Today’s recipe is as fun to make as it is delicious. One day while I was Twitter, there was a discussion of French crullers–those light and airy doughnuts carried at some doughnut places. It was National Doughnut Day (which I always manage to miss until it’s almost over) and folks were eating all sorts of doughnuts–including crullers. I was immediately reminded of the times in my childhood, oh so long ago, when I was able to eat crullers. I hadn’t had one for years–certainly not since I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance 10 years ago–but not even for years before that. I remembered that I love crullers! What’s not to like? It’s a light dough, deep fried until it is puffy on the inside and golden brown on the outside, and is then glazed. Delicious. It’s like an amazing yeast-raised doughnut without the yeast.
Crullers are made from a type of French pastry dough called pâte à choux. Pâte à choux is an interesting dough because it is cooked. Yes, you read correctly: the dough is cooked before you fry or bake it into the pastry it’s destined to be. As are all things French and delectable, it looks hard but is actually fairly simple. The basic ingredients are water, flour, butter, and eggs. Instead of yeast or other leaveners, the dough relies on its high water content to turn into steam as it cooks, raising the dough to amazing and fluffy heights (kind of like puff pastry). Pâte à choux is also used to make other delicious pastries such as beignets, eclairs, and croquembouches. All of these things I love.
It may sound hard and time-consuming, but pâte à choux is easy and fairly quick to make. One thing to keep in mind about it is that up until the very end, the dough really looks like something horribly wrong has happened to it. For much of the mixing process, it looks and feels like Play Doh. And then, just when you think the dough is a goner, voilà! It comes together and is smooth and satiny.
Of interest is the fact that the word “choux” is the French word for “cabbage.” This is because at a certain time in history, a French pâtissier (pastry maker), molded the dough into cabbage shapes. For whatever reason, this name stuck and we now have pâte à choux. The word “cruller” comes from the 19th century Dutch kruller, from krullen, which means “to curl”. Traditionally, crullers are piped into round shapes that have a ridged texture.
As I said, this dough is easy to make. And it’s fun to use because you can pipe it into shapes. For crullers, I shape it into round, ridged doughnuts. One thing that I struggled with for quite some time was how to get the piped dough off of the surface I piped it onto and into the oil for frying while retaining its shape. Nothing I did seemed to work. Then I heard about a technique of piping the cruller dough onto greased aluminum foil, cutting each of the pieces of foil out around the piped dough, and then placing the cruller dough with the aluminum foil into the oil. As the cruller cooks, it releases itself from the aluminum foil and you have a nicely-shaped cruller. Yay!
French Crullers, Gluten-Free
Yield: 10-12 doughnuts
NOTE: These are piped using a pastry bag and a number #827 tip
For the Crullers
6 tablespoons butter (3/4 stick; 85 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup (235 ml) water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup (175 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour mix
3 whole extra large eggs
2 extra large egg whites
Oil for frying (I use Rice Bran oil, but you can use canola or another high heat oil)
Extra melted butter for greasing the aluminum foil
For the Glazes
1/4 cup (55 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (2 oz; 55 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips or dark chocolate chips
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 or more tablespoons hot water
1 cup (140 g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1-2 tablespoon hot water
Melt butter and chocolate together in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Remove from heat. Whisk in vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Whisk in 1 tablespoon hot water until smooth. If the glaze is too thick, whisk in another tablespoon of hot water.
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso granules (decaf is fine)
2 cups (280 g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
In a medium bowl, whisk together whipping cream and vanilla extract. Add coffee granules. Whisk in confectioner’s sugar until smooth.
same as Coffee Glaze, but substitute 2 teaspoons maple extract for the coffee granules
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (280g) powdered (confectioner’s sugar), sifted
In a large bowl, whisk milk and vanilla extract together. Add confectioner’s sugar and whisk until smooth.
To make the crullers
In a medium-sized heavy bottomed pan, place water, butter, salt, and sugar. Bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat. Add vanilla extract. Reduce heat to medium low and add flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 3 minutes. The mixture will be sticky and hard to stir–just keep doing it the best you can, making sure that all parts of the dough hit the bottom of the pan.
After 3 minutes, remove from heat. Dump the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or into a food processor with the tube open). Mix dough on high until all of the steam has been released from the dough (about 1 or 2 minutes). It will look like greasy Play Doh.
Once all of the steam has been released from the dough, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing a bit between each addition. Add egg whites, one at a time, mixing between each addition. At this point your dough will look like a lumpy mess. Don’t worry–it’s supposed to look this way.
Mix the dough on high for a couple more minutes until the dough is smooth and shiny and looks nice–like you’d expect dough to look.
Prepare your oil. Place 4 inches of oil into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place a candy thermometer in the oil so you can gauge the temperature. Let the oil temperature reach 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.
While your oil is heating, prepare your dough to be piped. First, grease a large sheet of aluminum foil with the additional melted butter. You will pipe your crullers onto this.
Fill your pastry bag fitted with your star tip with dough. Pipe circles that are about 3 inches in diameter and with a 1 inch middle hole onto your greased aluminum foil. Repeat process until you’ve used all of your dough.
Now cut out the aluminum foil around each piped cruller. You will be dropping each cruller, on its aluminum foil, into the oil. Don’t worry–the foil will eventually detach from the cruller as it fries in the oil. Once it is detached, you can remove it with a pair of metal tongs.
Once the oil has reached 350 degrees, carefully and gently slide individual crullers into the oil, aluminum foil and all. Make sure that each cruller has room to cook and that the oil isn’t too crowded. The pan I use accommodates 3 crullers at a time in the oil. I find that the aluminum foil releases most quickly when I place the crullers into the oil dough-side down–although you will be turning the dough in the oil as it cooks, so it doesn’t really matter what side is down at first. The aluminum will detach anytime from right away to a few minutes into frying time.
Cook the crullers, turning each in the oil every minute or so, for about 6 to 10 minutes–until they are uniformly golden brown all over. They will expand to about 2 to 3 times their original size. You will find that many of your crullers will crack as they cook because they expand so much–don’t worry about this, the cracked part will just cook in the oil. With a pair of tongs, carefully remove the aluminum foil pieces from the oil as they release from the crullers. I have a bowl that I keep next to the stove that I put them in during this process. Work very carefully–the oil is very hot. Remove when the crullers are a uniform golden brown.
During this process, monitor your oil so it maintains a temperature of between 350 degrees F and 360 degrees F. Let the oil come back to temperature after frying each batch of crullers
As you remove each cooked cruller from the oil, place it on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels so it can drain. They will be amazingly light.
After you have fried all of your crullers, remove oil from heat and let it cool completely before disposing of it.
While the crullers are cooling, make your glaze(s).
After the crullers have cooled, glaze them with the glaze of your choice. Dip the top of each cruller into the glaze. Set the glazed cruller on a wire rack, glaze side up, for the glaze to set. They are best eaten the day they are glazed. If you want to serve them the next day, wait until the day you eat them to glaze them. The glaze will begin to re-liquefy if you try to store glazed crullers in a sealed environment like a Tupperware container.
Store, unglazed, in a paper bag for up to 3 days at room temperature.