Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Time to Make the Doughnuts
Normally I am a committed healthy eater who tries to live on whole grains (my blood sugar thanks me), control my portions, and get at least some vegetables into my diet. But every once in a great while, I have my feasts. Last Saturday was one of those. We hosted a doughnut fry at our barn.
I thought my urge to fry doughnuts--an urge I haven't had since at least 6 years ago--would be a good way to get better acquainted with the neighbors we've met since we moved in. Besides, the last time I scratched the doughnut frying itch, I had to call in neighbors and deliver to friends just to get rid of all the doughnuts. I hadn't fully comprehended that I was using my More-is-Better boss/friend's recipe that makes at least four dozen. That's just a little more then my then ten-year-old son and I could eat alone. This time I was prepared. The neighbors got invited first.
And then I had the usual panic and made an extra batch of dough and threw some away anyway because we were doughnut-done after two hours of frying (Dave got really good at that) and nibbling. Besides, I ran out of powdered sugar to glaze any more! And they just aren't the same without the glaze.
This was another dream-made-real food event for me. I baked up a breakfast casserole, filled the slow cooker with spiced cider, Dave brewed a little coffee, and the frying began shortly before the neighbors and the in-laws started breezing in. Everyone seemed to enjoy both the treat of freshly fried doughnuts and visiting with each other, which doesn't always happen even though they're neighbors. Bringing people together to share food and each other is one of the joys of this new phase of our life as hosts, part of the dream.
One of our guests felt right at home because her family is Dutch in origin and has a tradition of frying doughnuts every New Years Eve. She jumped right in and helped glaze like an old pro, as did my mother-in-law. My father-in-law, on the other hand, stood right near the stove and consumed five doughnuts while watching his son's fry-chef action. He also tried something new to him--the breakfast casserole. I was surprised that he'd never had that dish, since it has one of his favorite things in it--sausage--along with safe foods like bread, cheese, milk, and eggs. Nothing gourmet to scare him off there. I got a big hug from the mother-in-law when they left, which is not an everyday occurrence, and a phone call from the father-in-law later in the day to see if we had any doughnuts left! I think they liked our doughnut party.
Did I already say that this was another dream come true for me? I did? Well, I said it again because it's so true! I was on a social contact high for about 48 hours afterward. Life feels so fine when you're doing your true thing. It was even worth paying Williams-Sonoma prices for the doughnut cutter, and prepping dough and casserole after being in the far city all day, and getting up and at 'em early even though I was up later than usual to provide teenager related transportation. Yes, even then, it was wonderful.
In case you suspect that doughnut frying might be one of your true things, here's the recipe. Don't worry. It's not rocket surgery, as My Beloved always says.
Makes about 4 dozen (Half the recipe if you want less.)
2 packages active dry yeast or about 4 teaspoons* bulk yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
2 cups milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
6-7 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk, warmed
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix up your yeast and water and set aside to get bubbly.
Combine the milk, melted butter, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. This mixture needs to be warmed, so I use a microwave safe bowl and warm it in...well, the microwave...because a) it's easy and b) it cuts down on the dirty dishes (When I was a professional baker, I became all about dirty dish minimization). Beat in the eggs and then whisk in the yeast mixture.
Now it's time for flour, starting with the minimum measurement. Here I do waste an extra bowl in which to measure out the flour ahead of time, so that I can dump it in at all at once. I have this belief that quick addition of flour makes for more even mixing, but it may be a quirk of mine. The important part is that the flour goes in and goes in last. Stir it in by hand, although you could use a mixer if you wanted. Just don't beat it vigorously. Gluten development and tender doughnuts are mutually exclusive. If the dough seems really wet and sticky, add more flour, but do not exceed the maximum 7 cups. A little restraint with the flour is part of what makes for fluffiness.
Cover the dough and let it sit for about an hour. That's right. There is no kneading. Sweet.
When the dough is risen, it's time to roll it out. If you're not sure, poke two fingers into it. If the dough holds the indentations without springing back, it's ready. But it will probably be fine if you go on just the time instructions. You will need a generous amount of flour on your surface to keep it from sticking, due to its aforementioned softness, so dump away. Roll the dough out to about a 1/2 inch thickness or so. I never do this part perfectly evenly, but guess what? We end up with doughnuts (or pie crust or whatever) anyway. Cut them out with your over priced (But you had to do it. There was company coming!) doughnut cutter and transfer them to trays, lightly floured if they seem stickish. And yes, puff the holes for frying, too. You weren't going to throw them away, were you? Let the proto doughnuts rest for about 30 minutes, til they're nice and puffy. You'll know they're ready when they start to look rounded, not flattened any more from the rolling and cutting pressures.
While they're puffing along, mix up the glaze. Basically, just stir all three ingredients together, and it's ready for baptizing. Then get out a 6 quart or so pot and fill it about two thirds full of a neutral oil like canola or "vegetable" (Why don't they just say soybean, already? They're not fooling me!). Heat the oil to about 350 degrees. A candy thermometer that clips onto the side of the pot is handy here for finding the right heat setting to hold that good frying temperature. If you don't have one, medium heat will work. You can always sacrifice a doughnut hole or two to the learning gods. Either way, you'll get the hang of it. My husband had never fried dough of any kind in his life, and he had it mastered in about two practice runs.
When your oil and the doughnuts are ready, place enough doughnuts in the pot to float on the surface without crowding. You'll know they're ready for turning when you start to see goldeness showing around the edges. If in doubt, lift one up and see. Flip them over and fry the other side until they're the shade you like best. Some folks like them light golden and some like them deep brown. Suit yourself. They're your doughnuts.
Drain the doughnuts briefly on paper towels and let them cool a bit. Then drop them one at a time into the glaze, turn them over once, lift them out (An old fashioned fork works nicely here. It fits right into the hole.), let some of the glaze dribble back into the bowl, and place them on a rack to drain further and crust over into wonderment.
Now eat. Eat as many as you like. Because you made them, and they are wonderful, and you will not be doing this every day. If we all stuffed ourselves with the glories of sugar- encrusted fried dough only when we produced it at home, we'd eat less doughnuts but enjoy them more deeply while probably maintaining our waist lines at the same time. That's my theory anyway. Anybody up for research?