An ode to Spanish heritage, butchered by amusement parks: Churros.
Churros are not Mexican from birth, and not Spanish either. They come from Asia and the Middle East; but most research shows that in the nineteenth century, the Chinese had a long, fried dough called youtaio. This fried street food was made of bread, oil and salt and typically eaten at breakfast with rice or soy milk. The creation of youtaio was in the twelfth century after a Chinese national hero was betrayed by Qin Hui, known as one of the biggest traitors in his nation. The shape resembled him and his wife and the dish was their way of protesting against them. It was composed of two elongated shapes joined in the middle. Centuries after that, the Portuguese sailors took them to Spain after their journeys since it was an easy, caloric, fast meal they could have at sea. And from there, it was adopted by Spain with some minor tweaks in the recipe; the salt was swapped for sugar, and they were made in the shapes of elongated stars. They were named “churros” after the churra sheep found in the country, since the shape resembled their horns. Another story runs a little more along with the sheep, saying that Spanish shepherds made them since they did not have bread ovens and decided to fry bread dough. Churros were then brought to Mexico around the nineteenth century by the Spanish, and here is where they were married with chocolate. So, my bottom-line opinion is; yes, they’re a Spanish influence if you will, but Mexico made them greater. And then amusement parks butchered them making atrocious mixes with candies and cookies, but that’s another story.
Churros are very close to my heart, and this time I write with someone special in mind – my father. This is actually his recipe. Churros have been a part of my life since before I remember, but the oldest memory I have is in Querétaro. On the corner of Avenida Universidad there used to be an elderly man with a churro cart. They used to be so good that a line would form halfway down the block. We would go get churros for dinner quite often, and it was very hard to resist the need to eat a hot one in the car on the way home. Then, as a teenager, I kept going, but I noticed his whole left arm was burnt. Then he closed for a few weeks and his son had taken over. They were not as good anymore. A few years ago, my dad decided to emigrate to another country and started making churros for his restaurant, and now sells them at the St. Jacob’s market in Ontario. The first bite took me back to when I was little, but these were hands down the best churros I had ever tasted. Now, there’s no churro in Mexico that tastes as good as the ones my dad makes, and it’s not because he’s my dad or anything. They are the best for real, and he doesn’t really know the recipe. He has perfected it to the point where he just eyeballs the ingredients and they come perfectly every single time.
1 cup of water
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda (NOT BAKING POWDER)
1 cup of flour
2 tablespoons of butter (but pork lard makes them so much better)
2 ½ cups of frying oil (vegetable or canola are best)
Sugar to coat
A teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)
Preheat oil to 160°C or 320°F while you make the churro dough.
Place water, sugar, butter or lard and salt in a large pot on high heat.
Once that boils, add the flour and baking soda in just one go and start stirring with a wooden spatula (plastic is okay, but never metal). The water and stuff in step 3 must be boiling for real to achieve fluffy churros.
Stir like your life depends on it until you have a smooth, heavy dough. It has to separate from the sides of the bowl, and you can do this in a mixer as well.
If you have a churro maker, use it. If you don’t, like most of us, place the dough in a pastry bag with a large star tip and pipe your churros directly onto the oil. Be very careful to avoid accidents. The oil should not jump at you, but the heavy churro might cause some ripples.
Fry your churros for about 5 or 7 minutes until golden on all sides and strain.
Once the churros look dry but are still pretty hot, coat them in the sugar and cinnamon mix, but this is also optional. (My dad likes them better uncoated but dipped in hot chocolate.)
Bonus: Because I love my readers and know many of you are not in Mexico, we’ll do a small hack and replicate Mexican hot chocolate.
1 bar of dark good quality chocolate
½ stick of cinnamon
1 star anis
1 tablespoon of sugar if needed
4 ½ cups of milk of your choice (full-fat milk makes frothier chocolate)
In a pot, add the milk and the chocolate and melt.
Once the milk is warm but before boiling (it will spill) add the spices and stir.
Froth the chocolate and serve in a cup.
Enjoy this for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s perfect at any time. Just make sure the churros are freshly made. If you absolutely need to reheat them, leave them uncoated and then place them in a warm oven (not hot) for a few minutes.
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