A couple of years ago I was wondering down memory lane and came across one of my mother’s writings. She was an accomplished wordsmith and I always read her articles with enthusiasm. This particular one contained a recipe for a “Futchin”. A Futchin is simply a glob of deep fat fried dough interspersed with raisins and shaken in a paper bag filled with sugar. They are delicious. Here’s the article she wrote back in 1952:
Christmas is a warm Futchin
Gourmet magazine replied coldly when asked for the origin of Grandma’s futchins. Raising high their respective eyebrows, the editors said loftily that each small section of Central Europe had its own version of a Christmas-time light bread. They implied they could not worry over trivia when they already had a Gateau Tourterelle in the oven.
Less snobbish, however, our family continues to enjoy these sugary puffballs each holiday season. They are doled out lavishly to visitors, heaped upon plates to be taken to stay-at-homes, and packed into boxes to be mailed to absent relatives who would obviously drift into melancholia without a Futchin for their Christmas snack.
Futchins were standard yuletime equipment long before I was born, but it wasn’t until my German Grandmother was in her seventies that my aunts began insisting that the recipe be written down. At that, I believe it took three years before the process was pinned down – Grandma being a cook who believed in ‘pinches’, ‘handfuls’, and mixing batter until it ‘looked right’.
Eventually, the recipe reached me, and I fight it to a standstill each Christmas. It isn’t that the recipe is not clear; it is just unlikely. And each year I must convince myself anew I really do need 19 cups of flour and only one cake of yeast.
First, only a dishpan or possibly a turkey roaster could hold the sponge that develops the first night. The yeast cake is dissolved in two quarts of lukewarm water, with enough flour to make a sponge. In about three hours, the sponge becomes very bubbly and wild; the bubbles plop and spread in slow motion like rapidly-cooling lava. This is punched down.
Next one and a half cups of sugar is added to 6 well-beaten egg yolks, three cups milk, one and a half cup of raisins, and three-fourths teaspoons salt and mixed into the original sponge along with enough flour to make a medium stiff batter. Then 6 stiffly-beaten egg whites are folded in.
The following morning the kitchen is stripped for action and a kettle of deep fat is set to heat on the stove. At the exact moment – and this is something you must find out for yourself – a spoonful of dough is dropped into the fat and watched nervously until it pops up, surrounded by a halo of small bubbles.
Small children are useful now because they eat the ‘cripples’. The technique of making a perfect Futchin, with a surface broken only by a raisin struggling to escape, must be learned again each Christmas. Meanwhile, the first dozen or so always resemble misshapen octopi. Shaken in a bag of sugar, these first misfits are always gobbled by the youngsters. When they are finished, the kitchen floor always crunches underfoot.
Then the elders take over. The fragrant odor of a pot, two pots, of coffee fills the steamy kitchen; neighbors with keen noses ring the doorbell; the air is full of excited ‘Do you remember when’s …’
Gourmet magazine doesn’t know what it’s missing.
I definitely agree, but I’m not adventurous enough to attempt this cooking feat – even though my mouth waters at the thought of tasting yet another Futchin.