The Golden Crunch of Churros for Hanukkah

Skip the filling and instead dip churros in a fresh strawberry sauce. Credit:David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

For Hanukkah this year, Zak Stern — who has been called the “kosher king” of Miami — is frying up doughnuts at Zak the Baker, his bakery and cafe. But he’s also making churros, the sweet fritter of choice in much of Latin America, Spain and Portugal.

“Miami is filled with Latin Jews,” he said. “It’s a natural.”

It is. And in Miami, Los Angeles and New York, the long sticks of fried dough are popping up on ever more varied tables for Hanukkah, which begins this year on Dec. 22.

To prepare to make my first batch of churros, I visited the Piñata District in downtown Los Angeles, a Mexican and Central American food market mixed with party-supply vendors. There, I saw a big tub containing a dough so thick that the vendor had to mix it with an electric drill. Then he grabbed his churro maker, a long metal extruder that looks something like a bazooka, and shot long, curled strands of dough straight into a large vat of oil to rapidly fry. They were then removed, dusted with cinnamon sugar, and tucked in a paper bag that was emptied within minutes.

With their irresistible crunch, the churros were the opposite of sufganiyot, the spongy jelly doughnut popularized with the creation of the state of Israel.

American, Eastern European and Israeli Jews eat potato latkes and sufganiyot to celebrate the ancient miracle of Hanukkah, in which, after the Maccabees declared victory over the Assyrians, a tiny vial of oil in the temple kept the menorah lit for eight days when it was supposed to last for only one.

But other traditions that involve frying have taken root. I found many fried dough recipes, including two for churros, in a recently published cookbook, “Recipes of My 15 Grandmothers: Unique Recipes and Stories From the Times of the Crypto-Jews During the Spanish Inquisition” (Gefen, 2019), by Genie Milgrom, who was born in Cuba and now lives in Miami.

Ms. Milgrom, 64, was brought up Catholic, but, she said, had always felt drawn to Judaism, and converted in her 20s. In her 30s, she traced her lineage on her mother’s side back to 15th-century Spain, and found that her family was in fact Jewish: They were crypto-Jews, the term for Jews who converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition but secretly maintained their religious traditions.

About five years ago, Ms. Milgrom discovered a trove of recipes at her mother’s house that included churros — a dish that followed immigrants from Spain and Portugal to various destinations in the New World. Her family first used anise liqueur in the dough, followed by rum when they settled in Cuba, after first passing through the Canary Islands, Colombia and Costa Rica.

When it came time to make my own churros at home, I asked for help from a friend who dreams of starting a churro truck. We tried recipes using a pâte à choux of eggs and butter whipped together, but we liked the traditional water and flour dough the best, with anise liqueur added to replace half of the water. This yielded a thick, crunchy exterior with a whisper of soft dough inside, rather than a chewy, eggy churro.

We also tried injecting a few churros with jam, like the ones at Mr. Churro in Los Angeles, but decided to instead serve ours with a fresh strawberry sauce, not unlike what Mr. Stern does in Miami.

“In Israel, sufganiyot is the dessert of Hanukkah,” Mr. Stern said. “Now, churros will become an alternative.”

Recipe: Churros With Strawberry Sauce

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