cousin, Georgiana, who gave me this recipe for papanasi and suggested to use cottage cheese instead of branza de vaci. So I did try to make papanasi with cottage cheese and it worked wonderfully.
- The only adjustment I had to make was the amount of flour I used. My cousin told me that the dough will be soft and sticky, but I should definitely not add any extra flour except the flour needed to roll the papanasi on the working surface.
- I really did try to follow her advice, but it would not work at all, the papanasi were sticky beyond description and did not hold together long enough for me to throw them in the oil.
- The reason was the amount of water contained by the typical German cottage cheese, which is much higher than the amount of water contained by branza de vaci. I realized that after searching for pictures of the Romanian cheese and seeing its much drier consistency.
- So I added a little bit more flour, not much, just enough to make the dough “workable” and the Romanian fried doughnuts or papanasi came out wonderfully.
How to serve?
- I served them just as they are supposed to be served, as a Romanian dessert after a light Romanian soup for 6 adults and 2 kids and everybody just loved them. Not only loved them but could not stop talking about them a long time after the meal was finished.
- The papanasi are best served immediately, still warm and they would not be papanasi if they would not be topped with smetana and a runny, sweet blueberry jam.
- Smetana is a typical Romanian and Eastern European dairy product, similar to crème fraiche. It is made by souring heavy cream and has a somewhat lower fat content than crème fraiche, between 10% and 30%.
- I usually buy the German version with 20 % fat (Schmand) or the smetana found in the Russian store, which comes even closer to the Romanian version. However, if you cannot find real smetana, crème fraiche would be a good substitute in this case.
- When it comes to the jam, the papanasi are usually served with blueberry jam, but of course, you can have them with any jam you like, I think sour cherry, blackberry, black currants would be all great alternatives.
- What I pay attention to is the consistency of the jam, for papanasi I prefer a rather runny jam with whole fruits. Finely cut, sturdy kind of jams or jellies won't do in this case, the jam has to be runny, slide down the sides of the papanasi and make little pools of jam on the plate... 🙂 Yummm!
Other very popular Romanian desserts:
Salam de biscuiti - Biscuit Chocolate Salami
Spuma de capsuni - Romanian Strawberry Foam
Cremeschnitte - Vanilla Creme Pie
Crema de zahar ars - Creme Brulee
Ciocolata de casa - Romanian Homemade Chocolate
Romanian Cheese Doughnuts – Papanasi
- 500 g cottage cheese 1.1 lbs/ 2 ¼ cups
- 2 eggs
- a few drops rum aroma
- 75 g granulated sugar 2.6 oz/ ⅓ + 1 tablespoon
- 1 sachet vanilla sugar
- 230-250 g all-purpose flour 8.1 – 8.8 oz / about 2 cups
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- cooking oil for frying the doughnuts
- 250 g smetana or crème fraiche to serve, 8.8 oz/ about 1 cup
- whole fruit runny blueberry jam to serve or sour cherry, blackberry, black currants jam etc
- Drain the excess water from the cottage cheese.
- Blend: Place the cottage cheese into a bowl. Add the eggs and the rum aroma, the granulated, and vanilla sugar. With an immersion blender, blend the ingredients until you obtain a rough paste. The cottage cheese should not be turned into a smooth paste, just blended a little bit to make the cheese balls a little more delicate.
- Dough: Mix about 230 g/ 8.1 oz of the flour and the baking soda and add them to the cheese mixture. Mix with a spoon. Flour the working surface and your hands generously. Turn the dough onto the floured surface and knead it lightly to form a ball. The dough should still be somewhat sticky yet manageable. Add the remaining flour only if absolutely necessary, only if the dough sticks so much that you will not be able to work it at all.
- Form donuts: Divide the dough into 9 balls. Roll 8 of the balls into thick sausages and unite the sausage ends to get a circle with a hole in the middle. Use the last ball to make 8 little balls, which will be used to top the papanasi.
- Heat oil: In the meantime, heat the oil in a pot. Use enough oil to have about 10 cm/ 4 inches of it in the pot. To check if the oil has reached the right temperature, insert a toothpick in the oil; if there are blisters forming around the toothpick, you can start frying the papanasi.
- Fry: Only fry two or three papanasi at a time, depending on the size of your pan, do not overcrowd the pan; the papanasi should be able to move around freely. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Turn the doughnuts with a slotted spoon a few times in between and fry until the papanasi are golden brown. It took me about 5 to 7 minutes for one batch, but keep a close look and take them out as soon as they have a nice golden color. Or leave them longer if necessary. The little balls will need less time, about 3-4 minutes or so.
- Remove excess oil: Place them on plates lined with kitchen paper and dry them to absorb some excess fat.
- Serve warm topped with smetana and blueberry jam. Place the little balls on top and top them with a bit of smetana and jam as well.
They look delicious!! I'm not a fan of fried doughnuts, but I love papanasi, it has a different texture and they aren't as oily.
In UK we have sour cream and that is similar to the Romanian smantana, same consistency and a slightly sour taste. I made papanasi with cottage cheese and soft cheese and I think I like the soft cheese version better. Not sure if these options are similar in Germany though.
CLAUDIA CAMPEAN says
the smetana you are talking about ,really is sour cream"smantana"
I was wondering whether we could replace cottage cheese with some like ricotta?
Hi Amalia. I've never tried ricotta, but other readers were talking about using cream cheese. Maybe that works.
My mom only makes it with ricotta. We are Romanians
@CLAUDIA CAMPEAN, yes it translates directly to sour cream but not all sour cream is made the same. Here in the US sour cream has half the fat and is not as sour as in Romania. Even using crème fraiche which is higher in fat doesn’t taste the same
Angie@Angie's Recipes says
They look amazing! Wish I could still enjoy those without a 2nd thought! You know...waist line wouldn't love it...
Darling, one or two won’t make you fat just like one or two salads won’t make you thin. Eat the dessert after you eat really healthy for a few days. I promise your waistline will be fine. ?
This for me something realy new and interesting. Thank you for sharing !
Kate @ Framed Cooks says
Cheese and donuts all in the same treat? I am in!!!
Valentina | The Baking Fairy says
These are so gorgeous and they sound very yummy! I love donuts but I can't say that I've ever had papanasi. I will have to try making them soon! 🙂
Dessert as a main is a fabulous idea!
These grown-up donuts are fantastic, I can imagine how delicious they are balanced by the tangy creme and saucy blueberry jam. Wish I could grab that fork and snag a bite right now!
the little balls on top are a great finishing touch! this sounds like a very delicious thing to put into one's mouth. 🙂
Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary says
Oh wow, these are such pretty doughnuts, girlfriend!!! SOOO perfect for Valentines Day! I've never had Romanian doughnuts before, but they look amazing! LOVE the cottage cheese in here!!! Can't wait to try these! Cheers!
Laura Dembowski says
I have a weakness for doughnuts, but it is so hard to find good ones. I finally made my own last year and fell in love. It's time to give these a try. They look heavenly.
Kathryn @ Family Food on the Table says
I've never had doughnuts like this but now I really want to try them! The flavors sound amazing!!
Chris Scheuer says
Wow, never heard of papanasi before but so happy to get acquainted! They sound wonderful!
Evi @ greenevi says
These doughnuts look great! I love that jam topping, it's so indulgent <3
Sinful but I really would love to sink my teeth on this decadent papanasi
Kim | Low Carb Maven says
Adina, I have always thought that your recipes and photos were tremendous. You never disappoint. I would love to try these. Perhaps I'll make them for my children and take a bite. Spectacular. Yummed and starred!
I tried to do pspanasi for the 3rd time in my life and your receipe is from far the best I ever tried! I had the same issue of not finding romanian branza de vaci so used 200gr cottage with 200gr creamy cheese. Absolutely amazing, probably the best I ever ate! Thanks for sharing!
Hi Ioana. I am so glad to read your comment, thank you for the feedback. I will try the combination with cream cheese as well next time I make papanasi.
Can I use cream cheese?
Hi Iulia. I've never used cream cheese for the papanasi, but I heard that other people do that and it works. If you do try it, let me know. 🙂
Does it mean 1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon of sugar or 1 and 1/3 tablespoons??
Hi Max. 1|3 cup and 1 tablespoon.
Tried your recipe, a disaster from A to Z. I am blaming it on the miserable cottage cheese I used, which had the usual American crap added to it. I thought I’d give it a try since I had bought it with this thing in mind. I managed to shpae the suckers, even rolled the balls, and had them in the freezer for about 15 mins. thinking theyl ll better keep their shape in the hot oil. I guess the oil was too hot, so I ended up with black bith of burned batter in the pan and allover the doughnuts...had to scrape off the damned things because did not want to feed my son all that nasty stuff. Unless someone tells me exactly what kind of oil to use and at what temp. to fry them, I will not attempt this again...every single restaurant in Romania was offering this scrumptious desert, and It was perect looking, just like in your pictures. Todya was definitely not my day for this. Poor kid ate them ( what ca be bad with cream and chocolate syrup( nutella mixed with whipping cream ) on top?
So sorry, Mihaela. I don't know what to say about the American cottage cheese, here it is kept pretty simple, just the cheese and some salt. Maybe it is too wet and that is why they don't keep the shape? maybe draining the cheese would help, if that is the case.
I heard about making the papanasi with cream cheese as well, but I have never tried it because it always worked so well with cottage cheese. Regarding the oil, I use regular canola oil, nothing special. I never used a thermometer, I stick a skewer in the oil and if I see bubbles around it, than I know that the oil is hot enough. If the first doughnut is too dark, than the oil is too hot. Take the pot off the heat for a few moments to allow it to cool down a bit and turn the heat lower, they should fry rather slowly, that will allow them to cook inside without getting burned on the outside. Maybe you try it again some day, they are so good and kids love them.
Thanks for replying so soon and sorry for my typos in the previous comment. I usually read the ingredients but this time I was looking at the fat content (4% is all you can wish for), and curd size, and once I found the large size 4% I was happy enough and forgot about the rest! Even the organic kind might have added stuff to it.. It would have been pointless to try draining that thing, they add thickening agents which I am not even trying to spell, and other chemicals . If I keep the oil at lower temps they don't get dark but the inside remains uncooked, that's my problem with regular dough (gogosi) as well (actually I did try it with tis batch and had them in the oil for less than 5 mins for sure, but still ended up with nasty bits of carbon on them, perhaps using 5 inches of oil instead of 2 would have been better....I guess practice makes better, and I need to do some research about what oil is best for frying, they have all kinds of blends on the shelves here in teh US. Still not a fan of frying things but once in a while, if done well, it's worth the effort..or maybe I should just forget all about it and go visit Romania more often!
Wow! Just had two huge papanasi in Sighisoara - my first taste ever. It was almost the dessert that beat me - almost. Lovin' my first trip to Romania, why haven't I been here before?
Romania is a beautiful country to travel, too bad is not such a well known touristic destination. And papanasi are amazing, not something one should have every week, but soooooo good.
I just stumbled upon this page and I know this post is quite old but I wanted to add something 😀 Isn’t cottage cheese the one that comes in like really small balls? I’m honestly surprised that you worked with that cause I never would’ve thought of using that. ? My parents are from Romania and I travel there at least four times a year, but I haven’t seen “branza de vaci” the way they have it there - what I do know on the other hand, is that our “Speisetopfen”/“Quark” (i live in Austria) is the closest you can get to branza de vaci, at least according to my mum - but also from what I’ve seen in other video recipes. And “smetana”, actually “smântână” in romanian, is our “Sauerrahm”/“sour cream” just that theirs, as you said, is sweeter than ours and Creme fraiche might be more fitting with this recipe.
Just wanted to add these things, especially the “Topfen” part, cause that’s what we use 🙂 maybe someone can use this info.
Hi Damaris. Thank you for the feedback. Cottage cheese is indeed the one with the little balls (Hüttenkäse), it is different in structure from the original, but otherwise pretty similar. It works very well in this recipe. I've never used quark to make the papanasi, probably because quark doesn't really exist in Romania and my cousin, who gave me this recipe, only ever mentioned cottage cheese. 🙂 Also I think cottage cheese has this rather neutral taste like branza de vaci, while quark is quite pungent when low fat and too creamy and soft when full fat. I might try it though, you make me curious! Let me know if you try it first. 🙂
Just got done making it. Followed the directions to the letter and it turned out perfect !! Thank you and my nieghbor thanks you! ( she is from Romainia and I just met her in our apartment building ...thought we would give her a taste of home )
So happy to hear it, Maureen. Thank you for your comment.
I never like donuts as a child to be honest but my mom is romanian amd she does things like this and when i was 11 i had my first bite of this and i loved it so much i never had it since i was 12 and this is something im going to do right now
I know this article is old but if you see this please reply
My name is muneeb its true its not romanian because my dad named me he was asian so yes im half asian and half romanian if your interested
Hi Muneeb. Thank you for your comment. Papanasi are great, so much better than simple donuts, aren't they? I hope you will like the recipe and that it will be the way you remember it from your childhood. 🙂
I have made them today using your recipe, I have been using ricotta cheese instead, which is the Italian sweet cheese version.
My partner choose to have them with Nutella on top, and I’ve decided to use sour cherry jam and, of course, smantana. 🙂
He said it was the best dessert he ever had 🙂
That makes me so happy, Anamaria. 🙂 🙂 Happy Easter!
Perhaps you could try ricotta cheese, but not the one that comes in a plastic tub. Here in Canada you can find ricotta wrapped in paper and it's kind of solid, not creamy or crumbly. The excess water is easy to drain. It's the best fresh cheese, for many kinds of recipes, like cheese strudel, pasca and pretty sure papanas, although I've never attempted this one. I like it when I can find it in a good restaurant, but it seems a bit tricky to do at home. Glad you enjoyed it, it's something I go out of my way to find.
Hi Tudval, I know that people have made papanasi with ricotta as well and it should be working, but I have never tried it myself. You should try making them at home, the recipe is much easier than it might seem. 🙂
CRISTINA T. says
You could make your own cheese at home, using fresh milk, bringing it to a boil point and add lemon zest and the cheese will be coming on top.
Thank you, Cristina. I might give it a try soon. 🙂
Martha CX says
I followed this recipe but since I'm in the U.S I used Daisy Cottage Cheese (4% fat). Ingredients listed was Cultured Skim Milk, Cream, Salt. I used a cheese clothe to squeeze out the excess liquid and the cheese looked really dry to after I did this. However after adding all the ingredients together, and using my hand to mix everything together, I got a very sticky dough, I even added alot more flour, then got the dough to the point where I can shape them all into balls, I didn't even attempt to try and shape them into little doughnuts. It was still sticky but I managed to get these balls into the hot oil. When they were cooked, I tried it and it tasted like fried dough, hahaha. Okay so I guess i had to use way too much flour to balance all the moisture in the cottage cheese, so now these balls didn't even taste right. It's the fault of the cottage cheese, I'm going to look into using ricotta cheese next as I did see some other people use that instead. Will report back!
Hi Virginia, it is hard to say about the different products being sold in different countries, I can only hope it fits most of the times...The dough is rather sticky, you should only add enough flour to just be able to work the dough, it should still remain rather sticky. I hope ricotta works better.
Christina Gluck says
I have a question. Can you make the dough the day before and form and fry the papanasi the next day?
Hi Christina. I don't think that would work.
look delicious might try making it
Would the fat free versions of cottage cheese affect the recipe, or is it best to just stick to full fat?
I always use full fat for this recipe.
Tina M says
This looks amazing! My son is cooking this for a school project on Romania and we are hoping all goes well.
Has anyone tried mixing US sour cream with Whipping cream to add extra sweetness the US kind is lacking?
It's not smetana , it's smantana, corect your article
No need to correct it, thanks, it's right the way it is.
seriously....this recipe needs help for an American audience.
What is rum aroma, how does it differ from flavoring and extract, and if substitutions are OK, what is the amount of the subs?
What is a "cachet" of vanilla sugar?? In cooking a sachet is usually an aromatic made of herbs wrapped in cheesecloth and added to a boiling or simmering liquid. But it is then removed. This recipe calls for the sachet to added to the dry ingredients and blended, suggesting it will remain.
Cottage cheese...I am guessing small curd? Low-moisture? Drained? I can imagine the recipe for a doughnut would want large curd and the liquid cottage cheese is packaged in.
Can you improve this recipe but giving more detailed information?
I will try to clarify that, but I definitely think you are overthinking it or not thinking enough about it. Rum flavor/ aroma - if you can't find my product, read the label on your product and use it accordingly; it's the safest way to go about it, as products can differ greatly from one country to another. And when it comes to extracts and stuff, everybody knows you only need a tiny amount. I cannot possibly give substations for everything because I don't know all the products in this world; a bit of self-responsibility should be implicit.
Definition of sachet - the first answer when you google it:
a small sealed bag or packet containing a small quantity of something.
"a sachet of sugar"
So it is a small packet of something and should be more than obvious that, being made of paper, cloth, plastic, or whatever; you just open it and use the contents, and you don't blend the paper into the ingredients. I have never read a recipe stating: the paper bag should be discarded and not be added to the food, everybody knows that already.
A sachet contains about 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar, if you have just 1/2 of a tablespoon or even 2 instead won't change the recipe much.
The cottage cheese question I can understand; I didn't think to elaborate on that because we only have one kind of cottage cheese around here; it comes in low-fat or full-fat and I use the full-fat version for baking. I suppose it's small curd and rather dry (but I don't have a comparison); there is only a tiny amount of liquid in the container (about 1/2 tablespoon) which I discard. I don't know why you think that large curd with lots of liquid would be the obvious choice, I would think exactly the other way around. If you only have the large curd, drain it, and mash the curd with a fork until it looks a bit like in the images belonging to this recipe.
I hope this helps. Have a nice day.
Really delicious! I am in the US. The adaptations that I made were that I used full fat small curd cottage cheese and I drained it in a sieve for a couple of hours, then put it on a paper towel. It was pretty dry. Then for the sugar sachet I used 1 T of sugar and 1t vanilla. I mixed the sugar and cottage cheese in my electric mixer first (instead of a blender), then I added the rest. Surprisingly, I did not need as much flour as the recipe called for (I remembered that it should be a bit sticky)! I added the zest of 1 lemon instead of the rum extract. This was so simple and delicious. I cant wait to make it again! Thanks for a great recipe.
So happy to hear it.