Today, I’m teaching you how to make Barriguitas de Vieja, or Pumpkin Fritters, from Puerto Rico, a descendant recipe of West African Puff Puff.
Puff Puff is a popular West African snack made of lightly sweetened fried dough. It crossed the Atlantic with our ancestors to land on Caribbean islands and the Gulf States of the USA. Barriguitas de vieja are sweet fluffy fritters of mashed calabaza (or Kabocha squash) from Puerto Rico fried to perfection, then rolled in sugar. As with other descendants of Puff Puff, barriguitas are commonly eaten in cities with a strong Afro-Puerto Rican influence. I encourage you to follow the story through Puff Puff from West Africa and Beignets from New Orleans, Louisiana.
In 2023, the theme of Black History Month is Black Resistance, and Eat the Culture is recognizing our ancestors’ remarkable and, frankly, underrated resistance in bringing culinary traditions across the Atlantic to shape the vibrance of Black cuisine that we know and love today. They physically and mentally carried African foodways across the deadly Middle Passage to pass down through generations. This year’s Black History Month Virtual Potluck traces popular dishes of the Diaspora from their West African roots to North America and beyond.
Share these recipes with your friends and loved ones, and follow each participant by using the hashtag #BHMVP2023 on Instagram
What Does Barriguitas de Vieja Mean?
Barriguitas de vieja, also called barrigas de vieja, means Old Lady Bellies in Spanish. The name comes from the way the fritters become puffy and wrinkly after frying. The name, for me, takes me back to joyful memories of hugging my elders, nestling my face in their ample midsections, and just getting a sense of comfort from their love. Tortitas de calabaza is another name for barriguitas de veija, which translates to pumpkin pancakes or little cakes. I’m not too fond of that name because it’s boring and because these are more like fluffy pumpkin fritters.
Where Do They Come From?
Barriguitas de vieja come from Puerto Rico. At least this recipe does. More specifically, the inspiration for this recipe comes from Hector’s Abuela Leria and the kioskos in Piñones, Puerto Rico. Many Afro-Puerto Rican vendors ply their wares at these wooden shacks that dot the island’s northeast coast. However, Abuela Leria’s barriguitas remain one of my favorite recipes of hers.
You can find all sorts of fritters, like these barriguitas de vieja, at many locales where there is a heavy population of Puerto Ricans, but especially in homes, they are served as a snack since it’s such an easy recipe to make. Though these delicious fritters have fall flavor, they’re not just for pumpkin season. We eat them year-round.
It’s not difficult to see the links to the West African recipe known as puff puff. In fact, the original recipe for barriguitas de vieja differs from puff puff by only one ingredient, which is yeast. The link between the two originations of these recipes reflects how closely related the foods of West Africa are to the recipes created by the descendant of those brought to the islands and further on into the Americas and places beyond.
What Are the Ingredients in Barriguitas de Vieja?
The main ingredient in barriguitas de vieja is mashed or pureed calabaza (known in English as Kabocha squash). The batter contains cake flour, cornstarch, kosher salt, baking powder, pumpkin spice blend, large eggs, whole milk, sugar, unsalted butter, and vanilla extract.
Barriguitas de vieja are deep-fried, then covered in a sugar topping, which you can make with powdered or granulated sugar. I use no other equipment besides a fork and a whisk to make the batter. You can make your batter in a food processor if it’s easier for you.
What is Calabaza?
Halloween pumpkins aren’t a thing in Puerto Rico. In fact, Hector only knew calabaza, the Spanish word for pumpkin, to be Kabocha squash. He learned of Jack-o-lanterns after coming to the States with the Army. Barriguitas de vieja are made with calabaza, or Kabocha squash, and not the pumpkin you may be used to.
Kabocha squash is more mainstream and probably sold in your local grocery store. You can also find them in many African, Asian, or Hispanic markets.
How Do I Prepare the Calabaza For This Recipe?
You must roast and mash (or puree) the Kabocha squash before making the batter for the barriguitas de vieja. You can do this ahead and store the puree in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
First, cut the calabaza into 1-inch thick slices using a chef’s knife. Next, use a wide spoon or a paring knife to cut away the stringy, seedy center. *This is a great time to harvest some of those seeds so you can grow your own calabazas, by the way.*
Lay the calabaza slices onto a baking sheet that is lined with a silicone baking mat or lightly greased. Roast the calabaza for 30 minutes in a 425°F (218°C) oven or until a fork meets no resistance when you poke the slices.
Is There a Substitute for Calabaza?
Cool the calabaza completely. Use a paring knife to cut away the rind. You can peel it with your fingers, but doing so leaves behind a green tinge on the calabaza. Nothing major, but not cute. Remove the rind and use the tines of a fork or a potato masher to finely mash the calabaza. Try to remove as many large chunks as possible. You can puree it super-smooth in a food processor, too. I don’t because I don’t feel like lugging mine out.
Add the sugar to the calabaza to draw out some of its liquid once it’s mashed. This makes the calabaza syrupy and sweet, which contributes to a crisper exterior when we fry the barriguitas. A great way to add more caramel flavor is to replace white sugar with brown sugar.
A substitute for Kabocha squash is the same pumpkin puree you use for your holiday pies or fresh pumpkin roasted the same way. Use it in the same quantity, but make sure you’re not using pumpkin pie mix. You have to use packed pumpkin puree, which lacks water. This option is easier because you don’t have to roast or mash it yourself. I will tell you it’s not “authentic,” but whatever you have access to, and what’s easier for you, is what the ancestors want you to use.
How Do I Make the Barriguitas Batter?
To make the barriguitas de vieja batter, use a whisk to combine the mashed calabaza, beaten eggs, whole milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter together well.
Use a fine-mesh sieve to sift together the cake flour, cornstarch, pumpkin spice blend, kosher salt, and baking powder in a separate, large bowl. I prefer cake flour because I like a fluffier, almost pudding-like interior in my barriguitas. However, you can replace it with all-purpose flour if you don’t have cake flour.
The cornstarch in the batter adds more crispness to the exterior once the barriguitas are fried. You can omit it if you prefer a soft, donut-like fritter.
Can I Alter the Flavor of the Sugar Topping?
Barriguitas de vieja have a sugar topping of some kind or another. You can make it with granulated sugar or powdered sugar. I like to add a hint of spice to mine by mixing in some of my pumpkin spice blend.
In a separate bowl, combine the granulated sugar and pumpkin spice blend to make the sugar topping that will coat the barriguitas. You can replace the granulated sugar with powdered sugar, but I prefer a crunchy texture on top of the crunch from the fritters.
Change up the flavor of the sugar topping by replacing the pumpkin spice blend with my chai spice blend, or use ground cinnamon, instead. You can top barriguitas de vieja with plain granulated or powdered sugar or with nothing at all.
How Do I Change the Texture of My Barriguitas?
Add the wet pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients to create the batter for your barriguitas de vieja. Make sure to whisk the wet ingredients in while you add them to the dry to avoid large clumps.
For puffy barriguitas de vieja, add 1/2 cup more flour to the mixture to thicken it. For thinner, crisper barriguitas, leave the mixture as is. My family likes the puffy version, while I prefer the crisper, so I start frying half of the batter, then add a 1/4 cup (since there’s less batter) of flour to the last half before frying theirs. I’m a saint. I know this.
What’s the Best Oil to Use When I Fry Fritters?
To fry the barriguitas de vieja, add 3 quarts of corn, peanut, or vegetable oil to a 7-quart dutch oven and heat it over medium heat. You can also fry barriguitas de vieja in a deep fryer set to 360°F (182°C). It’s important when deep-frying to keep the oil temperature between 350°F and 375°F (177° to 190°C). Any lower and the barriguitas will be oily and raw after frying. If the temp is higher than 375°F, the outside of the fritters will burn before the inside is cooked.
Oils with high smoke points, like corn, peanut, or vegetable oil, are the best for frying fritters. The oil won’t break down and smoke as the barriguitas fry, which is great because we want to maintain their flavor.
Begin adding the barriguitas batter to the oil once the temperature reaches 360°F to 365°F (182°C to 185°C). After you add the batter, the temperature will drop by about 5 to 8 degrees.
Drop the batter into the hot oil using a 1/3 measuring cup or a large 12-inch kitchen spoon. Some batter will separate from the bulk of the fritter. You can scoop that up with a spider or a slotted spoon, so it doesn’t burn with subsequent batches.
Fry the barriguitas de vieja for 3 minutes on the first side, then flip them and fry them for another 3 to 4 minutes on the second side until they are a deep golden brown color.
Do I Have to Coat My Fritters in Sugar?
Use tongs or a spider to remove the barriguitas de vieja from the cooking oil to drain on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Avoid draining the fritters on paper towels since that causes them to become soggy and absorb the grease they’re sitting in. Continue frying the remaining batter while this batch drains.
Toss the barriguitas de vieja in the sugar topping after about 2 minutes of cooling. I dump sugar on the fritters and transfer them to a serving platter. The fritters melt a little of the sugar topping as they continue to cool, creating this delectable sugar crust that I adore.
Barriguitas de veija don’t have to have a sugar topping, but they won’t taste as sweet without it. Especially if you’re making it with Kabocha, which isn’t as sweet as regular pumpkin is.
This is why barriguitas de vieja get their name– because of their wrinkly centers. How cute is that?
How Do I Serve Barriguitas de Vieja?
No, really. Barriguitas de vieja taste best while hot or within an hour after frying. They are great enough to serve on their own, but we usually serve them with a cup of coffee, tea, or milk.
Can I Store Leftover Fritters?
To store leftover barriguitas de vieja, transfer them to an air-tight container and store them at room temperature for 3 days. The sugar topping will soak into the fritters, but you can always top them with more or eat them as is.
The twins like to reheat theirs in the air-fryer for 3 minutes at 350°F (177°C) to give a crisp exterior.
Can I Air-Fry Barriguitas de Vieja?
You can air-fry barriguitas de vieja on a lightly greased tray for 3 minutes per side at 375°F (190°C). Make sure to grease the tray well to keep the batter from sticking. Also, only fry four puddles of batter at a time since they tend to spread. The looser the batter, the more likely it is to make a mess in your air fryer, so I would add a 1/4 cup more flour to the batter to make it thicker.
Can I Freeze Fried Barriguitas de Vieja?
To freeze barriguitas de vieja:
- Don’t toss them in the sugar; allow them to cool completely.
- Put the fritters onto a lined sheet pan and freeze them until solid.
- Transfer the frozen barriguitas de vieja to a freezer storage bag or freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 2 months.
Thaw frozen barriguitas de vieja at room temperature before tossing in the sugar topping and enjoying.
I hope you and your whole family celebrate this Black History Month with us by enjoying a taste of ancestral and modern recipes. These Barriguitas de Vieja are a great place to start the celebration because they’re a simple dessert with simple ingredients. Be sure to pin them to your Pinterest board for easy finding. Be sure to let me know what you think of this recipe in the comments below!
Barriguitas de Vieja (Puerto Rican Pumpkin Fritters)at Sense & Edibility
- 7 quart dutch oven or deep fryer
- deep fat fryer thermometer optional, but highly recommended
For the Calabaza Mash
- 1 1/3 pounds (605 grams) Calabaza
- 1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
For the Barriguitas de Vieja Batter
- 1 1/2 cups (375 milliliters) whole milk
- calabaza mash or 1 1/4 cup (283 grams) pumpkin puree
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) unsalted butter melted
- 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) vanilla extract
- 2 cups (255 grams) cake flour
- 2 tablespoons (18 grams) cornstarch
- 1 1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) pumpkin spice blend
- 1 teaspoon (6 grams) kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
- cooking oil for frying at least 3 quarts
For the Sugar Topping
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar or powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (3 grams) pumpkin spice blend
- Preheat an oven to 425°F (218°C).Line a half-sheet pan with a silicone baking mat or lightly grease it with cooking spray, then set aside.
Roast and Mash the Calabaza (Kabocha Squash)- Skip if Using Pumpkin Puree
- Slice the calabaza into 1-inch thick slices using a chef's knife, then use a wide spoon or a paring knife to cut away the stringy, seedy center. Discard the seeds and mushy pulp.
- Lay the calabaza slices onto the prepared sheetpan. Roast the calabaza for 30 minutes or until a fork meets no resistance when you poke the slices.
- Remove the pan from the oven and cool the calabaza completely. Use a paring knife to cut away the rind and use the tines of a fork or a potato masher to finely mash the calabaza. Try to remove as many large chunks as possible.
- Stir the sugar into the calabaza (or pumpkin puree if you opted to use that instead) to draw out some of its liquid once it's mashed. Set the calabaza mash aside.
Preheat The Cooking Oil
- Add 3 quarts of corn, peanut, or vegetable oil to a 7-quart dutch oven and heat it over medium heat or to 360°F (182°C).
Combine the Wet Ingredients
- While you're waiting for the oil the heat, in a 3-quart mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine the mashed calabaza, beaten eggs, whole milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter together well.Set this bowl aside.
Combine the Dry Ingredients
- Sift the cake flour, cornstarch, pumpkin spice blend, kosher salt, and baking powder through a fine-mesh sieve into a separate, larger bowl.Set this bowl aside.
Mix the Sugar Topping
- In a separate bowl, combine the granulated sugar and pumpkin spice blend well.Set this aside while you make the batter.
Mix the Batter
- Add the wet pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients, whisking the wet ingredients in while you add them to avoid large clumps.
Fry, then Drain the Barriguitas de Vieja
- Using a 1/3 measuring cup or a large 12-inch kitchen spoon, drop the batter into the hot oil once the temperature reaches between 360°F to 365°F (182°C to 185°C). Fry the barriguitas de vieja for 3 minutes on the first side, then flip them and fry them for another 3 to 4 minutes on the second side until they are a deep golden brown color.
- Use tongs or a spider to remove the barriguitas de vieja from the cooking oil to drain on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Continue frying the remaining batter while the previous batch drains.
Cover the Barriguitas in Sugar
- Toss the barriguitas de vieja in the sugar topping after about 2 minutes of cooling.Barriguitas de vieja taste best while hot or within an hour after frying. Enjoy them with a cup of coffee, tea, or milk.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Add more caramel flavor by replacing the white sugar with brown sugar.
- Substitute packed pumpkin puree for Kabocha squash.
- Replace the cake flour with all-purpose flour.
- You can omit the cornstarch if you prefer a soft, donut-like fritter.
- Replace the pumpkin spice blend with chai spice blend, or use ground cinnamon.
- Replace the vanilla extract with maple extract.
- Top barriguitas de vieja with plain granulated or powdered sugar or with nothing at all.
- For puffy barriguitas de vieja, add 1/2 cup more flour to the mixture to thicken it. For thinner, crisper barriguitas, leave the mixture as is.
- You can fry the barriguitas de vieja in a deep fryer set to 360°F (182°C).
Tips and Techniques:
- Calabaza or Kabocha squash can be found in many African, Asian, or Hispanic markets.
- You roast and mash the calabaza ahead and store the puree in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- You can puree the calabaza super-smooth in a food processor if you prefer not to do it by hand.
- It's important when deep-frying to keep the oil temperature between 350°F and 375°F (177° to 190°C).
- Oils with high smoke points, like corn, peanut, or vegetable oil, are the best for frying fritters since they won't break down and smoke.
- Some batter will separate from the bulk of the fritter. Remove these with a spider or a slotted spoon, so they don't burn with subsequent batches.
- Avoid draining the fritters on paper towels since that causes them to become soggy and absorb the grease they're sitting in.
- Barriguitas de veija don't have to have a sugar topping, but they won't taste as sweet without it.
- Preheat your air fryer to 375°F (190°C) on the air-fry setting.
- Lightly grease the tray of your air fryer.
- Drop 2-ounce spoonfuls onto the greased tray and air-fry for 3 minutes per side. Only fry four puddles of batter at a time since they tend to spread.
- The looser the batter, the more likely it is to make a mess in your air fryer, so I recommend adding a 1/4 cup more flour to the batter to make it thicker.
- Remove the barriguitas from the air fryer and toss in the spiced sugar.
- Transfer the barriguitas de vieja to an air-tight container and store them at room temperature for 3 days.
- The sugar topping will soak into the fritters, but you can always top them with more or eat them as is.
- Reheat the barriguitas in the air-fryer for 3 minutes at 350°F (177°C) or a 170°F (76°C) oven to warm them and give them a crisp exterior.
- Don't toss the fried barriguitas de vieja in the sugar; allow them to cool completely.
- Put the fritters onto a lined sheet pan and freeze them until solid.
- Transfer the frozen barriguitas de vieja to a freezer storage bag or freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 2 months.
- Thaw frozen barriguitas de vieja at room temperature before tossing in the sugar topping and enjoying.
I love puff puff so had to try your recipe when it came across my screen. The filling is a nice treat and I actually love the wrinkly appearance knowing the story behind it. We divided the batch in half and made some on the stovetop and then tried your air fryer tips with the rest. Both were very good!
Thank you, Jazz!
I had a can of pumpkin leftover from the holidays and decided to try this recipe. Oh man were these good. They were so light and perfectly sweet. Can’t wait to make them again with Kabocha squash!
Thanks for trying them out, Jessica. I think you’ll like them better with Kabocha!
I am a pumkin fanatic. These are perfect to enjoy all year round. Especially delicious in the fall.
They really are a year-round treat, Gloria.
I’ve never had Barriguitas de Vieja before, but any reason to use kabocha squash and I’m in!! They look so crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and absolutely delicious!
Nothing is better than family legacy, so the fact Hector’s grandmother created this recipe is truly special. What a perfectly, flavorful treat – they went so well with a cup of yerba mate.
Thank you, Robin.
I love that your Barriguitas de Vieja took me back in time. Waiting for them to cool off just enough after Abuela took them off the fogón. You have done her proud, again. Thank you!