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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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Biscuits Never Judge

So a lot’s been going on. There are so many things I could say about so much. Instead I’d like to talk for a moment about biscuits.

Our family went to Disney World in Florida. It was a lot of fun and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on our daughter’s face when she saw Cinderella’s Castle for the first time. Of course then she realized it’s basically just a restaurant. Thankfully there was enough else to see and do it was no big deal. Since returning home, we’ve been busy beyond busy. On top of that, I’m unlikely to get around to seeing Superman or Pacific Rim. They haven’t gotten great reviews, but dammit, I don’t care. I’d just be in it for the geek-out factor.

Back to the biscuits. They’re always going to be there for you come hell or high water. I grew up on biscuits made in the Southern U.S. tradition–wonderful dollops of dirtbag that they are. they’re a special treat. Especially for someone who loves to cook.

Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F.

Start with 2 cups of flour. You need a soft winter wheat “short patent” bleached flour for best results. White Lilly is the sentimental favorite for me and many others, but it’s getting harder to find. But do go out of your way to find a specialized flour for biscuits. I’ve made biscuits many times with national-brand all-purpose flour and trust me–they won’t yield exceptional results. Biscuits are almost entirely wheat flour, so if you’re not using the right one for the job, why bother? That’s what Pillsbury Grands are for. Incidentally, I find short patent flour makes the best roux. It creates much smoother sauces–almost the consistency of corn starch.

Mix in a teaspoon of salt–I use fine sea salt. Then mix in one tablespoon of baking powder. Sift them together–short patent flour tends to clump more in my experience. I also like to add a tablespoon of sugar. Some don’t. I find it balances the slight chalky taste of bleached flour. Next, cut in a third cup of butter. You could use less, but why not indulge? These really should be a “sometimes food.” Some people prefer shortening or lard, which produce a lighter consistency. Buttered biscuits are denser, but have a superior flavor, in my opinion. Lard is supremely light, but can pass on a gamey flavor and won’t get you much vegetarian cred. I cut the butter into half-inch chunks and then knead them into the flour mixture with my fingers. Once they become pea-sized clumps, I take a pastry cutter and blend them in until the clumps are the size of coarse crumbs. This way, some of the butter is blended in well with the flour, tenderizing the crumb while leaving a few bigger spots. Form a well in the center and stir in about 3/4 cup cold milk (I use plain milk instead of buttermilk). Knead slightly until all of the flour mixture is moistened. Do not overwork the dough. You want them to hold together enough to cut, but the more you knead, the tougher the finished biscuit will become.

Lightly flour a counter and pat the dough down into a round or oval a half inch thick. Cut out the biscuits and arrange them in a circle inside a cold 9 or 10-inch cast-iron skillet so that they barely touch each other. This contact will help them rise straight up instead of outwards.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is dry and just beginning to turn pale golden brown in spots. Brush the tops with about a tablespoon of melted butter, if desired (DO IT).

Don’t eat them all in one place. Seriously. That’s a lot of fat.

What is there to say. I mean... it's a biscuit. Two of them in fact.

What is there to say. I mean… it’s a biscuit. Two of them in fact.

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Curry Rice: Not Very Pornographic, but Japanese

I’m following up from my previous post in which I intended to post my tried-and-true recipe for Japanese curry but timed out for ranting.

Japan, as anyone with connections knows, has a long and illustrious gastronomic tradition reaching into its antiquity. A friend of mine moved there some years back and works as a game designer. He observed even non-foodies (I don’t love that word) he knows in Japan seem to engage in highly nuanced discussions about food. In 2010, Michelin released its Red Guide of Japan. Michelin awarded more stars there than anywhere else in the world: even major seats of western gastronomy. Consider too that not only is Japan a small country, its geography is such that its population is cluster in just a handful of major population centers. And you know what?

Japanese people complained.

They said Michelin missed out on the real gems. They said they awarded multiple stars to restaurants that weren’t really that big of a deal. They said a lot of things.* This is a culture that doesn’t screw around with its food, and Japanese curry rice remains one of its most popular dishes**

So what makes Japanese curry rice so special?

Hard to say. Honest to goodness.

A little background. Japanese curry rice is a pretty old dish in Japan, with roots in the Meiji era, shortly after opening trade with the west. Let’s examine the ingredients of a leading brand of curry sauce mix marketed in the U.S.:

Wheat flour, edible oil, salt, sugar, curry powder, spices, food color, monosodioum glutamate, malic acid, sodium guanylate, disodium inosinate.

Essentially just flour, oil, and seasoning. With the exception of malic acid and the flavor enhancers, nothing, in fact, one wouldn’t find in a typical Western kitchen. The above paste is dissolved into water simmered with meat and vegetables. As you can see. Curry rice is essentially a Western stew thickened with a roux. Not something you’ll find in a Betty Crocker Cookbook, is it? And certainly not anything like the curry we would eat in the West. We just don’t cook stuff like this anymore. But British sailors did a hundred and fifty years ago. It’s a simple, homespun stew seasoned with ready-made curry powder–maybe or maybe not to mask pungency of subprime meat.

That’s right. Japanese curry is a page out of culinary anthropology. Like an alligator,a coelacanth, a Lincoln Town Car: a dish that’s remain unchanged as the world has moved on. It is, in a country with more Michelin stars than anywhere else in the world, a dish invented by dirtbag seafarers to stave off scurvy.

I love it. Love it, love it, love it.

So on to the recipe. As I’ve written, you can find bricks of “curry roux” in most American grocery stores these days, but again, there’s not a lot in the commercial curry roux you don’t already have in your kitchen. In place of the malic acid and sugar in the store-bought stuff, we’re using grated apple. My first curry recipe came from a Japanese-language cookbook whose name I have trouble recalling–Something like “Mama’s 1000 Recipe Cookbook.” I use chicken, as did that recipe; thighs in particular. They’re not only one of the cheapest meats around, but also just about impossible to screw up. Variations will follow after the recipe.

Basic Japanese Curry Rice

Ingredients:

(serves 2-3)

½ to 3/4 lb. chicken, cubed

1 medium carrot, sliced into half-inch rounds

1 medium potato, coarsely diced

1 medium onion, coarsely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium apple (such as a fuji), grated or shredded

1 oz. (2 tablespoons) butter

1 oz. (about 3 ½ tablespoons) all-purpose flour (short-patent works best as a thickener)

¼ tsp. salt plus more to taste

1 tablespoon curry powder (more to taste)

2 cups broth, stock, or water (if using water, more salt may be needed)

Cooking oil

Pepper to taste

My mise-en-place, clockwise from top right: diced vegetables, cubed chicken, minced garlic, grated apple, home-made potholders, and a gingerbread house our cats f*cked up.

My mise-en-place, clockwise from top right: diced vegetables, cubed chicken, minced garlic, grated apple, home-made potholders, my pay stub, and a gingerbread house our cats f*cked up.

Directions:

Heat a lightly-oiled pan to medium-high heat until the oil is almost smoking.  Season the meat cubes with salt and pepper and sauté until browned but not necessarily cooked through.  Remove from heat and reserve.  Reduce heat to medium.

Melt the butter in the pan.  Add the flour and curry powder and stir until it forms a paste.  Cook this mixture, stirring frequently until it begins to brown.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, until fragrant.  Add remaining vegetables, browned meat, and grated or shredded apple.  Add the broth, stock or water, salt, and pepper and stir until the butter and flour are incorporated.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Once it has come to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook covered for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat and vegetables are tender. The sauce should be about the consistency of a gravy. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve with white rice.  May be garnished with beni shoga or other Japanese pickle.

Notes:

More heat can be achieved by adding cayenne pepper or increasing the amount of curry powder.

Japanese curry is a very versatile dish. Beef. pork, or seafood may be used instead of the chicken. Beef is more stereotypical of an authentic curry in fact. For cubed beef chuck, do not add the carrots, onion, and potato immediately to the pan. Instead, braise it covered with the roux and  broth for about an hour. Add the remainder of the vegetables for the last half-hour of cooking.

Other vegetables may be used–the recipe upon which this one was based called for minced carrots, celery, and onion. I’m also a fan or parsnips and sweet potato in curry.

Leftover curry makes a great sauce for breaded, fried cutlet (katsu curry; カツカレー)

  • Optional ingredients can be added for a more complex taste:
  • About ¼ cup wine or coffee (the wine should be allowed to boil down before adding the broth)
  • Several dashes of Worchestershire sauce
  • Five-spice powder
  • ¼-inch slice of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • demi-glace
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons tomato paste

JapaneseCurry

* I’m over-simplifying. A lot of people criticized Michelin. Here is a longer discussion from the Wall Street Journal.

** For a relatively brief, but more detailed account of the history and popularity of Japanese Curry rice, see this page on the Kikkoman Corporation website.

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