To be honest, the first time I tried a rosquilla, I didn't like it much. As with the roscón de reyes (Spanish holiday bread), the shape fooled me into thinking it would taste like an American-style doughnut, so I was totally unprepared for the reality of the rosquilla.
The fried variety of rosquilla, usually made for San Isidro, is especially doughnut like in appearance.
But the texture is different, partly because they are (usually) made with olive oil, rather than shortening or butter. And the flavor is certainly different. Rosquillas for San Isidro are less sweet and, more importantly, heavily spiced with anise. Recipes for this style of rosquilla call for not only anise seeds (both ground and whole, toasted and green) but large amounts of anise liquor. When someone is frying rosquillas outdoors (as madrileños do for the festival of San Isidro), the licorice-like aroma is overwhelming, and the flavor, for the uninitiated, can be startling.
Like many old-fashioned Spanish olive oil pastries, rosquillas seem to come from a time of bolder flavors.
There are many other types of rosquillas. Some are lemon flavored. Others are dusted with powdered sugar. Some are called tontas (silly ones) and others are called listas (smart ones). I can never remember which are smart and which are silly. They may be fried, like rosquillas de San Isidro, or they may be baked. The baked sort tend to have a brittle, even slightly hard texture, similar to (but different from) biscotti.
Here's the display window of the famous old Madrid pastelería (pastry shop) Viena Capellanes, during San Isidro. Look at all the rosquillas (and the chulapo doll watching over them)!
Most rosquillas should be enjoyed with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or (most traditional of all) a sweet wine such as moscatel or Málaga.
The harder, crunchier baked rosquillas are best for dipping.
In the future I hope to post recipes for many types of rosquillas. Today I'll focus on the simplest, and one that also happens to be vegan: like many Spanish olive oil pastries and cookies, it contains no dairy products or eggs. It also has zero cholesterol. This is a crunchy, biscotti-like rosquilla best for dipping.
For Cinnamon Rosquillas
1 stick of cinnamon
2 cloves (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of brown sugar
scant 1/2 cup of brandy or cognac
2 cups of flour (I have substituted whole wheat with good results)
ground cinnamon and sugar for dusting
First "fry" the cinnamon stick and the cloves, if you're using them, in the olive oil. When fragrant and toasted, set the pan aside and let the oil cool.
Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves from the oil. Blend the oil with the sugar and brandy. Mix in the flour, bit by bit. It should form a fairly stiff dough.
Take a golf ball sized amount of dough. Roll it between your palms to form a 4 or 5 inch rope. Connect the ends together to form a small ring or rosquilla. Place them on baking sheets. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and bake in a 350 oven for 30 minutes.
***Caution: the amount of alcohol in these can cause a small explosion in the oven, so open the oven door with extreme care***
Cool them on racks and serve with tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or a sweet wine.
For traditional, intensely anise-flavored rosquillas, use white sugar, substitute an anise-flavored liquor for the brandy, and top each rosquilla with green anise seeds just before baking.
For untraditional (but good) chocolate rosquillas, just add 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa and 1/3 cup of chocolate chips to the dough before shaping the rosquillas.