One hot Friday afternoon in October, I learned how to make Crullers. I wasn’t at a cooking class. I was getting a private lesson from William (Bill) Strong in his kitchen in Willmar, Minnesota.
I had not met Bill before that day. We had been communicating through email notes to one another since 2007. Bill reads my weekly column in the West Central Tribune. The first note from Bill came as a question about meatloaf. After that first note, I began to learn more about Bill Strong and his kitchen adventures. I remember one note he started by calling me Cook Supreme. And, another time, I learned Bill’s wife had died and he was now cooking for himself. I’ll always remember the long story he sent me about his waffle-making experience. He mixed up some waffle batter using a mix, fried some bacon and made some coffee. It was going to be a very indulgent breakfast for him that morning, but he was very hungry. His waffle iron was old and he wasn’t sure how it would work. As he soon discovered, it didn’t work well at all. The waffle stuck to the grid. He was finally able to surgically remove the top half of the waffle from the iron. And, that’s how he discovered waffles with half the calories! Bill’s emails always make me smile.
One day in September, Bill left a comment on this blog with mention of his plans in the kitchen, â€œI am baking crullers today! One of the best dunking goodies around.â€
I was sure I had heard of crullers sometime, but didn’t really know what they were. So, I asked Bill if he’d teach me how to make crullers.
And that’s how I wound up making crullers with Bill in his kitchen. Bill, at 94 1/2 years old, has been making and eating crullers for a long time. His Norwegian grandmother taught him how to make the sweet treat when he was a boy.
Bill is very serious about creating crullers that are sweet and full of nutmeg flavor. And, lucky for me, he is a very patient teacher.
Under Bill’s close supervision, his daughter, Sherri, mixed up the batter.
Bill knew exactly how the dough should feel when it’s ready to be rolled and shaped. I was reminded of how my grandma always knew exactly how her dough for raised doughnuts should feel and my mom always knew just when the dough for baking powder dumplings was ready to shape into balls. It takes experience to get to that point.
Make crullers, and people will come. Bill’s daughter, Sherri, remembers walking home from school. She could smell her mom making crullers a half block away. She’d get so excited she’d run the rest of the way home. I think the neighbors must run over to Bill’s house when he makes crullers. The day I was with Bill, two of his five children and one granddaughter were there to eat them up.
These are Bill’s Crullers:
These are my crullers:
Why the difference, you may be asking? I was feeling very intimidated when I tried making the crullers all by myself in my own kitchen. I was worried that if I worked in more flour as Bill did when he kneaded the dough on the board, the dough would get too hard and I’d never be able to roll it out. So, rather than adding more flour, I chilled the soft, sticky dough for a few hours before rolling it out. My results were also delicious, just different consistency than Bill’s.
Bill set his deep fryer to 350 degrees. I fried my crullers in a cast iron pan on the stove. I found that at 350 degrees, the crullers absorbed too much oil and seemed greasy. I had best results keeping the temperature of the canola oil between 360 and 375 degrees. Bill recommends using canola oil for frying because of its neutral flavor.
I like dipping crullers in granulated sugar as I eat them. Bill likes to dip them in coffee or douse them with jam. Everyone seems to like them with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Many say crullers originated with the Dutch. Indeed, the word “cruller” comes from the Dutch krulle, meaning “twisted cake.” According to the definition in the American Heritage Dictionary (4th Edition), a cruller is “a small, usually ring-shaped or twisted cake of sweet dough fried in deep fat.” In New England, the definition goes on, it refers to “an unraised doughnut, usually twisted but also shaped into rings or oblongs.” I took some warm crullers over to my next-door neighbors. Alice, of Norwegian descent, was reminded of fattigmann, a traditional Norwegian Christmas cookie. Merle, of French descent, seemed to know of the very light, round donut-shaped French cruller that looks like a miniature tractor tire and thought it should be pronounced with a more French influence, something like Kroo-LAY.
All I can say is that these diamond-shaped, sweet dunkable treats are addicting. You certainly can’t eat just one. As Bill Strong says, “You won’t believe how long they don’t last.”
I recommend getting the family into the kitchen to help make crullers. Or, have a cruller-making party with friends in your kitchen — a fun and different way to celebrate the holiday season.
Bill was so kind to allow me to video-tape him as he cut and shaped the crullers. I hope you will click below to watch. It is cute and very short — just over a minute.
Bill’s daughters told me he makes delicious divinity. That’s something else I’ve never made — totally intimidating. Hmmm…maybe next year, Bill?
Read more about Bill Strong, his crullers and my experience in Bill’s kitchen in my column this week.
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ 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 3½ 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 ½ 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 Â¼-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.
My suggestion: eat them the day they are made, preferably while they are still warm. You won’t be able to stop eating. Really.