Norma Castillo pours cinnamon, sugar and water inside a bowl of flour and shortening until it reaches the right consistency. Eventually, the contents will turn into crispy, cinnamon-sugar coated buñuelos.
It’s a New Year’s tradition for her family. Castillo makes them with the help of her daughter, Jacklyn Castillo, and under the instruction of her mother, Diana Camarillo. The three generations help roll the dough, fry the rounds and coat them in sugar.
The smells inside of the house are indicative of New Year’s festivities, Castillo said, with the Christmas tree among other holiday decorations still illuminating their Edinburg home.
They have menudo cooking outside (since it’s too odorous to cook indoors) and tamales they made over a year ago in the freezer. That, plus the roughly 50 buñuelos they’re making will feed an entire family at their New Year’s Eve party.
“Some people make them the night of, but I want to be enjoying time with my family, not cooking,” Castillo said as she kneads the dough. He mother said she has “good hands para amasar (to knead),” so that’s the role she’s taking on today.
Once the dough reaches the right consistency, Castillo uses a thick rolling pin to form them into thin rounds. She stretches the edges with her hands, just like making flour tortillas. Every now and then she makes an imperfect, oval-shaped buñuelo, and her mother teases by calling it a “ huarache, ” a sandal more commonly known as a chancla in Mexican-American culture.
Camarillo then fries the rounds in oil. She knows it’s the right temperature when they bubble up quickly and begin to brown within minutes. Once they’re cooked, she picks them up, letting the excess oil drip off, and lets her granddaughter, Jacklyn, coat them in sugar.
“That’s the easy part,” Jacklyn said.
Nowadays, it’s much easier to go to the bakery or grocery store and purchase them. Some people even buy raw flour tortillas, fry them and coat them in the cinnamon sugar. But they just don’t taste the same, Camarillo said.
The characteristics of a good buñuelo are that it’s crispy, flaky and has just the right amount of sugar, Castillo said. She can usually tell if she made them right by whether there’s any leftovers.
They follow a recipe documented on a notebook, with the title “Tia Mina’s Buñuelos.” Herminia Lopez, or “Tia Mina,” is Camarillo’s older sister who died about six years ago. Before she died, Lopez made sure Camarillo learned how to make them herself, but there are a few details, such as their size, that she might’ve pointed out.
“She made them so good,” Camarillo said of her sister. “She would be so happy to see us making them right now.”