What is a cruller? Growing up in East Lansdowne, my grandparents lived nearby on the next block, and I would often walk to their house on Saturday mornings when they were having a late breakfast. They would give me a cup of sweetened half tea, half milk, and what they called a “cruller.” I always thought it was another name for a donut, which was close, but not exactly correct.
A cruller, as I learned from the Internet, is a fried pastry, like a donut, but not round. It begins as a rectangular piece of dough that is slit in the middle and one end folded over and pushed into the slit. The point of this is to make more folds to trap the hot frying oil and the powdered sugar or icing put on top.
I understand no machine has been invented that can do this, so the most you will see today are imitations of the shape. Very little is made today that requires handwork, as anyone unemployed can affirm. Dunkin Donuts used to have crullers, but gave them up as too expensive to make. Almost all of the many images on the Internet are simply twisted pieces of dough or donuts grooved or twisted in some way. Grooves and twists are what seem to define a cruller now.
Crullers have a long history in Europe and were no doubt part of my grandparent’s heritage. Call it what you want, the shape didn’t matter to me. Inside my mouth was dark, and it sure tasted like a donut.
I once worked on the Ocean City boardwalk running a donut machine that extruded a skinny ring of dough into revolving hot oil where it was cooked in a few minutes and pushed onto moving trays to cool. It was all automatic: Raw dough in one end, warm donuts out the other. The machine was placed at the front behind glass where it was an attraction that always drew crowds. Growing up, I was fascinated by the one at the 69th Street Penn Fruit grocery store, and now I was actually operating one. It was like being on stage every night, and I milked the audience like a vaudevillian hoofer.