As part of a series on the traditions of Losar, Tibetan New Year, here is a recipe for bulug, which is a fairly fancy type of the new year pastries collectively called khapse.
For a simpler kind of khapse to cook, see our recipe for the nyapsha style of khaptog. Though bulug might look elaborate, it is actually not that difficult to make, though it is definitely messy and greasy. We work on a camp stove out in the garage to keep the grease out of the kitchen.
Video: How to Make Bulug
*Please be very careful when cooking khapse. The hot oil is extremely dangerous and you don’t want it to splash on you. Make sure any utensils you put into the oil are free of water, as the water will pop in the hot oil.*
Lhasa folk say kar sum, ngar sum in reference to the bulug batter, meaning “three milk, three sugar.” The ratio is not exactly that in our recipe, but if you have more of a sweet tooth you can add more sugar :-)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup of warm water (more sugar if you like sweeter pastries. We used turbinado raw cane sugar. Or, you can make sugar-free khapse by leaving the sugar out.)
- 2 cups milk, or “1/2 and 1/2” (Dairy product that is half milk and half cream.)
- 1 quart of sunflower for deep frying (We used sunflower oil and often use avocado oil, for health reasons, though you can use any vegetable oil you like.)
Items Needed for Cooking
- A wooden utensil, like a long wooden chopstick. We actually used the handle of a long wooden spoon.
- A deep frying pan.
- Optional: A camp stove or electric skillet you can use outside to reduce mess in your home.
- A pastry bag/funnel like you would use for decorating a cake with icing or something similar. If you’re not already familiar with this, note that these often need also tips and couplers. Note that the plastic bags some people use for cake decorating might melt near the hot oil, so if you make your own, we recommend cloth. The one we used was a sturdy cloth style. If you want to try this without the tips and couplers that go with a pastry bag, we recommend testing out the size of the hole so that you get a stream of batter about the size you see in the image below or in the video. You probably want to do all this testing before you get your hot oil going.
- Dissolve the sugar in 1 cup of warm water
- Combine flour, sugar and 1/2 and 1/2 or milk
- Stir the batter in a single direction for about 20 minutes, with a wooden utensil (we used a wooden chopstick). The consistency of the mixture should be like pancake batter, with no big lumps. 20 minutes is a long time, you may need some help for this :-)
- We do this outside on a camping stove, as the process is quite greasy and messy.
- You will make one big circle of bulug at a time and it helps to have an assistant on hand to help keep the batter in a circular shape. (See the video.)
- Pour 1 quart of sunflower oil into a large, deep pot or pan.
- Have an pastry bag/icing decorator bag ready to fill with the batter.
- Heat the oil on high until it starts to smoke a tiny bit. The oil will be hot enough when you can drop one piece of dough into the oil and it pops up to the surface right away.
- Pour your batter into your pastry bag.
- When the oil is ready, squeeze a steady stream of batter into the oil, working to make first the outline of large circle and then to fill in the circle. (See video.) It really helps at this point to have a second person with a chopstick to help wrangle the dough into a circular shape. Once you have a fairly stable circle shape, you will squiggle on more batter to more or less fill in the circle with dough.
- Cook the bulug on high heat for a few minutes, until golden brown. After a minute or two, turn it over very gently, with a long-handled utensil. (You will want to support both sides of the bulug so that you can lower the bulug back into the oil gently, without splashing oil when it turns over. ) You will turn it over just once or twice, watching to see how brown each side is getting. They cook pretty fast, in just a few minutes.
- Remove the bulug from the oil with a slotted spoon or large straining utensil, letting the oil drain over the pan. (The oil can easily splash on you at this point, so please take care.) We place the cooked khapse on paper towels to absorb as much as possible of the oil.
Eating and Storage
- It’s common to sprinkle some powdered sugar on the bulug after they have cooled a bit, but usually we eat them just as they are, with sweet tea or Tibetan tea.
- Most Tibetans arrange the bulug as part of their stacks of khapse on their Losar shrine. If you have extra, store them in an air-tight container and you can keep them quite a while, though they do of course get hard over time ;-)
- During Losar we often eat khapse in a dish we call changkol or koenden, which is khapse together with chang and a few other ingredients. Broken up pieces of bulug are very tasty in the changkol.