I’m a proud former chorus nerd. Most of my friends know that in the midst of a post-college what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life freakout I auditioned for the Broadway musical Rent in New York. Maybe I’ll just be a Broadway star!? The nice lady who was subjected to my audition stopped me mid-song and thanked me for coming in.
But I still love Broadway show tunes. And when Gus is out of town (because I’m a kind wife) I like to blast them and sing while I bake. I can only imagine what the heck my neighbors think of me, the recluse on the 6th floor that checks her mail in her pajamas and blasts Broadway tunes throughout the day. Hopefully they’re mollified by good baking smells.
Into the Woods, the musical about fairy tales, has been on heavy rotation. While I was singing my heart out I realized that I was actually living a new fairy tale. The one where Goldilocks sneaks into a churro factory hoping to have some that are juuuuuuust right. But the bear that works there can't get the recipe right.
I started with my tried and true pâte à choux. (It sounds like a fairy tale already!) The first batch looked great coming out of the piping bag. They crisped up beautifully in the oil within seconds. But then they just kept growing! Did you ever drop those little colored capsules in water when you were kid? You know the ones that unfold into magical little sponge animals and cars right before your eyes? That’s what I watched except that these fritters grew into ridiculous banana-sized fried hockey sticks.
Ok. Easy fix. I’ll scale back the eggs. The moisture in the eggs, which creates steam when the dough cooks, is part of the magical puffing action in pâte à choux. But when I dialed back the eggs, I was left with sad little fried churro sticks no wider than pencils.
Like Goldilocks, I was hoping for the perfect churro, somewhere between twigs and tree trunks. Six batches of churros later I was only a bit closer. I tweaked the flour. I adjusted the water. I experimented with the eggs. Somewhere in the fried dough maelstrom I realized that perhaps I should throw in the towel, find a reliable recipe from a trusted source, and move on. Let it go. Let it go.
But that is just not my nature. Call it OCD. Call it persistence. Call it love of fried dough. Two more batches. Things were getting so tense that I actually dropped my plastic-handled scissors into the hot oil while I was cutting a piped churro from the pastry bag. The scissors melted to the bottom of the pot.
I think I got it in the end. The orange and the cardamom are part of my signature spin. They may not be perfect but they’re good. And, like most fried foods, they’re wonderful right out of the oil, hot and crisp and covered in sugar. Honestly, I think I’ve lost all perspective. But at least in this career no one stops me halfway through a song.
Orange Cardamom Churros
Makes about 1 dozen
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for tossing
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
vegetable oil for frying
1. Bring the butter, sugar, salt, and water to a simmer over medium heat in a medium saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon to encourage the butter to melt. As soon as it comes to a boil, add the flour, stirring constantly, until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring the dough occasionally. (You don’t want the eggs to scramble in the next step.)
2. Add the egg and then the egg white, one at a time, beating on medium speed with an electric mixer between each addition. The dough will break apart and slide around in the pot before it comes back together.
3. Fit a piping bag with a medium open star tip (I used an Ateco # 826). Transfer the dough to the bag. Pipe 5-inch lengths of dough onto a lightly floured piece of parchment paper.
4. Heat the oil in a large pot fitted with a candy thermometer. Heat the oil to 350°F. Add a few of the dough pieces. Fry until puffed slightly and golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes, flipping halfway through. Transfer the fried churros to a paper-towel lined plate to drain for a few minutes. Toss the warm churros in sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough and sugar. Serve warm.