Churros: One of the World's Oldest Foods

Feb 27, 2017

Spain has given many gifts to gastronomy, like paella, manchego cheese, and the world’s greatest ham. But no less noteworthy are churros, or Spanish donuts.

Fritter-like pastries made from cylinders of ridged batter and sprinkled with sugar, churros, not unlike American hushpuppies and French beignets, testify to the virtues of fried dough.

As such they are among the oldest forms of cooking known to humankind, going back thousands of years to the invention of pottery which, of course, by making possible the manufacture of vessels to contain hot oil also made frying feasible.

As Michael Krondl observes in his book on the history of desserts, the fundamental recipe for churros can be traced to an ancient cookbook attributed to Apicius, the great Roman gourmet.

However, the modern history of churros is a subject about which food historians are not in full agreement. Some contend that the credit for inventing the contemporary churro belongs to China and to Portuguese sailors who visited that country and discovered a sort of Chinese cruller not unlike a churro. The sailors brought the idea back home with them and, the story goes, it was soon adopted by nearby Spain.

Not surprisingly, despite the good relations between Portugal and Spain these days, the Spaniards are loath to give credit for one of their signature dishes to their Iberian neighbors. Instead, they cite nomadic Spanish shepherds, who, living high in the mountains with no access to fancy cooking devices, invented churros out of necessity because they were easy to fix with nothing more than a frying pan placed over a fire. As proof of this version of history, the Spaniards point out that churros look very much like the horns on the Spanish churra sheep and obviously take their name from them.

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This recipe, adapted from the Food Network website, is the one used by the Chocolateria San Ginés, the most famous place to have churros in Spain and, therefore, arguably the world.

¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup water
½ cup butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
3 eggs

Combine sugar and cinnamon. Bring water, butter, and salt to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to low and add flour, stirring vigorously until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat and add eggs, beaten together, stirring until mixture is smooth. Using a pastry bag with a star tip squeeze 4-inch strips of dough into hot oil (360 degrees) and fry about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and roll in sugar/cinnamon mixture.