A popular dessert with variations in many Latin countries and Spain, bunuelos play as important a role in Christmas in Mexico as decorated cookies do in the United States.
The crisp, fried pastries are often served at family dinners and other holiday events, including posadas, the celebrations that re-create Mary and Joseph's search for lodging. In Oaxaca, the tradition is to eat bunuelos on Dec. 23, which is known as the Night of the Radishes. On that occasion, decorations made with radishes and vegetables are displayed, and stalls around the plaza sell syrup-soaked bunuelos in new clay dishes. The custom is to shatter the dish on the ground after eating.
Bunuelos are made in different ways. One style is the bunuelo de rodillo, a circle of pastry flattened with a rolling pin. Another is the bunuelo de molde, made by dipping a decorative iron into thin batter and then placing the iron in hot oil. When the batter starts to firm, the bunuelo slips off the iron to be fried until golden brown.
Bunuelos de molde are as light and lacy as snowflakes. The irons made in Mexico come in a variety of designs, usually circular. But there are also fanciful shapes, such as butterflies. In the United States, a rosette iron may be used.