Episode 4, GBBO 2016, Showstopper


What’s your favorite part of a churro? Do you like the crunchy outside bits best? Or does the chewy, buttery inside make your heart melt? Either way, have I got the recipe for you. I’ll tell you how you can have churros YOUR way!

But first, a little bit of history. While the name is likely taken from the churra sheep that are native to Iberia (present-day Spain and Portugal) — because they resemble the sheep’s horns — their origins probably stem from China, where Portuguese merchants were introduced to youtiao, salty strips of fried dough usually eaten for breakfast. It is said that the Portuguese brought the idea home and innovated by adding sugar instead of salt. After that, legend has it, Spanish shepherds adopted the snack as their own, since they lived in the mountains for weeks at a time with no access to fresh bread. 

Another theory gives the Arabs credit for bringing the recipe to the Iberian peninsula as early as the 8th or 9thcentury. Of course, there are iterations of fried dough in almost every culture. According to food historian Michael Krondl, “Today’s churro is not that different from a recipe for a flour and water fritter that you find in Apicius, a Roman cookbook dating from the 1st Century AD. And there are recipes from the Ancient Greeks, but it’s probably even older than that. In the Mediterranean basin it’s basically been around forever.”

But wherever churros came from, everyone credits the Spanish with introducing them to Central and South America, and it was the ancient people of these lands — the Aztecs, to be precise — who introduced the Spaniards to chocolate. While we cannot deny that the Spanish conquistadors also brought death and destruction to the Aztecs, some would say that the combination of churros and chocolate is a match made in heaven.

And now back to this showstopper challenge. The brief was to make 36 sweet churros, either filled or with a dipping sauce. Paul Hollywood said he was looking for “a beautiful brown, crispy exterior with a lovely, soft interior.” 

Churros are made with a type of choux pastry, which means the liquid (milk or water) is heated to a boil with the butter and sugar, and then the flour is dumped in all at once and stirred until a thin film forms on the bottom of the pan. This cooks the flour and helps form a stiff dough. After letting the dough cool slightly, you stir in the eggs one at a time until you achieve a pipable consistency.

To pipe the churros, you’ll need a star tip, which will give the pastry its distinctive, crispy ridges. Which star tip you choose will have a lot do with determining whether your churros end up crunchy or chewy. I used the Wilton 1M tip because it has deep ridges, which increase the surface area, creating lots of crispy edges. For softer, chewier churros, use a tip with a larger opening, such as a Wilton 4B or 32. If in doubt, measure the opening. King Arthur Baking Co. advises that a ¼-inch opening (like the 1M) will produce churros of about ¾ inch in diameter. If you want fatter, 1-inch diameter churros, go for a wider tip. The 4B tip opening is about 3/8 of an inch. Some recipes even specify an 869 tip, which is 7/8 of an inch. Just keep in mind, however, that the thicker the churro, the longer it will take to cook.

There was some discussion in the Great White Tent about whether the piped dough should be chilled before it was fried. Selasi was making churros cups and froze them before frying so they would hold their shape better. Val said she wanted hers to be as cold as possible without freezing to help them maintain their ridges. Kate chilled hers before frying in hopes that they would stiffen up, as her dough was thinner than she would have liked. Jane said she was not chilling her churros but let them stand at room temperature for a bit to let them “firm up a fraction.” Tom and Rav took the traditional approach of piping their churros directly into the hot oil. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get them uniform that way, which is something the judges were watching for.

I chose to freeze mine first, and while they kept their ridges, they also ended up thin and crispy all the way through. No creamy center at all. I even tried lowering the oil temperature and undercooking them, but they still ended up crunchy. I decided to call them Crispy Churros Stix. However, after I made my first 36 churros, I had a little dough left over, which I piped directly into the hot oil, and they turned out slightly thicker, and therefore chewier, than the frozen ones.

So here’s my takeaway: If you want crispy, crunchy churros, use a smaller piping tip (Wilton 1M) and freeze them for about 30 minutes before frying. Just be careful not to overcook them — there’s a fine line between crispy and burnt. If you want chewy, custardy churros, use a wider tip, and pipe them directly into the hot oil. 

I flavored my churros with my custom chai spice blend and a little orange zest and tossed them in a sugar-and-chai-spice mixture after frying. For my dipping sauce, I made an orange caramel sauce with the juice of the blood oranges that I zested for the batter. I suggest preparing the sauce a day or two ahead of time, because it’s more of a syrup than a sauce just after it’s made, but it really thickens up in the fridge. [EDIT: Because I wasn’t thrilled with the sauce on the first go-round, I’ve since adapted the recipe by adding cream and a little butter at the end to make it more like a rich, creamy caramel sauce and less like a syrup. I’ve edited the recipe (below) to reflect these changes.]

My churros were made on a bright, sunny spring day when I could set up my deep-fat fryer on my back porch. This avoids smelling up the house with the hot oil. Churros keep well in an airtight container for a few days and can be crisped up in a warm oven. Or you can keep the piped, uncooked churros in the freezer and just fry up as many as you plan to eat on a given day. Churros make a great snack any time of the day, or eat them for breakfast with a mug of thick hot chocolate, like the Spanish do.

Chai-Spiced Churros with Blood Orange Caramel Sauce

  • Servings: Makes at least 36 churros
  • Print
Sauce recipe adapted from: PastryChefOnline.com

For the Blood Orange Caramel Sauce (makes 1¼ cup):

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ c. water
  • 1 T. orange zest
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ c. fresh blood orange juice (regular orange juice will work, but will result in a sweeter sauce.)
  • 1 T. orange-flavored liqueur (I used Cointreau)
  • ¼ c. heavy cream
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • ¼-½ t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla extract (optional)

    For the churros:

    • 3 c. all-purpose flour
    • 2¼ t. chai spice blend*
    • 1½ t. salt
    • 2 c. water
    • 1 c. whole milk
    • ¾ c. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
    • 4 T. sugar
    • 2 t. vanilla extract
    • Zest of 1 orange
    • 3-4 eggs, cold

      For frying and dipping:

      • Canola or sunflower oil, for frying
      • 1 c. sugar
      • 2-3 t. chai spice blend, to taste*


      1. To make the sauce, combine sugar, water, zest and lemon juice in a medium heavy saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and continue to cook until the mixture thickens and turns golden brown, 10-15 minutes.
      2. Remove from heat and add the orange juice and liqueur. (The mixture will bubble up — be careful!) Return to medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
      3. Reduce heat and stir in cream. Once that’s incorporated, add salt and butter. Bring to a light boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes until slightly thickened.
      4. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and stir in vanilla, if using. Let cool before serving. (Sauce will thicken as it cools. Store in refrigerator. It may separate when chilled, so give it a stir before serving. Sauce may be warmed gently before serving.)
      5. To make the churros, combine flour, chai spice blend and salt in a large bowl. Stir to combine and set aside.
      6. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring water, milk, butter and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and add flour mixture to the pot all at once. Using a wooden spoon, stir vigorously until the dough comes together, about 1 minute. Return to heat and stir for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, until a thin film forms on the bottom of the pan.
      7. Transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and leave to cool for 4-5 minutes. Add three eggs, one at a time, beating in between each. Scrape bowl as needed.
      8. Add vanilla and orange zest and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and glossy, about 3 minutes. The dough should be thick but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining egg and mix until well incorporated.
      9. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. (See note, below.) If you’re planning to pipe the churros directly into the oil, skip to step 10.
      10. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Pipe 6-inch lengths of dough onto the baking sheets, then pop them in the freezer for 30 minutes. (Once they are frozen, the uncooked churros can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. Simply keep them on the parchment paper and place them, in layers, in an airtight container. When you’re ready to fry them, remove from freezer and let sit for 10 minutes before frying.)
      11. Combine 1 cup sugar and 2-3 teaspoons chai spice blend in a large bowl and set aside.
      12. Fill a large pot about halfway with oil (or add oil to an electric deep-fat fryer up to the fill line). Heat oil to 370°F. Line a shallow dish with paper towels and keep close to the stove or fryer.
      13. If piping directly into the oil, first oil the blades of a pair of kitchen scissors. Hold the piping bag in one hand and the scissors in another. With the tip of the piping bag about 3 inches above the hot oil, pipe about 4 to 6 inches of dough directly into the oil, then cut the dough with the scissors close to the tip of the piping bag. If you froze your churros, remove them from the freezer and cut the parchment paper under the churros so you can pick up the paper and slide each one into the oil. The paper will float to the top and you can remove it with tongs.
      14. Start by frying one churro, turning it over when it is golden brown (about 2-3 minutes). When both sides are golden brown, remove it from the oil and place on the paper towels to drain. Cut the first one open and see if the inside is cooked. If it’s still raw, reduce the heat to 350°F and try another one. It may take a few tries before you find the right time-temperature combination.
      15. Once you have the temperature and timing right, you can fry 3-4 churros at a time, depending on how big your pot/fryer is. Keep an eye on the temperature, and if it drops below your ideal temperature, increase the heat slightly and let it come up to temp before adding more churros.
      16. Toss warm churros in reserved chai-sugar mixture. Serve with warm orange caramel sauce.

      *If you don’t have a favorite chai spice blend, use 1 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ginger, ½ t. cloves and ½ t. cardamom.

      NOTE: For crispier, crunchy churros, use a thinner star tip, like the Wilton 1M. For softer, chewy churros, use a tip with a larger opening, like the Wilton 4B or 32. A tip with a ¼-inch opening (like the 1M) will produce churros about ¾ inch in diameter. For fatter, 1-inch diameter churros, use a wider tip. The 4B tip opening is about 3/8 inch; the 869 tip is 7/8 inch. Just keep in mind, the thicker the churro, the longer it will take to cook.

      Up next: Breakfast pastries

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