After a quick break and an even quicker change of gear, Chef Alain Morville (the executive chef onboard Le Diamant, my home for a week) put aside his Portuguese Seafood Stew and set to work showing us how he makes two iconic Spanish desserts: churros (or fried dough) and crema catalana (creme brulee's closest relative). And how does he make them? Just like a Frenchman.
I had adopted my best Alton Brown color-commentating voice for the chef's onboard demo (just to bring you up to speed, I was the culinary lecturer on a coastal European cruise), but when I looked at the recipes for the dishes I couldn't suppress a little yelp of recognition: The churros were made with pate a choux, or cream-puff dough, and the crema catalana was based on creme patissiere, or pastry cream, two French favorites that are also favorites across the border.
While Chef Morville served the churros with the burnt-sugar-topped crema catalana, the more typical way is to pair the freshly-fried sweet with a dip: hot chocolate. And the more typical time to have dunked-in-hot-chocolate churros is at breakfast or as a midnight snack. How could I not love a country with such a sweet tradition.
Once again, the pictures are from Mathieu Gesta, the talented photographer who documented our culinary travels on the cruise.
Adapted from Chef Alain Morville
Makes about 4 servings
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup water
1 stick (4 ounces) butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Prepare to fry the churros by heating about 1 1/2 inches of oil in a deep pan. The oil should be about 360 degrees F.
To make the dough, bring the water, butter, cinnamon and salt to a rolling boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in the flour all at once. Reduce the heat to low and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.
Beat the 3 eggs until well blended then add them, in 3 additions, to the mixture in the saucepan – keep stirring until the mixture comes together and is smooth. (You can do this in a mixer with a paddle attachment if you’ve already had your daily workout.)
Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Have a scissors at hand. Hold the bag over the hot oil, squeeze a strip of dough about 4 inches long, snip it with the scissors and let it drop into the oil. Fry 3 to 4 strips at a time, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 minutes on a side. Drain on paper towels. Roll the churros in the sugar and serve immediately. These are really best minutes after they’ve been fried.
Adapted from Chef Alain Morville
Makes 6 servings
1 quart whole milk
1 cinnamon stick (or a pinch of ground cinnamon)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup sugar
Brown sugar, for topping
In a saucepan, bring the milk, cinnamon and zest to a simmer. If you’re using the cinnamon stick, simmer for a couple of minutes, then remove the stick. Take the pan off the heat.
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks together with the cornstarch and sugar, whisking until smooth and creamy. Slowly add this egg mixture to the milk in the saucepan – don’t stop mixing.
Gently heat the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken. Make sure it doesn't boil.
Pour the custard into 6 shallow dishes. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for several hours. The cream must be very cold.
At serving time, sprinkle the tops of the cold custards with brown sugar. Caramelize the sugar with a kitchen torch or a do this under the broiler. (If you’re broiling the tops – keep a very close eye on them!)