STONE'S SOUP CORNER Edible Marin Wine Country Magazine
These may not be the most low cal treat but a great holiday sweet. Make a bunch and serve them instead of bars or pie.
A few months ago I was in San Rafael and stumbled upon a small churro stand, hidden deep in the area commonly referred to as the "Canal." The ladies who run the stand are very nice and extremely passionate about churros. Of course I had to buy a few of the cinnamon and sugar redolent treats because, I thought to myself, "Everything in moderation, and I am only going to eat one, but I can't leave my family out." I did actually give them one–to share!
Churros are a Spanish invention. Many centuries ago, Spanish shepherds used to make churros while tending sheep high in the mountains. The name "churros" was derived from the most common breed of those sheep–the "Churra"–because the pastry looks like the sheep's horns.
Having only limited cooking supplies, the shepherds needed to come up with a snack that could be easily made and cooked over an open fire. Churros were a brilliant solution, easy to prepare and cook in a pan of oil. I am sure they were getting their protein and veggies at their main meals, because one can't live on fried dough alone!
Today, crispy, sweet churros can be found in most places in the world, especially those with a significant population of Spanish descent. Each area, or maker, might have its own version. In Spain, you see people dredging them through a mug of thick drinking chocolate before eating. In Mexico, the churro is sometimes filled with thick pastry cream.
Many cultures fry dough-based foods for special occasions like holidays and festivals. These foods are not eaten on an everyday basis, but are special to families or stem from a tradition. Jewish people fry sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts, at Hanukkah. American Indians make savory fry bread. The American South has the hush puppy. The beignet is from France. The bunuelo is from South America. Modern Americans love any variety of doughnuts, anytime. There are hundreds more versions of these fried dough treats and they are all different–some sweet, some savory, some chewy, some dusted with sugar, some messy, but all delicious.
Making or eating these foods is a way for people who live far from their homeland to connect and feel a part of their culture and heritage.
Churros are easy and fun to make at home–and muy sabroso! Since we don't have sheep at our house, we appropriately named our version of the treats "squirros," after the cute, fuzzy tail of a squirrel. Ask your kids to come up with their own names for your creations. If they do, I'd love to hear them. Send me a comment here, maybe we can come up with some really unusual ones.
PUMPKIN PIE CHURROS
I've added autumn flavors to these traditional churros. Try your own flavorings, too. You can add a variety of extract flavorings to the batter, dip them in melted chocolate or drizzle with jam. Any way you make them they are a treat, so have fun and make sure you share!
The frying part is definitely NOT for the kids to do, but have them help roll them in the sugar coating. It is simple and fun to do.
Yield: About 1 dozen 4-inch churros
INGREDIENTS FOR CHURRO BATTER
1 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
11/2 cups vegetable oil
INGREDIENTS FOR COATING
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Pastry bag fitted with a large star-shaped tip. Note: Disposable pastry bags are available at any craft or kitchen store and they are great tools to have around the kitchen. If you do not have a star tip, a round tip will work as well.
Paper towels for draining the cooked churros of excess oil.
Combine all the ingredients for the coating and set aside. In a 3-quart saucepan add the water, brown sugar, salt and butter, and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour and pumpkin pie spice. Stirring in the flour will take some muscle. Mix until well blended.
In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and vanilla together; add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until well blended and all the egg mixture is completely incorporated.
Fill the pastry bag, fitted with tip, with the churro dough.
Heat the one and a half cups of vegetable oil in a frying pan with high sides or a wide saucepan to 375°. If you don't have a thermometer, the "medium high" setting on your stove should hold the oil at around 375°. Test your oil by dropping in a small amount of dough; it should bubble up right away. If it does not, the oil is not yet hot enough and a soggy churro is no bueno! Once the oil has reached the correct temperature, squeeze a four-inch-long tube of the dough from the piping bag into the hot oil, using scissors to cut off the end of the dough tube from the piping bag. Be careful of the hot oil!
You should be able to fit four or five churros at a time in the pan. Cook each churro about one minute and then turn it over with a slotted spoon. Cook an additional minute or two until it turns a nice golden brown color. Remove the churros with a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel-covered plate to absorb excess oil.
While still warm, roll each churro in the coating until well coated. Serve warm.
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