Sometimes one gets more than one hopes for, making a fairly mundane request like asking for staff recipes. Case in point: This recipe from Senior Editor Anne Valdespino, who is also the mag’s wine blogger. The introduction to her family recipe for buñuelos is like a supercondensed version of Victor Villaseñor’s fantastic, fantastical 1991 memoir Rain of Gold, only with Anne’s own family’s story of course, rather than Villaseñor’s, and, with buñuelos. She says that in her family, buñuelos are magical. We have no reason to disbelieve.
Christmas. Time for tamales, champurrado, and of course crispy buñuelos, aromatic with the delicate scent of Mexican cinnamon. Whenever I make or eat buñuelos I think of Abuelita, my grandmother, Laura. A strong, mestiza woman from Monclova, she was as phlegmatic as my grandfather Jesús was reckless. “When Villa’s men rode through the town, there was Laura, in the kitchen frying buñuelos!” my aunt Mora said, laughing every time she told the story.
The first time I made buñuelos I began to fully understand my grandmother’s virtues. The tricky recipe involves patience and several different skills. You have to wait hours for the dough to set, you have to be a fairly good tortillera to roll them out, you have to learn the drape—laying the dough carefully over the hot oil, away from yourself so the hot grease doesn’t splash.
We all have our own ways of making buñuelos. My brother Rob dips Swedish rosette molds into a thin batter, creating fancy shapes. My mother makes them assembly-line style with the ladies at her church, turning out dozens for Las Posadas, the Christmastide reenactment of the Holy Family’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. I might not be the most skillful buñuelo maker, but I am one of the happiest. I buzz around my kitchen, thinking of Abuelita. Did she love the heavenly smell of the dough, just as I do? Did she take pride in carefully grinding her own cinnamon?
In my family, buñuelos are magical. They helped us endure the Mexican Revolution and they continue to bring family and friends together. Each December I think of my mom serving them in San Antonio. I see the smiling faces of the grateful parishioners, families we have known for decades. I can hear their laughter. And if I listen very carefully, I can detect the soft sound of buñuelos being munched. To me, it’s as seasonal as jingle bells. Each sugary crunch whispers, “Feliz Navidad!—Anne Valdespino, Senior Editor
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter, cooled
1 cup warm water
3 cups flour, plus more for rolling out buñuelos
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons ground canela entera (whole Mexican cinnamon, see note) mixed with 1 cup superfine sugar
Beat egg in large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon sugar, salt, butter, and water. Mix well.
Begin adding flour gradually, mixing until it becomes difficult to stir. Turn out onto floured surface and mix in the rest until you have a smooth, soft dough. Form into a ball.
Butter a clean bowl and place dough inside, turning once to coat top with butter. Cover with a tea towel and let rest at least 2 hours.
Make 12 balls of dough, each about the size of a small egg. Roll out as if making flour tortillas; roll in one direction and keep turning quarter turns as the circle grows. Circles will be about 10 inches in diameter. Place in a stack on a plate with plastic wrap in between.
Fry circles in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
NOTE: Do not use regular cinnamon, which has a strong, peppery taste. Use Mexican cinnamon, available in small packages in the ethnic food aisle of most grocery stores. Grind it in a spice grinder or a molcajete (mortar and pestle.) Its flavor is more delicate, with an almost floral aroma.