Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Coffee Churros & Strawberry Coulis

Pâte à choux is the culinary version of the little black dress as it can be seen everywhere, at casual cocktail gatherings as gougères, at classy restaurants as profiteroles, and at street stands/country fairs as churros. Those who regard frying this dough as going over board are missing out on a fantastic taste experience. Since churros are often served as breakfast in some countries, I put the wake-up punch of a favourite morning beverage right into the pastry by tossing in some instant coffee.

 Sprinkled-with-cinnamon-sugar coffee churros making waves

As some may need convincing that this treat is not without merit, instead of the traditional chocolate dipping sauce I chose strawberry coulis for the churros unadorned with sugar. The fresh tang of the fruity sauce added a lighter touch. Berries from our own garden which were frozen from the summer harvest were used.

Those little nibs at the tops of the churros indicate that I am a novice at piping dough

I also made a baked version which was fairly good, resembling a slender eclair in texture and taste. But when fried, they have a supreme crunchiness and custard-like center that I find irresistible. I, like Pastry Joe, regard the pronounced negativity hurled at all things fried as being based more on misconceptions than anything else. If your oil is fresh (except for a tiny bit of old oil mixed in) and the temperature is hot enough, frying is more akin to steaming.

Ramrod-straight baked coffee churros dusted with icing sugar.

(makes about 40 4-inch long churros, about one-inch thick)

  • Water, 8 fluid ounces
  • Coffee, granules, freeze-dried, either caffeinated or not, 1.5 T
  • Butter, sweet, 5.3 T
  • Sugar, vanilla, 2 T (if using plain sugar, add 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract)
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Flour, all-purpose, 8 fluid ounces
  • Eggs, 3 large (about 6 fluid ounces)
  • Coulis, strawberry (recipe here, but leave out the lemon juice and add a lot more icing sugar)
  • Sugar, granulated, 2 fluid ounces mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Icing sugar for dusting
  • Vegetable oil, fresh, for frying, but not olive oil (I used sunflower oil). Add a bit of re-used oil if you have some.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Prepare a piping bag, choosing a large star tip. If there no pastry bag available, then a gallon-sized, strong, plastic freezer bag with one of its corners snipped off can be substituted. If there are no piping tips, then the snipped-off corner itself will suffice but there will be no ridges. The dough will keep up to twenty hours in the fridge. I did some baked churros one day, and the next I fried up the remaining that was in the pastry bag.

Measure out the ingredients.

Put the butter, salt, sugar, coffee granules, and water into a medium-sized saucepan. Keep the flour and eggs near the cooker.

While stirring, simmer over medium heat until everything is dissolved and blended.

Add the flour all of a sudden. Vigourously mix with a large wooden spoon until a dough ball forms which pulls away from the sides of the pot. Gently cook for about a minute while continuing to stir so some moisture will evaporate. Remove from heat.

You can either wait a minute or run the lower sides of the pan under cold running water so the eggs can be safely added without being cooked. Beat in each egg by itself, using either a wooden spoon or a wire whisk. You can use a food processor if you choose the paddle attachment. After each addition, the dough will become slippery and separate into large pieces, unfortunately momentarily resembling raw liver lobes. Do not despair as it will wind up into a lovely, glossy, cohesive mass.

After beating in each egg, the mass will get more and more glossy but it will remain sticky.

After about ten minutes of beating, the mixture will be a lovely café au lait shade (funny that!), smooth, and shiny.

Using a wooden spoon, stuff the bag with the pâte à choux, squeezing the mixture towards the tip end after each spoonful.

Line some baking sheets with parchment paper. Though I have had my piping tips for decades, this is first time I have use them so I indulged in a little practice. The tip should be heard scratching along the surface, and the speed in which the dough is squeezed out should not be so fast that the strips are thin or so slow they are bunched up. If the plastic bag springs a leak, just slip another plastic bag over it (making sure you clip off a corner). When working the bag, twist the unfilled part.

Bake for about fifteen minutes and test by eating one (the best way I think!). The insides should be fluffy, a bit moist, and thoroughly cooked. Mine came out crisp enough considering they were baked, but you could run them under a broiler for a minute or so for extra crunch. Dust with icing sugar (granulated sugar does not adhere that well to baked churros) and serve hot.

I didn't remember to tamp down the spikey bits with a moistened fingertip to prevent them from getting burnt

If going the shallow fry route, mix sugar and cinnamon together and spread on a plate.

If you have a deep fryer, you are sitting pretty. If not, substitute a deep skillet like I did, adding about two inches of oil. To test without a thermometer, insert the handle end of a wooden spoon into the oil. When the temperature is in the range of 160 degrees F to 175 degrees F, there will be a steady though lively circular stream of tiny bubbles. If there is wild, tumultuous bubbling, then it is too hot and the heat needs to be lowered. After determining that it is hot enough, keep the flame low.

Layer a plate with paper towels and keep nearby. If you are new at piping, make sure you do a few practice runs first on a plate before doing them into the oil. You will get the hang of it fairly soon. I enjoyed playing around and squirted out some long ones which then gloriously curled up into curved shapes. Keep a sharp, non-serrated knife close so the dough can be scraped off the tip. Four-inch segments are more manageable though and should come out mostly straight. Fry about four minutes. Test by tapping them with the wooden spoon: they need to feel fairly hard when pressed down slightly. Remove with tongs.

Blot them on the paper towels and then coat with the sugar, making sure you sprinkle all parts, including any curved bits.

Pile them on a colourful plate or a plain one (your taste buds won't know the difference!) if that is all is available and serve them hot.

Biting into these churros is not only fun but also delightful.

À la prochaine!


How to make gougeres
How to make profiteroles


Three tests for ensuring frying oil is hot enough without using a thermometer