Yesterday I decided to give a try at making Zulabiyya which is basically a funnel cake. I used instruction from an anonymous Andalusian 13th century recipe translated by Charles Perry. That directs us to make a dough of fine flour and water and to let it rise some place warm. It also instructs us to make it slacker than the dough for musahhada, the modern day problem being that we are not truly familiar with any of these recipes so we can not take a stir of the dough and say, well… that is not slacker than musahhada dough. As far as I can gather, musahhada is a flatbread and it can be pierced but it doesn’t say how dense or fine the bread is anywhere that I could find, even in the same book, the only other surviving mention seems to be in reference to the “already mentioned” musahhada.
So, from the recipe (in the link above), what we do know is that the dough is made from fine flour and honey and that it is a risen dough, so had yeast, and it is fine enough to run freely through a hole in the bottom of a vessel. We also know that it does not have to be fried in a pan of very deep oik but that there still needs to be a deep enough layer of fat to prevent it from sticking and the given that the oil should be hot enough.
These really are enough clues to develop a batter from. For my test, I took a squeezy condiment jar and filled it with my batter made from risen dough mixed with saffron water (for some colour) and let it run through the hole… it sputtered into the hot oil and made a mess. Too thin! So, I thickened the batter with more flour… had to give the bottle a good squeeze to get the batter through so I opened up the hole a bit more. This made for a little bit of a thicker pastry but still very delicate (the hole was still fairly small) however I still had to use too much effort and found it difficult to get any lacy patterns going…. so…. I thinned it out just a slight bit more… then beautiful, effortless, swirls happened. I found I still ended up squeezing the bottle for speed so am guessing if I did this with a bowl, I would end up making the hole just a bit larger still resulting in a somewhat thicker product than what I produced.
This is an example of why I sometimes wish to avoid creating an exact recipe. An exact recipe would not give this sort of detail on how to troubleshoot one’s way through a recipe in order to get it to work and it doesn’t show that it is a lot of guess work and can be trial and error when dealing with period instructions and often with modern recipes as well. What I can offer, however, is that I managed to get a heaping 10″ platter full of these out of a 12 oz (give or take a bit) batch of batter which was made with flour and water to which I added a lump of previously prepared yeast. This was left to sit for about 40 min to an hour where I then thinned out the dough with saffron infused water and troubleshooted from there.
For those looking for a modern equivalent, Zoolbia/Zulbia/Jalebi is still prepared today, however almost all the recipes call for yoghurt or kefir and cornstarch. Other variations may even include baking powder. There is also a similarity to modern funnel cakes in that it is batter fried in oil though I could make a decent guess (and that is all it is) that these would be smaller than funnel cakes given that they are then dunked in spiced honey. That would be a lot of sugar to dunk something rather large in, it also helps that they tend to come out quite crisp and rather solid. For monetary reasons, my test batch was dunked into a rose syrup which is also done today and was done with many sweets during the time of the original recipe.
Here is what I ended up with: