I just mixed up some crullers. It seemed a much less intimidating task when you were in charge. Wish me luck!
As I mixed up the dough to make puffy crullers, I recalled my introduction to the sweet treat. It was one of those unseasonably hot days we experienced in October. The thermometer in Willmar, Minn., read 80 degrees as I joined my new friend, Bill Strong, in his kitchen. Bill was ready to teach me how to make crullers.
Bill, a loyal reader of my column, loves to cook and bake. He and I have been communicating by e-mail on a regular basis for at least a couple of years, ever since he sent me a message wondering about my meatloaf recipe. I was impressed with his interest in cooking and baking.
One day in September, Bill left a comment on my blog:
"I am baking crullers today! One of the best dunking goodies around."
I didn't know much about crullers. I asked Bill if he'd be willing to teach me how to make his favorite dunker when I traveled to Willmar to do some cooking demonstrations at the West Central Tribune's Women's Expo.
Bill was ready to get to work when I arrived at his house, with his Kitchenaid mixer on one counter and his Wolfgang Puck electric deep fryer heating up on another. A wooden dough board was on the kitchen table with a rolling pin, a pizza cutter and a bag of flour right beside it. A chunk of butter had reached room temperature. The remaining ingredients necessary for mixing up the dough were close at hand.
Bill's daughter, Sherri, joined us in the kitchen, assisting with the measuring and mixing. Sherri reminisced out loud about how excited she would get, when as a child walking home from school, she would smell her mom's crullers from at least a half a block away and would run the rest of the way home.
Bill's wife died in 1993. He's been the cruller-maker in the family ever since. Cruller-making is nothing new to him, though. His grandmother, a Norwegian immigrant, taught him how to make crullers many, many years ago when he was just a young boy.
As I watched, Bill expertly rolled out the dough, cut it into strips with his pizza cutter and made a lengthwise slit in the middle of each strip. Then, before I could say "wow," he had swiftly and smoothly slipped one end of the strip through the slit, forming something that looked like a diamond shape with a fancy little twist and a hole. My tries at creating pretty crullers looked sad and sloppy. It takes practice. We fried up a big bunch of crullers and ate some of them while they were still warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
And now, here I was in my own kitchen, all by myself, using Bill's recipe to make crullers.
Bill replied to my e-mail almost immediately.
"Do not fret out the small things you find perplexing. Crullers are pretty forgiving and if you can come up with any sort of workable dough they will be OK . Nutmeg -- Have been looking at many different recipes that use it -- especially in doughnut dough -- one teaspoon is not too much and on my next whack at this I will go for one tablespoon."
The dough, soft and sticky, is much easier to work with after it's chilled in the refrigerator. Bill was right, crullers are forgiving. My strips of dough were not all equal in size. Once fried, some looked very misshapen. Bill would definitely tell me my crullers didn't have enough nutmeg. He dumped the nutmeg into his dough without measuring. I guessed at ½ teaspoon for my crullers. Next time I'll make it a teaspoon.
I tasted one cruller, still a little hot, sprinkled with powdered sugar. First, a slight crackle as my teeth broke through the thin crispy golden crust. Then, slightly sweet dough with a hint of nutmeg, melting on my tongue. I was lost in cruller enchantment.
As I was getting ready to leave Bill's house that autumn afternoon with a bag of crullers clutched tightly in my hand, he said, "You won't believe how long they don't last." He was right. But then, why wouldn't he be right? Bill Strong has had a lot of experience with crullers. He's 94½ years old.
Maybe next year Bill will teach me how to make Divinity, another one of his specialties.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
Canola oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for serving
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and mix until blended. Sift 3 1/2 cups flour with the baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Add sifted dry ingredients to the mixing bowl alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. When dough is the right consistency, it will begin to leave the bowl and climb up the beaters. The dough will seem too soft and sticky to handle. Leave the dough in the bowl, cover lightly and chill in the refrigerator for up to a few hours.
Measure out remaining 1/2 cup flour. Use that supply to cover work surface with flour for rolling out the dough.
Cut the chilled dough in half. Place one half on your work surface and return the other half to the refrigerator.
Pour oil into your deep fryer and begin to preheat to between 360 to 375 degrees or preheat enough oil (3 to 4 inches deep) in a heavy deep skillet or pan, using a deep-frying thermometer (or a candy thermometer) to gauge the heat.
Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into strips about 1 inch wide and 5 or 6 inches long. Cut the end of each strip diagonally. Using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, make a lengthwise slit in each strip. Carefully pull the point of one end through the slit and lay flat back down on work surface.
Repeat with remaining half of chilled dough.
When oil has reached between 360 to 375 degrees, carefully drop crullers into the hot oil, frying just 3 or 4 at a time. Carefully monitor temperature, adjusting the heat to keep the temperature even.
When crullers are golden brown on one side, flip them over to fry the other side. Drain crullers on baking sheet lined with brown paper bag and paper towels.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat. Yields 4 to 5 dozen.