How to Make Esteban Castillo’s Cinnamon-Kissed Buñuelos de Viento

This fried fritter recipe from ‘Chicano Bakes’ should be on your holiday baking list.

chicano bakes recipe bunuelos
The festive shapes of buñuelos de viento are crafted using a rosette iron. | Photo by Esteban Castillo
The festive shapes of buñuelos de viento are crafted using a rosette iron. | Photo by Esteban Castillo

Esteban Castillo is a creative powerhouse. The multi-hyphenate talent is a recipe developer, cooking instructor, photographer, social media sensation, best-selling author of his first cookbook, Chicano Eats, and more. His sophomore cookbook, Chicano Bakes, is a sparkly reflection of his culinary prowess.

You might not necessarily think of disco when it comes to baking, but the theme was top of mind for Castillo as he plotted his second cookbook. “It was 2020, Chicano Eats had just come out and I had just purchased a house, gotten married, turned 30, and came out to my dad,” Castillo explains. All of this, paired with the pandemic, was simultaneously transformative and challenging. “It was such a heavy topic, but whenever I was working, I had disco on and that would make me happy, make me dance, and just take my mind away from everything else.”

Put music on while you work, Castillo learned from his mother, and there will always be a pep in your step. The disco ball, particularly, gave Castillo a sense of liberation—and an idea for the theme of his second book. “I always try to incorporate my queerness into my work, and when light dances with glass in the mirror, sometimes you get little rainbows,” he grins.

To Castillo, there are parallels between disco and baking. “When I think of baking, I think of indulgence,” he says. “And when I think of the disco era, I also think of indulgence—big hair, luxurious velvet, all of the sparkle.” He and his husband sourced all the funky glass and dinnerware themselves, acquired some disco balls, and became frequent customers of a local fabric shop that set the glittery and velvety backdrops for dozens of recipes.

While the book is visually stunning—colorful, fun, shimmery, and inviting—the recipes within its pages are equally as compelling. Castillo, who admits to having a massive sweet tooth, penned sections devoted to pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread), postres (desserts), pasteles (cakes), antojitos (small bites), and bebidas (drinks). The front of the book also teaches basics, like how to prepare dulce de leche, make vanilla extract at home, and bake telera rolls.

“There’s such an overflow of French pastry books, cookie books, pie books,” Castillo lists. “In the middle of lockdown, people wanted to join the baking frenzy that was happening—but there weren’t resources for the things my community wanted to bake.”

Castillo took it upon himself to become that resource. There are nostalgic recipes, like cortadillo, a vanilla cake with pink vanilla frosting. There are unmistakable classics, like chocoflan and tres leches. And of course, there are holiday favorites: horchata rum punch, sweet pineapple tamales, and buñuelos de viento—crispy cinnamon sugar-dusted fritters.

“Every time I have [buñuelos de viento], I think back to my childhood and the posadas season,” Castillo says. The pre-Christmas ritual includes celebration, prayers, carrying around a replica baby Jesus, tamales, and buñuelos de viento.

Although these crispy fritters require a special rosette iron to make (which can be purchased at Mexican grocery stores or even online), the ingredients are relatively simple and just a bit of finesse is required to prepare them. “I like to tell people to leave the rosette inside of the hot oil because when you dip the rosette into the batter, you want to make sure that the batter is sizzling,” Castillo advises. “That will ensure that once you go to dip it back into the oil, that it'll release nicely.”

The bonus is that your kitchen will smell like fried dough, cinnamon, and the pleasures of the holiday season.

Buñuelos de Viento Recipe by Esteban Castillo

Makes two dozen buñuelos

For the buñuelos:
• 2 Large eggs
• 1 ¼ cup (295 grams) whole milk
• 2 Tablespoons neutral oil, like canola or avocado
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1 ½ cups (187 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
• ¼ teaspoon baking powder
• 2 Tablespoons sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For frying:
• 6 cups vegetable oil

For the spice sugar coating:
• 1 ¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla until just combined. In another large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and cinnamon. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture, constantly whisking until the liquid has been fully incorporated and the batter is smooth.

2. Pour 4 inches (10 cm) of oil into a deep skillet or Dutch oven and bring to 350°F (180°C).

3. Meanwhile, make the spiced sugar coating: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Have at the ready.

4. When the oil is up to temperature, place the rosette iron in the oil for about 1 minute. Take the rosette iron out of the oil, let it drain for a second, then carefully dip the rosette iron halfway into the batter. (If you completely submerge the rosette into the batter, the buñuelo will enclose your iron once you dip it into the oil and won’t release.) The iron needs to be hot enough so when you dip it into the batter, it sizzles. If the iron isn’t hot enough and you don’t hear a strong crackle and sizzle, the batter will stick to the iron when it’s submerged in the hot oil and won’t release the buñuelo.

5. Place the rosette iron back into the oil and gently shake until the buñuelo releases into the oil. Fry for 20 to 30 seconds, then flip over and fry another 20 to 30 seconds until the buñuelo is golden and crispy.

6. Carefully transfer it to the spiced sugar coating and toss until coated. After making 4 or 5 buñuelos, make sure to let the rosette rest in the hot oil for 1 to 2 minutes, so it gets hot again.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.