Tag Archives: New Year

For the Love of Doughnuts

doughnut!

In the spirit of my pledge to avoid a New Year’s resolution and rather practice more serenity in the New Year, I decided not to lose weight, but make doughnuts. It was quite literally the first thing I did in 2014. On January 1st, I took dough out of the fridge and deep fried for like the fourth time since 1/1/13.

Most of that frying, as it turns out, had to do with doughnuts. Good old fashioned yeast doughnuts.

Why? Because I love them. They’re a “sometimes” food for sure and I rarely partake, but I can think of few other foods that evoke such regressive passion in me. And it’s not because I used to have them all the time either. My mother was a great Southern cook, but  she didn’t cook a lot of unhealthy food. Yes, butter was a default seasoning, but I remember her biscuits as rather lean. If there was a way to pan-fry something one might normally deep-fry, she did it. In fact, the only things I ever remember her deep-frying on any kind of consistent basis were tempura vegetables. ‘Cause apparently I was a finicky eater in the days before we up and moved to Korea and that was a guaranteed way I’d eat my veggies.

No. We didn’t eat doughnuts at home. We didn’t eat them out much either. They were an indulgence. An oasis of junk-foody goodness in a desert of healthy-but-unexciting stuff. The first time I ever had a Krispy Kreme, I was in middle school and it was a revelation–fresh-glazed, hot out of the oil. Like nothing I’d ever eaten before.

So, yes, we’ve challenged ourselves to eat healthier food this year. We try for a Meatless Monday (usually Sunday). I’ve managed to hook our daughter on certain bean dishes and Indian dal. That stuff is important. But in terms of pleasure-sensor-pricking, doughnuts were my Holy Grail.

Last year, my wife gave me the Bouchon Bakery cookbook for Christmas. I mentioned this in a previous post–which means I’ve been blogging for over a year now (wow). It’s an amazing foodie book. I loved the illustrations. I loved the step-by-step instructions for complex baking operations. I also loved the insights into running a commercial bakery empire. I’m a big fan of Thomas Keller. His is not my all-time favorite roast chicken recipe (that would be Judy Rodgers’), but the way he describes eating chicken butts borders on pornography. Bouchon is not primarily his cookbook, but I loved his thoughts on cooking. And there were recipes too. One of the first I made from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook in 2013: doughnuts.

I wanted to love them. I really did. Unfortunately, I found them a tad dry and bready. They were good enough hot from the oil, but hardly the overindulgence I’d craved. They tasted like doughnuts designed with responsible grownups in mind and you know that isn’t right.

So, if you ever happen to read this, Thomas Keller, know that I love you. Your bakery’s doughnut recipe just isn’t for me.

I started with the Bouchon recipe and about doubled the butter. Then I up-tweaked the amount of milk to create a more moist dough. Then I fiddled with a few other ingredients. And the mixing directions (which I found odd and time consuming). And the frying temperature. My final recipe, after testing several tweaks, is pretty-much completely different from Bouchon’s recipe. Fresh from the oil, they’re almost as melt-in-your mouth gooey as a Krispy Kreme. A tad more butter or vegetable shortening could push them over the edge, but I like them just like this. They taste more substantial–like something that’s okay for a human being to eat. I suppose doughnuts, like life, are a balancing act.

A few notes: I usually weigh my ingredients with a kitchen scale and have listed weight in grams because I find metric more precise and useful when crafting recipes. It’s easier to figure out the proportions of ingredients to each other. I’ve also found after years of baking, I get far more consistent results measuring by weight than volume. When working with yeast-dough, a few splashes of water or flicks of flour can make a significant difference in the final product.

So please try. Enjoy. Indulge. Just not too often.

Now in all seriousness, I do kinda need to lose weight this year.

Doughnuts

Ingredients:

250 grams all-purpose flour

125 grams milk, warm room temperature

57 grams butter, room temperature (about half of a 4 oz. stick)

50 grams egg, room temperature (about 1 large)

35 grams sugar

5 grams yeast

5 grams salt

2.5 grams vanilla extract (about ¾ teaspoon)

Directions:

In an electric mixer with the dough hook attachment, stir together the flour and the yeast. Once the yeast is combined, add the salt and sugar. Mix in the milk, egg, and vanilla extract and knead on medium-high for about five minutes, or until the dough is sticky and cohesive. scraping the bowl as needed. Then add the room-temperature butter in several pieces. Mix for several more minutes until the butter is evenly absorbed.

Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured countertop. Stretch it into a rectangle and then fold it back on itself like a letter. Repeat in the other direction. Place the dough into a covered, lightly-oiled bowl or glass measuring cup and let rise for about an hour. The dough may have risen by about 50%. Turn it out onto the lightly-floured countertop again and repeat the folding. Return it to the covered bowl or measuring cup and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and gently stretch, roll, or pat the dough into a disk about 7 to 8 inches in diameter and about a quarter-inch thick. Place this disk on a baking sheet covered with lightly-oiled parchment paper. Return this to the refrigerator or freezer until chilled firm, giving the dough time to rest. Using two cutters, one about three inches in diameter and another about one inch in diameter, cut out the doughnuts. The excess can be bunched together and re-rolled. The doughnuts or doughnut holes cut from this dough will not be as attractive, but they’ll taste just as good. Let the dough rise for about an hour or until puffy.

cutters

My doughnut cutters: a standard-sized tumbler and a relic from my friskier days.

doughnut dough

Shaped doughnuts, ready to rise.

Heat about an inch of oil in a pot or Dutch oven to about 325 for pale, soft doughnuts or 350 for more brown and crisp doughnuts. Fry for about thirty seconds, flip, fry for another 45 seconds, flip again, and then fry until they have achieved the desired color. If making doughnuts without holes that will be filled, cook for several more minutes, up to five.

Toss the doughnuts in white sugar, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, or coat with a glaze. Doughnuts and doughnut holes are best served hot from the oil with the exception of filled doughnuts, which should be allowed to cool before filling and topping with powdered sugar or a glaze.

cranberry doughnuts

New Year’s doughnuts stuffed with leftover cranberry sauce. Because what else are you going to do with it?

Note:

Recipe Percentages:

100% all-purpose flour

23% butter

20% egg

50% milk

14% sugar

2% instant yeast

2% salt

1% vanilla extract

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The Case Against New Year’s Resolutions

What’s the definition of insanity? doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. I used to bake bread a lot, but haven’t so much lately. My wife bought me the Bouchon Bakery cookbook (hint hint?) for Christmas, so I’d had bread baking in the back of my mind. A few days ago while visiting her home-town, her high school best friend’s father offered us some starter. It turns out he’s an avid baker and had a delicious, freshly-baked sourdough boule on the counter. Since a well-maintained starter is use it or lose it, he happily loaned me a batch.

Ambitious cooking runs in the family.

Ambitious cooking runs in the family.

Here’s the thing: sourdough doesn’t like me. I don’t know how much it really likes anyone, but It seems to have a special loathing just for me. I didn’t used to have this problem, but the last couple of times I’ve tried making starter from scratch, they’ve fizzled. They start out strong–precocious even. They double or triple in bulk, and on the next refresh, dissolve into nothing. Maybe it was the wrong time of year or temperature–the last two years, I’ve started my starters in the spring time when pollen is high. Also, since we got our cats, we haven’t had much luck either. I have theories, but the bottom line is, for the last couple of years, every recipe I’ve tried, following directions to the letter, has failed.

A lot of that, I think, is just the nature of sourdough. If baking is a science, then bread-making is microbiology. The arms race of yeast, lactobacilli, and enzymes isn’t something you can gauge with everyday kitchen tools. Try as you may, there’s only so much within the home baker’s control.

I’m a pretty easy-going person, but cooking brings out all of my type A. I cook savory. I bake. I barbecue. I’ve dabbled in curing meat. I’ve cooked for a hundred plus a handful of times. Nothing pisses me off more than having to acknowledge I want to cook something but it’s just not within my ability.

And that’s how baking is like a New Year’s resolution. They’re both about exercising control. Or at least trying.

A few friends tell me it’ll be a crowded couple of months at their local gyms. These friends have been working out for years. They’ve built it into their lifestyles. A lot of folks make their way to the gym on January first or second with a sigh and a grumble. Losing weight or getting into shape isn’t something they want to do. It’s something they “should” do.

I made, I think, three resolutions last year. I achieved none of them. You see, I also work a full-time job, a part-time job several weekend days a month, and am a parent. I’m not trying to make excuses for why I didn’t achieve my resolutions. In fact, I’m pleased I made as much progress on them as I did. The problem is, with as much time as I spent last year checking off “should do” boxes everyday, I regret time I didn’t spend doing other things.

I didn’t do a lot of creative cooking and recipe crafting. Truth be told, we ate out a lot.

I could have spent a lot more time enjoying the presence of my wife and daughter.

I could have been more mindful and present in the moment. That one thing more than any other seems to help everything else click into place, though it’s often the first to be sacrificed.

The New Year is a time we tell ourselves a lot of things we should be doing. Frankly, I think that happens when we lack confidence in our own ability to juggle priorities and just do what we need to do, when we need to do it. I know that’s the way it is for me. My gym-going friends are going to be working out to dual-screen CNN and Fox long-after the rush fades away in a couple of months, maybe because their desire to stay in shape comes from a place of conviction rather than insecurity. There’s a great saying you hear a lot around folks in recovery: “wherever I am is exactly where I’m supposed to be.” We all have a lot on our plates. We all have a ton of things that aren’t even within our control.

And that’s why I would offer we talk less about New Year’s resolutions and more about New Year’s serenity.

Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? The sourdough turned out awesome! I started the process accepting it would probably bomb. Then I remembered one of the essential skills in making sourdough: patience. The starter doubled in a generous 12 hours, so I figured it was a go. I used this recipe for Chad Robertson’s Tartine bread. The gluten seemed a shade underdeveloped and it took a lot longer than the recipe suggested for the dough to rise, probably on account of our home’s temperature. That being said, the taste was astonishing. It reminded me of my favorite local artisan bakery’s bread–a nutty and sweet attack with a tangy, but not-too-sharp finish. Here was my New Year’s breakfast this morning:

Sourdough and Nutella. Do it.

Sourdough and Nutella. Do it.

Yes, that’s Nutella on top–I tried it on a whim. Try it, you must too! For me, it was more evidence that the unplanned things in life can also be some of the best.

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