I can’t even remember the first time I had a churro, that long crispy cinnamon sugar coated piece of fried dough. I’m going to hazard a guess and say it was probably at the Arizona State Fair when I was a young’un. Isn’t that where one typically eats all things fried? Growing up in Arizona, churros were just always there and I didn’t think much it. They were long, straight, ridged, crunchy and a little cakey. Sometimes you could get them filled – with custard or strawberry gunk – but I always liked them plain. As for making them, it wasn’t something I thought was easily do-able until I went to culinary school and realized just what they were. Pate a choux – a building block of French pastry techniques. Well that I can do.
A hot, fresh just fried churro with a cup of hot chocolate – Chocolate con Churros – is a very traditional morning snack in Spain. Sitting around in cafes, particularly in Barcelona, sipping and dipping and watching the people wander by is a great way to spend the morning. It’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m in Spain. Dunking sweet fried things in thick hot chocolate and people watching? Um, yes please.
Chances are good, great even, that you’ve had pate a choux in one form or another. Cream puffs, eclairs, Parisian gnocchi … even the cheesy gougeres I posted a few months ago? All made from choux paste. Pipe that stuff into hot oil and you have one magnificent churro – crunchy on the outside, tender within and 15 times better than those stale ones from the corner streetcart.
Since it’s my month of chocolate and my last post was about Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate, of course I needed some churros to dip. While I’ve had churros filled, I’ve never had them flavored. Why is that, I wonder? A plain churro is certainly delicious but I wanted to do a chocolate one. Subbing some Dutched cocoa powder for a little of the flour worked great – just a hint of chocolate flavor and the color was awesome, a deep deep chocolate brown. Since the flavor was slight, I experimented with ways to boost the chocolate – chopped chocolate in the batter burned, a toss in cocoa/sugar tasted like dirt – so in the end I decided to keep it simple and stick with the traditional cinnamon/sugar toss.
The technique is easy but takes a little practice. Make sure you read the recipe through first because once you get moving, you really get moving. Bring the liquids, sugar and butter to a boil then dump in the dry ingredients and stir like your life depends upon it. Stir, stir, stir! You want to cook off some of the liquid to dry the mixture out and continue cooking until a crust forms on the bottom of the pan. Then you put the “paste” into the bowl of a standing mixer, let it cool on low then add the eggs. Into a piping bag with an open star tip then pipe long strands into hot oil. Fry until crispy and cooked through, drain and toss in cinnamon sugar. Surprisingly easy.
Actually this really is pretty easy, considering. The thing is you have to eat these right away – they do not keep and cannot be made ahead. Or shouldn’t be made ahead. I don’t want to tell you can’t; it’s just not a good idea. How about this – don’t. Just don’t do it. Oh semantics.
A quick dip in the spiced hot chocolate and I easily whiled the day away at my kitchen table watching the snow fall outside. It wasn’t the Gothic Quarter but it was just fine for me.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: MUCHO BUENO. Writing this, I want to make these all over again. My mouth is watering at the memory and it was only a few days ago. I served a version of these to friends a while back and they asked me to make more, even after several courses. If that isn’t a ringing vote of confidence, then I don’t know what is. I was beyond thrilled to do so and happy that something that I loved, others did too. So absolutely make these. Gather a group around and make a bunch. Have a big pot of chocolate simmering on the back burner and go for it, serving them nice and hot.
Makes about 2 dozen, 4” churros serving about 5-6
I make my churros 3-4” straight lengths rather than the curvy shapes (like breast cancer ribbons!) you see in Spain because it’s easier and I can fit more in the pan at the same time.
for the dough:
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter (5 1/3 Tablespoons)
1 cup minus 2 Tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
for the topping:
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- In a medium bowl, combine the flour and cocoa powder and set aside until needed.
- For the dough: in medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the water, brown sugar, salt and butter to a boil.
- Once the sugar dissolves and butter melts, add the flour/cocoa all at once.
- Lower the heat to medium and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball.
- Continue cooking and stirring until the dough forms a crust along the sides and bottom of the pan.
- Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
- Beat on medium to release some of the steam.
- Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. The dough will separate, then hold together again. Scrape the bowl if needed.
- Fit a pastry bag with a ¾” open star tip (the ridges will soften during frying but give the sugar mixture something to cling to.)
- Fill the pastry bag no more than halfway (you can always refill but an overfilled pastry bag is hard to manipulate.)
- Fry: In a heavy saucepan, bring 2” of vegetable oil to 375°F over medium high.
- Set a wire rack over a sheet pan for draining. (I really dislike draining on grease soaked paper towels.)
- Meanwhile, in a shallow bowl or dish, combine the ½ cup sugar and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and set aside until needed.
- Test the oil by placing a small amount of dough in it. The dough should bubble up right away. If not, the oil is not ready and you’ll end up with a soggy, greasy churro.
- When the oil is ready, dip kitchen scissors quickly in the oil to ease cutting then pipe 3-4” lengths of dough into the oil, cutting the dough cleanly and easing it gently into the oil. CAREFUL! Depending on the pan size, you should be able to fit 4 or 5 churros without crowding.
- Give the churros a stir to make sure they’re not sticking, then fry until crispy, about 2 minutes, then turn/flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes or two until cooked through. Take one out and check inside; if the dough is too wet give it a little more time.
- Remove the churros with slotted spoon to wire rack to drain for a minute or two.
- While still warm, roll each churro in the cinnamon sugar mixture until coated, shaking off the excess.
- Continue with the remaining batter.
- Serve immediately, preferably with Mexican Hot Chocolate.