Genie Milgrom’s grandmother taught her to check eggs for blood spots, to sort rice and wash vegetables to find bugs. When she baked bread, she used to take a small piece of dough and throw it in the back of the oven while saying “para buena suerte” – for good luck – and explained that it was a family tradition. But the family was actually not Jewish – her grandparents were Catholics who immigrated from Spain to Cuba in 1917, and from there to Miami, after Castro came to power. Genie was educated in Catholic schools and universities, but a chance meeting with a Jewish girl ignited Genie’s interest in Judaism and she began a conversion process. When her (Catholic) grandmother passed away, Genie discovered that she had left her a pair of old earrings with a Star of David and a hamsa pendant, and this discovery took her on a journey to find her roots. She traveled to Spain and from there to Portugal, dug through archives and managed to trace her family’s lineage back 22 generations – to the days when 45 members of her family were executed during the Inquisition, and those who survived had to hide their Jewish faith until only a few customs and a pair of earrings remained.
A few years later, Genie discovered another treasure: a suitcase that her mother hid from her, which contained family trees, birth and death certificates, baby books – as well as scraps of paper and old books full of handwritten recipe pages in tiny letters, left by generations of the women of the family. Among these papers were recipes for Orejas, or “ears” – triangular and crispy cookies eaten on Purim- or a recipe for cholatas, pork chops, which was actually a recipe for French Toast made to look like pork chops that, “the Jews would eat while burning a piece of pork in the fireplace, to make the neighbors think that they were eating it,” explains Ginny.
Genie documented her journey and the recipes she found in the book “Recipes of My Fifteen Grandmothers: Unique Recipes and Stories from the Times of the Crypto-Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.” Among other dishes, she includes a recipe for a very simple version of churros that her family prepared on Hanukkah: a water and flour based batter, without eggs and with very little sugar, rolled by hand into the shape of a snake but not fried in oil.
In the updated recipe below, the dough is enriched with eggs and butter, which makes it softer and stickier and requires frying hot oil. Those who want even richer churros, can replace all the water, or just a part of it, with milk.
Ingredients for Sephardic Churros
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon (250 ml) water
- 2.1 oz (60 grams) butter
- ⅓ teaspoon (2 grams) Salt
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (60 grams) Sugar
- 1 ½ cup + 1 tablespoon (220 grams) flour
- 2-3 eggs beaten
For the coating:
- 1 cup Sugar
- ¼ cup cinnamon
1. Heat water and butter in a pot to boiling point. Add salt and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Lower the flame, add flour all at once and mix until you get a uniform dough that easily separates from the sides of the pot. Continue cooking for another minute or two until the dough dries out a little and loses its shine.
2. Transfer the dough to a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix at low speed, until it cools a little; it should be warm to the touch, but not hot enough to cook the eggs.
3. Add the eggs gradually, a tablespoon or two at a time; the dough will break every time you add an egg and come together again. Continue adding eggs until you get a soft and sticky dough - when you stretch a little dough between two fingers, a "spike" of dough is formed between them.
4. Transfer the batter to a piping bag with a ⅔-inch (1½ cm) diameter serrated tip. You can prepare the batter a day in advance and keep it in the refrigerator (bring it back to room temperature before frying).
5. Heat oil for deep frying in a large, wide pot: if you have a thermometer, heat the oil to 350F (180C) degrees. If you do not have a thermometer, place a small piece of dough in the oil to test readiness; the oil should gently bubble around it.
6. Pipe 2⅓"-2¾" (6-7 cm) long churros into the hot oil. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side, until the churros are puffy and golden. Meanwhile, mix sugar and cinnamon in a wide plate.
7. Remove the hot churros with a slotted spoon. Drain well and transfer to the plate with the cinnamon sugar mixture until coated on all sides.