Rachel Allen on scrumptious churros and doughnuts
Taking a break from wholesome, nutritious food, indulge in the sublime pleasure of churros and doughnuts.
Doughnuts are pure, unadulterated pleasure. Deep fried and covered in sugar, this is not a diet, fat-free option. Yet, just every so often, there is nothing as good as the sweetly crisp crunch and warmly yielding centre of a fresh, home-made doughnut.
The first time I had churros con chocolate was in Barcelona as a 16-year-old exchange student. I remember one night we were allowed to go in to town to the disco - quite a thrilling moment for me back then!
I remember coming out of the club and, much like on Dublin's Leeson Street, where the whole road would teem with hot-dog stands in the wee hours, this street was packed with churros stands. I'd never tasted anything so divine in my life. Deep-fried fingers of sweet pastry dough, dipped in the thickest chocolate sauce.
When it comes to churros, the stroke of genius is in the shape. The long, ridged structure allows a maximum surface area to be crisped up in the hot oil, so each bite gives just the right amount of crunch, while still leaving the centre moist and soft. While they're still good cooled down, churros really demand to be eaten warm and fresh. If you're going to eat something so decadent, you want it at its very best.
This chocolate sauce, opposite, for the churros is not quite as thick as the traditional churros sauce, which is almost thick enough to stand your churro up in!
Instead, this is a very simple chocolate dipping sauce, which would be perfect drizzled over ice-cream. You could easily adapt with your own flavourings. Try adding a pinch of salt, chilli flakes or orange zest, or all three!
The party doughnuts, opposite, have a little more body to them than churros. They're yeast risen; essentially, a sweet bread dough that is fried. If you want to be adored by children (though scorned by parents) then make a batch for a birthday party. They're what celebrations are made for!
Churros con Chocolate
For the doughnuts, you will need:
75g (3oz) butter
¼ teaspoon salt
100g (3½oz) plain flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon caster sugar
Sunflower oil, for deep-frying
For the cinnamon sugar, you will need:
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the chocolate sauce, you will need:
150g dark chocolate, broken in to pieces
To make the dough for the churros, put the butter, the salt and 225ml (8fl oz) water in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Once the butter has melted, add the plain flour, whisking it on a low heat for about a minute or until the mixture forms a smooth ball. Remove from the heat.
Beat the eggs in a separate small bowl along with the vanilla extract and the tablespoon of caster sugar. Gradually add this mixture to the dough, beating it all the time until it comes together as a silky-smooth paste. Spoon the mixture into a bowl, cover it and place in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to allow it to set a little. After this time, remove it from the fridge and spoon the dough into a piping bag that has a large star nozzle.
Mix together the 50g (2 oz) of caster sugar and the teaspoon of ground cinnamon, then spread the mixture out on a plate. Preheat the oven to the lowest temperature. Heat a deep-fat fryer filled with sunflower oil to 180°C, 350°F. Alternatively, pour the sunflower oil into a large saucepan to a depth of 2cm (¾in) and bring to the same temperature on the hob (checking with a sugar thermometer, or using a 1cm (½ in) cube of bread, which should sizzle and turn nicely golden brown in about 30-40 seconds).
Working in batches of about 3-4 at a time, carefully squeeze 8cm (3in) strips of dough into the preheated sunflower oil, slicing the dough from the nozzle with a knife, being careful not to burn yourself on the very hot oil. Deep-fry the strips for about 3-4 minutes or until they are golden brown, turning them halfway through cooking. Briefly drain the strips on kitchen paper before rolling them in the cinnamon sugar to coat, then put them in the oven, uncovered, to keep warm while you make the rest.
As the churros cook, make the chocolate sauce. Put the cream in a saucepan on a high heat and bring it to a simmer, then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it has completely melted.
Pour the chocolate sauce into serving cups or bowls and serve with the warm churros for dunking.
You will need:
450g (1lb) strong white flour
¾ teaspoon salt
40g (1½oz) chilled butter, cubed
225ml (8fl oz) milk
75g (3oz) caster sugar
1½ teaspoons dried yeast or 15g (½oz) fresh yeast or 1 x 7g (¼oz) sachet fast-acting yeast
2 egg yolks
Vegetable oil, for frying
225g (8oz) caster sugar, to serve
Sift the strong white flour and the salt into a large bowl. Add the chilled cubed butter and, using your fingertips, rub it in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Heat the milk in a saucepan until it is warm, then stir in the caster sugar and the dried yeast, fresh yeast or fast-acting yeast, whichever you're using. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow it to stand for 5 minutes until the yeast goes frothy. If you're using fast-acting yeast, there is no need to let the mixture stand. Using a whisk, mix in the egg yolks.
Pour most of this liquid into the flour-and-butter mixture and mix to a soft but not a wet dough - you may not need all of the liquid. Knead the dough, either by hand or in an electric food mixer using the dough hook, for approximately 5 minutes or until the mixture is smooth and slightly springy.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and coat the dough with oil by rolling it around the bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm place for about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
Knock back the risen dough and knead it for 2-3 minutes. Roll it out on a floured work surface to 1cm (½in) thick, then, using a 5cm (2in) plain cutter, cut out about 24 rounds.
Into the centre of each round, insert your forefinger until it goes all the way down through the dough. With your forefinger, lift up the doughnut and swing it around in the air! This will make the hole wider.
Place the doughnuts on an oiled baking tray and tidy each one up into a round. Cover again with oiled cling film or a tea towel and leave in a warm place for approximately 30-45 minutes until the doughnuts have nearly doubled in size.
Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer to a temperature of 180-190°C (350-375°F). I normally use a wide saucepan filled with about 5-6cm/2-2 ½in of vegetable oil. You can check the temperature with a sugar thermometer or using a 1cm (½in) cube of bread, which should sizzle and turn nicely golden brown in about 30-40 seconds.
Carefully place the doughnuts in the oil with a slotted spoon and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from the oil with the slotted spoon and toss immediately in the caster sugar to serve.
Photography by Tony Gavin