After my bismarck debacle, I scolded myself for attempting such a complicated recipe after having only made two batches of donuts in my whole life. How could I be so over-confident with so little experience? I decided to return to the basics and go for a simple glazed old-fashioned donut for Blair's Monday meeting. It was the right decision, because although I would never have said that the old-fashioned was my favorite, I liked this batch the best of all the donuts I had made so far. The soft texture on the inside and the slight crunch on the outside felt incredible in my mouth and the way the donuts cracked during frying into the recognizable old-fashioned shape made all sorts of nooks and crannies into which the glaze dripped and filled perfectly. It was nothing short of beautiful.
The dough was way different from the yeasted, raised doughs that I had made previously. It was sticky like cookie dough and had nutmeg instead of mace, which gave it a pleasant, spicy scent. Instead of using bread flour, old-fashioneds call for cake flour, which I didn't have. But at the beginning of her book Flour, Joanne Chang (my baking heroine) says you can make your own cake flour from all-purpose flour, just by replacing some of the all-purpose with cornstarch. Joy, the baker shows an easy process for this.
But don't tell my baking heroine that I used salted butter instead of unsalted. In almost all baking recipes, the experts tell you to use unsalted butter so you can add and control the salt yourself. And since writing recipes is like doing a titration in chemistry class (do you remember that lab where you had to turn the purple liquid into clear and you weren't allowed to taste anything because one of the powders you had to identify was Drano? ...or something like that) you need just the right ratios of salt to baking powder to flour to fat to everything else or your cakes will turn out crappy. The experts are also trying to encourage us home cooks to weigh our ingredients instead of using cup and spoon volume measurements. I can't image ever doing that unless I was in a really anal-retentive mood. I'm also going to ignore the advice to use unsalted butter if I find my favorite brand of Irish butter at Costco but they only have the salted kind. It's bold, I know, and sometimes my tweaks end up in failure, but this time it was just fine.
I refrigerated my dough overnight and the next morning was awesome because I didn't need to allocate time for rising. I just rolled it out, cut the donuts, made the glaze and started frying. After making raised donuts, I expected this process to be leisurely, but I realized that if I didn't need two rises, then I didn't get two long breaks! Every step was wham-bam after the other, but I still managed to comb out the rat's nest in the back of Gwen's head before she went to preschool, so she didn't look (as much) like a dirty, neglected child. Then I fried the donuts, glazed them, and got them to Blair's office before the meeting started. I left the house with un-combed hair and flour all over my shirt, but that's how I always look, so it's cool. It still counts as a Good Mom day!
INGREDIENTS to make 24 rings and holes plus scraps to eat secretly in the kitchen
Donuts (This old-fashioned donut recipe was adapted from Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup salted Irish butter, room temperature and cubed
4 large egg yolks
1 1/3 cups sour cream
lots of canola oil for frying - enough to fill your pot 2" deep
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp powdered agar (This is a weird ingredient. Look for it at an Asian market or order online.)
2/3 cup water
- In a large bowl, combine 4 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg and whisk all together to combine and aerate. Set aside for a sec while you do the next two steps.
- Pop on the paddle attachment to your mixer and blend the 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup butter at medium speed until you have fluffy sand.
- Add the 4 large egg yolks and mix again on medium speed for about 1 minute.
- With your mixer speed turned down to low, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the sour cream. Mix until just combined.
- Throw the dough in a bowl, cover it with plastic and refrigerate for 45 minutes to 24 hours. Easy!
- Once your dough is chilled, the next step is to make the glaze. It might seem strange to make the glaze before you've rolled, cut and fried your donuts, but all those steps go pretty fast, and you want to be sure your glaze is ready when the donuts are still hot. Combine the 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 1 tbsp corn syrup, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1 tsp vanilla extract in your mixer bowl and let it hang out there for a sec while you do the next step.
- In a small saucepan, heat the 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp powdered agar and 2/3 cup water on low-medium heat. Bring it to a boil to make a syrup and simmer for about a minute, whisking occasionally. By the way, powdered agar is a gelatin substitute that helps the glaze set and keeps it from sweating. I found it at my neighborhood Asian market, Ranch 99, but if you don't have the luxury of an Asian market nearby, just order it online.
- Flip on the mixer to medium, pour the sugar and agar syrup into the powdered sugar and company and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl to get all the sugar incorporated.
- Fill a medium saucepan with about 2" of water and heat it on the stove to an easy simmer. Remove your mixer bowl from the mixer and just plop the whole bowl in the water like a double boiler. If the glaze cools down below 88° F, the agar will set. No biggie, you just have to reheat and give it a good stir, but keeping it in the simmering water bath ensures that the glaze stays warm and liquidy and ready to go for glazing time.
- Now you can roll out your dough and start cutting some rings and holes! Roll to 1/2" thick and go to town with your 2.5" cutter. Place each ring and hole on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and set them on deck to be fried.
- Lug out your big stock pot and fill it 2” deep with canola oil, turn the heat on to medium, stick in a thermometer and wait for the oil to heat up to 325° F. Unload your dishwasher or do some other multi-tasking that keeps you in the kitchen so you can check the oil temperature frequently...not a good idea to muti-task elsewhere because it increases your chances of forgetting about the hot oil as you chat with your neighbor on a dog-walk about the annoying construction on the street and burn your house down. That will eventually create more construction on the street and your neighbor with be annoyed with you too...and it would be really lame to burn your house down.
- Once your oil reaches 325° F, it's fry time! Using a metal spatula, lower each ring into the hot oil. The donuts will sink to the bottom at first, then pop up to the top. Cook them for 40 seconds then flip, cook the other side for 40 seconds then flip again. On the second flip, you should start to see some crackage and that's great! Fry until the donuts are golden brown and then transfer to a wire rack.
- Glaze the donuts while they are still warm by dipping them split-side down in the warm glaze. Turn them back over and let them cool completely on a wire rack. Use enough glaze to fill the splits and cracks and drip down the sides. And that's it! You did it! :D