Andreja Brulc's Blog

MEXICO Project: Mexican cuisine: Churro

Posted in MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 29/10/2013

While I was researching my article on pan dulce (‘sweet bread’), also known as Mexican pastry, I noticed that a churro is never mentioned as a type of pan dulce. According to this encyclopedia article, the Mexican churro is considered as a cross between a dessert and a savory food because salt is added while kneading the flour – not being an expert, it seems an odd explanation since salt is added to most of pan dulce recipes I have been looking at. My explanation would be that rather than being baked, churros, like buñuelos, are always deep-fried. Deep-frying food is not what one might consider healthy, but since yesterday was a miserable Sunday afternoon in London (with a severe warnings of the worst possible wind storms since 1987) and since today is a year from my departure (flying over the hurricane Sandy) to Oaxaca where I discovered my ‘perfect’ snack, it seemed like a ‘perfect day’ (in the words of Lou Reed, R.I.P) to indulge myself with extra calories, why not!

churros

The context for churro

A churro, sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut, is a deep-fried dough pastry. Principally, the dough consists of five ingredients: water, oil, four, sugar and salt. The pastry is piped into hot oil from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle, in order to make long sticks. Churros are fried until they become crispy and golden brown.

In Mexico, churros are normally eaten for breakfast dipped in hot chocolate or coffee, but also as a snack throughout the day. Churros can be bought at panaderías (‘bakeries’), which traditionally sell pan dulce, but the most common way of buying them is at the corner of a street, where street vendors fry them freshly and sell them hot.

Origins

There seems to be two different theories with regard to the origin of churros. The first one claims that the Portuguese sailors brought new culinary techniques from the Chinese Ming Dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula, including the dough for youtiao (‘Chinese doughnut’). The Spanish learnt how to make it from their neighbours – it was then modified by adding the sugar and introducing the star design.

The second theory claims that the dough was invented by nomadic Spanish shepherds living in the mountains cut off from the world with no access to bakeries. The churro paste was easy to make and cook in frying pans over the open fire. This theory seems credible as there exists a breed of sheep called the ‘Najavo-Churro, which are descended from the ‘Churra’ sheep of the Iberian Peninsula – the horns of these sheep look similar to churros.

Churros gained popularity because of its simplicity in the making process.

Variations

In Spain, there are two types of churros: one which is thin (and sometimes knotted or curled) and the other which is long and thick (porra). Porra is fried in the shape of a continuous spiral and cut into portions afterwards.

Although introduced to the New World by Spain, churros are very popular in Mexico as well as in other Latin American countries, where they come in many local variations. In Latin America, churros are thick sticks and often filled. The Mexican churro is filled with dulce de leche (‘milk caramel’) – in Mexico it is called cajeta (a confection of thickened syrup made of sweetened carmalised goat’s milk) – but also with chocolate (churro con chocolate) and vanilla castard (churro con lechecilla). Chocolate and vanilla, of course, come from Mexico. It also appears as plain (churro naturales), just rolled in sugar and cinnamon (churro con azúcar y cañela).

Method

Advice

I followed the recipe from Allrecipes – I recommend the recipe as my churros were very delicious. But whatever recipe you decide to follow at the end – some even use butter and eggs though my Oaxacan friend tells me that these two ingredients are not used there – there are a few things to remember, the information of which you do not normally get from online recipes:

1. The thickness of the churro depends on the width of the nozzle attached to a churrera (‘syringe’). I was rather surprised that my churros came thinner than expected as I used the nozzle for piping icing for cup cakes. See video.

2. Also, I was also hoping that my churros would come out straight like those I remember from Oaxaca. I subsequently read that churros in Spain are thinner, can be knotted, twisted or curled. So, I was doing alright – they were home-made after all.

3. I managed to destroy two disposable pastry bags before I accomplished the task! The first one burst open with a big surprise – luckily, I prevented the dough from falling into a pan full of hot oil on time – in my opinion, the dough should be left to cool down first as my dough must have been too hot.

4. The length of churros should be in relation to your frying pan. If you want them straight, don’t pipe them too long, as they are bound to curl. They are still soft when taken out of the pan for a few seconds and can be straightened before they harden if you can find the method without burning your fingers!

5. Also, fry only a few churros at any time. They will stick together otherwise.

6. I used kitchen scissors to cut each churro before it wiggled like a snake into the hot oil!

7. The recipe is set for 4 servings – a measure of 1890 ml of oil for frying is suggested. Beware, if you change serving to larger than 4, the quantity of oil will change too! However, even if the quantity did not change no matter for how many servings it is used at the end, the suggested quantity is too high. The pan I used measures circa 25 cm in diameter, which is by no means a standard size for any domestic deep-frying. For that size you do not need more than 1 liter of oil (it can then be recycled for 3 deep-frying sessions if sieved back to the bottle when the oil is cooled down). Check Nigella if not sure.

8. The temperature of oil in the frying pan should be set at around 180º C if you have a food thermometer. Nigella says that the temperature should be 170º C, while churros are ready in 30 seconds to be taken out. Allrecipes says 190º C and fry until golden. I judged it on the principle of an eye – I dropped a piece of dough into the oil and waited until it sizzled (at this point my thermometer read the temperature as 180º C). It took about 1 min each time for churros to become golden brown. You really need to work it out for yourself. Some may come out browner than the other but will still taste good.

churros_ingredients

Ingredients for dough

For 4 servings:

235 ml water

30 g white sugar

3 g salt

30 ml vegetable oil

125 g flour

1 liter of oil for frying

Ingredients for coating

100 g sugar

2 g cinnamon

Instructions

1. Place sugar, salt and oil into a non-stick metal pan containing water. Bring to boil, then remove from the heat entirely.

churros_cooking_1

2. Slowly add the flour to the water mixture. It is probably best to sieve the flour first in order to reduce lumpiness – use the whisk to make sure the dough is not lumpy.

churros_cooking_2

The dough should be slightly soft, formed into a ball and sticky to touch.

churros_cooking_3

3. Leave the dough to rest for a while until cool (at least 10 mins) before it is placed into the pastry bag. Choose the width of the nozzle depending whether you prefer churros thinner or thicker.

churros_pipe

4. Heat 1 liter of oil in a frying pan (circa 25 cm in diameter) until the temperature of the oil is around 180 ºC.

churros_frying

5. Pipe the strips of dough into the hot oil using scissors to cut the pieces. Fry until golden brown and crispy.

6. Drain well on the kitchen towel before churros are rolled in cinnamon and sugar mixture.

churros_sugar and cinnamon

¡ Buen provecho!

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