Once you’ve had a bite of this delicious, fried treat dipped in rich chocolate…you’ll never look at churro carts the same way again.
Until three years ago, I had never known what a real churro was. Or that it is traditionally dipped in chocolate.
My experience with churros had always been the theme-park version– carts with those uniform, probably re-heated from frozen, not-quite-crunchy-yet-not-quite-soggy churros. Figures that while I tried those churros a couple times in my life, I was never impressed.
My first night in Sevilla, it was 6 pm and I was hungry. Since dinner in Spain isn’t served until late at night, the only option for my growling stomach was a snack at the local café. Can you guess what I ordered?
The churros arrived, looking like textured french-fries (I am SUCH a gringa). Then the glass of chocolate. Taking a churro, I dipped it generously in chocolate and popped it into my mouth. This churro put all the other churros I had had to shame. Crunchy on the outside, hot melt-in-your-mouth dough on the inside–it was a dream. Paired with the chocolate made it even better (if that is even possible).
The history of the churro is ancient and revered, lending the snack an almost mythical status. It begins not in Spain but in China, where Portuguese merchants first tasted youtiao, strips of golden fried salty pastry traditionally eaten for breakfast.
When the Portuguese recreated this delicacy in Iberia, adding sugar rather than salt and introducing the now-familiar starred shape of the strips, the churro was born. In China, youtiao translates as ‘oil-fried devil’; the snack was original served in pairs, symbolising Song dynasty official Qin Hui and his wife, the ‘devils’ who brought about the demise of the respected general.
In Spain this folklore was lost, and the churro takes its name from the churra sheep, whose horns it is said to resemble.
It was Spanish shepherds who popularised the dish, working as they did in the isolated terrain of the mountains for weeks and months at a time, they did not have access to fresh bread and so used the youtiao idea to cook their own substitute using no more than flour, water, oil and an open fire.
While the conquistadors took churros to South America, they brought back chocolate and plentiful sugar, turning dull dough sticks into a sweet sensation.
Once in South America, the churro continued to evolve from a plain, thin stick to a more rotund stuffed speciality, varying according to region.
While the Brazilians prefer a chocolate filling, the Cubans like their churros with Guava stuffing, Mexicans with dulce de leche or vanilla. In Uruguay, a savoury combination arose: cheese stuffed churros, and indeed, in South Eastern Spain they are still eaten with salt rather than sugar, closer relatives of the original youtiao. Mexican churros are said to act as the bridge between dessert and savoury churros as salt is added to the dough before kneading, while the filling is tooth-achingly sweet.
Unfortunately, now stuck back in San Diego, I don’t have access to those wonderful fried treats. Someday, I’ll try to recreate them myself. Here’s a recipe if you’d like to as well:
Recipe makes 1 1/2 dozen churros.
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp lemon extract
1 cup corn or canola oil
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon
In a medium sized saucepan, combine water, salt, sugar and butter and bring to a full boil over high heat. Add flour and remove pan from heat. Beat mixture with spoon until smooth and it comes away from the sides of the pan. Add eggs, one at a time and beat well after adding each egg. Stir in lemon extract and cool for 15 minutes.
Put half the dough in a large pastry bag with a large star tip. Heat oil in deep skillet or deep fryer to 400 degrees. Squeeze dough into oil until you have a ribbon about 7 to 9 inches long. Cut it off with a knife. Fry 2 to 3 ribbons at a time for 6 or 7 minutes each. When golden brown, remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and serve warm.