If you were to say the first thing you thought of when I said ‘Spanish food’, what would you say? My guess is either ‘churros’ or ‘paella’. While I don’t think that I have the willpower to correctly make a paella; it involves not stirring the pan while it simmers and I am far too hands-on for that, I do have the willpower to make churros!
Spanish cuisine has not expanded into the mainstream Western world to the same degree as Italian or faux-Chinese, and even though most people would not be able to differentiate between Spanish and Mexican styles of cooking, I would say that 9 out of 10 people have tried churros before.
Before travelling to Spain, I had only ever eaten churros as a dessert, you can imagine my glee when I discovered these crisp, sugary treats are eaten at any time of day, even breakfast!
I recently had churros at a night market with a friend who is somewhat of a self-proclaimed churro aficionado and gladly shared with me some of her pointers on what makes a good churro. Like any traditional food; a pizza in Italy, a croissant in France, you will not find a churro as good as a Spanish churro anywhere but Spain. The ratio of sweet dough and runny chocolate sauce for dipping has to be just right, it must easily coat the golden batter and not be too thick like a paste – in Spain the churro is treated as an accompaniment to hot chocolate rather than the other way around.
What I find most important is the dough, it needs to be crisp and golden, but often I find it has been deep-fried for too long, and while it is aesthetically perfect, the scent of caramelising sugar and the crunch as you bite into it are let down by the dry centre, and the disappointment at realising that crunch that you initially savoured is there the whole way through.
I kept this in mind when I decided to make my own, instead of deep-frying mine, I wanted to oven-baked them. Because of the slight moisture levels in an oven, I could save them from drying out, and in order to achieve the quintessential golden colour; a few minutes under the grill after they have baked through.
Heat 1 cup of water in a medium size saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 170grams of butter and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the butter is completely melted and the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and mix with 1 cup of flour and leave the mixture to cool slightly. While you are waiting, whisk 2 eggs and a teaspoon of vanilla extract until the egg begins to foam up. Mix the contents of both bowls together and the batter is done.
Now comes the fun part!
Transfer the batter into a piping bag with a serrated bit and a width of about 2cm. If you don’t have a piping bag, cut the corner off a zip-lock plastic bag, it won’t have the jagged edge that is usually associated with churros but it will work nonetheless. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and pipe the dough into sticks about 8cm in length, it is helpful to have a second pair of hands with this step as the dough in incredibly thick so get an assistant to chop them with a pair of scissors as you pipe them – the bribe of fresh churros should be tempting enough!
Bake at 220°C for 10 minutes before switching the oven’s settings to grill for 5 minutes. Such a hot temperature will almost steam the insides of the churros, while the butter will liquefy and provide an even golden shade. Once they have crisped up nicely, turn the oven off and leave the tray in for a few more minutes. Remove from the oven, dust with sugar and cinnamon and leave to cool.
I served mine with a simple espresso dark chocolate sauce: a shot of espresso, 50grams of finely chopped dark chocolate and just enough milk to thin the chocolate out, gently heated until melted and gooey.
Serve your churros with strawberry jam if chocolate isn’t your thing, or you want an excuse to make them for breakfast. They are even delicious eaten by themselves.
How do you like to eat your churros?