This week I decided to bring all the fun of the fair into my kitchen and make churros. Churros are a dough enriched with butter and eggs, that are piped into lengths and fried in very hot oil until crisps and light. There’s nothing quite like the smell of sweet, hot dough, frying. In the days when I used to churn out hundred of doughnuts overnight in our small kitchen for events, I’d crawl to bed in the small hours of the morning, wearing the distinctive perfume of that pastry.
There are different types of fried dough all over the world – bombolini, beignets, gulab juman, yum yums, funnel cakes – all seeking to satisfy that universal craving for hot, fried dough.
Churros are found predominantly in Mexico and Spain, but also Portugal, the Philippines and Latin America, and sit in the sweet spot between doughnuts and choux pastry: more of a batter than a dough really, and they have distinctive striations achieved by using a star nozzle, that create more surface area to fry and crisp. Traditionally they are rolled in cinnamon sugar and then dunked into thick hot chocolate or, here, a glossy cinnamon-spiked dark chocolate sauce.
But churros have some distinct advantages over other doughnut varieties. Unlike doughnut dough, churro batter doesn’t need proving, it’s ready as soon as you’ve mixed it together. And unlike choux pastry, it is a forgiving dough, that doesn’t require you to judge the texture or add the egg in tiny increments. And churros take a matter of moments to cook. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a dough favoured by street sellers and fair food stalls, it is easy to handle, and quick to produce – and, crucially, completely compulsive. I defy you to eat just one. Or two.
Taking oil to a high temperature carries risks. As a child of the 90’s, brought up on a diet of chip pan fire safety videos, I used to dread deep frying: I was convinced that it would spit and splash at me, that I wouldn’t be in control. But the rules are simple, really: don’t leave oil while it’s on the heat, don’t fill the pan too full, and don’t be cavalier. Keep an eye on your oil temperature: it will fluctuate as you add the cold dough, and you may need to adjust it before your next batch. Too hot and the outside will brown too quickly, while the inside remains raw; too cold, and the dough will absorb too much oil as it cooks, and feel greasy. And when you drop something into the oil (or here, snip the end of the batter to release the dough), do so as close to the surface of the oil as possible. It feels counterintuitive to get your hands close to the oil, but it drastically reduces the possibility of splashing. Dipping the tips of your scissors in the hot oil will make it easier to snip the dough, stopping it stretching and distending, giving blunt ends to your churros.
Churros with chocolate and cinnamon
Makes: 12 churros
Takes: 20 minutes
Bakes: 10 minutes
For the churros
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated or caster sugar
125g plain flour
2 litres vegetable oil, for frying
For the cinnamon sugar
100g caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the chocolate sauce
150g double cream
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fine salt
- In a medium-sized pan, heat together the butter, water, sugar and salt until the butter melts, and then bring up to a fast boil. Add the flour in one go, beating it into the mixture, and heating it until the dough sizzles and comes away from the sides of the pan. Decant the mixture into a bowl, and leave to cool for ten minutes.
- While the mixture is cooling, you can make the chocolate cinnamon dipping sauce: heat the cream with the cinnamon and salt in a small pan until it is steaming, and small bubbles are appearing around the edge. Place the chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl, then pour the cream over the top; leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Starting from the middle, whisk the mixture gently until the chocolate and cream combine into a thick and glossy sauce.
- Beat the eggs into the slightly cooled churro mixture one by one: initially the mixture will separate and won’t look like it’s coming together, but persevere, it will.
- Pour the oil into a large, deep-sided pan, it shouldn’t come more than half the way up the sides of the pan. Heat to 180°C (this will take about 15 minutes).
- Spoon the mixture into a thick, strong piping bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle. Pipe a 5 inch strand of the dough into the oil; don’t hold your bag too far above the oil, as you don’t want it to splash. Dip the tips of a pair of metal scissors into the oil and snip the churro to release it. Repeat with 3 more strands of churro dough. Cook for two minutes on each side, then remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the rest of your churro dough.
- Stir together the cinnamon and caster sugar, and toss the warm churros in this to coat. Serve the warm churros with the warm dipping sauce.