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A traditional cruller (or twister) is a fried pastry often made from a rectangle of dough, with a cut made in the middle that allows it to be pulled over and through itself producing twists in the sides of the donut. Crullers have been described as resembling "a small, braided torpedo" and having been "a staple of the New England diet since the Pilgrims' day". Some other cruller styles are made of a denser dough somewhat like that of a cake doughnut formed in a small loaf or stick shape, but not always twisted. Crullers may be topped with plain powdered sugar; powdered sugar mixed with cinnamon; or icing. However, a "French cruller" is a fluted, ring-shaped doughnut made from choux pastry with a light airy texture.
The name comes from early 19th century Dutch kruller, from krullen "to curl". Crullers are traditionally eaten in Germany and some other European countries on Shrove Tuesday, to use up fat before Lent. In Danish they are known as "Klejner" and in Swedish as "Klenäter", both names deriving from Low German. In Scandinavia crullers are common at Christmas. Crullers are believed to have been introduced to the New World by Sebastian Croll.
They were referenced in The Wizard of Oz when Aunt Em offered them to Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke after scolding them for being "three shiftless farmhands". The twisted shape of the crullers might have been a metaphor for tornadoes as the same scene references other metaphors which influenced Dorothy's subsequent dream.
Crullers are most commonly found in Canada, New England and the Mid-Atlantic and North Central states of the United States, but are also common in California. The German origin is probably why traditional crullers can be found more easily in the Midwest, where many German immigrants settled. Some family-owned bakeries still call them "krullers." In other parts of the U.S., crullers may be called "dunking sticks" or simply "sticks."
In 2003, the Dunkin' Donuts chain of doughnut shops stopped carrying traditional crullers, claiming that the hand-shaped rectangular treats were too labor-intensive, and couldn't be simulated with new machines for mixing doughnut batter. The company still sells "French Crullers" which can be formed by a kind of extruding nozzle.
Tim Hortons, Honey Dew Donuts, and Krispy Kreme still sell the cruller. In place of the traditional cruller, Dunkin' Donuts now sells several variations of a substitute product it calls a "cake stick" which is a simplified, machine-made version of the more elaborately twisted, hand-made variety. In the southeastern U.S., French crullers are a fresh-baked everyday bakery item at Publix grocery stores.
The term "Chinese cruller" is occasionally applied to the youtiao (Simplified Chinese: 油条), a similar-looking fried dough food eaten in East and Southeast Asia. The term cruller is also associated with the mahua (Simplified Chinese: 麻花). Mahua is a type of twisted fried dough much denser and sweeter than youtiao.
The "Aberdeen Crulla" is a traditional Scottish pastry made in the same way as the rectangular, plaited cruller of New England. One derivation of the name is from the Scots "Crule", a small cake or bannock, which may in turn derive from the Danish or Norwegian for "curl" or the Norwegian for "hump". Distinct from this, the "yum-yum" is a commonly available treat in Scotland, which resembles a straightened French cruller coated in thin glace icing.
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