Thursday, December 2, 2010

Doughnuts - Baked and Fried

Happy Chanukah everyone! For those of you not celebrating - today is the first day of Chanukah...but there are seven more to come. Which is seven more days for you to make your own doughnuts at home. Yes, doughnuts! 

Making doughnuts is a pretty fun adventure, but you need a few crucial things: a huge pot, a candy/deep fry thermometer, and patience. The rest of the ingredients are pretty easy to come by. Doughnuts - done the right way - take a lot of time. Not the frying part, that goes by pretty quick, but there is mixing and rising and cutting and more rising. And eating.  
Last year for Chanukah, I wimped out and went the easy way - with some quick drop doughnuts and baked doughnut muffins, but this year I went all out, and I was not disappointed.  

None of the steps in making doughnuts are too difficult: you make the dough - which is much like a brioche or challah dough, let it rise, roll it out to cut out the doughnut shapes and let rise again before frying. The fun part is that when you cut the whole in the center, you automatically make mini doughnuts! Which is also good, because unlike with cookies, you can't reroll the scraps with doughnuts, because it deactivates the yeast.
Now, before we get any further, let's discuss fat. Yes, fat. Frying is not good for you. No two ways about it. Dunking whatever it is you're about to eat in a vat of bubbling fat is definitely not good for you. But, frying something yourself, is way better than buying something someone else has fried for you. And we've all done that once upon a time. 

Now, though the miracle of Chanukah is all about olive oil, I did not fry my doughnuts in olive oil. In fact, it's one of the worst oils for deep frying, because it has what is called a low smoke point, meaning it can't get to the high temperature needed for deep frying, and then your food will absorb too much oil. Many people deep fry in things like canola or peanut oil, but after a great deal of research, and ultimately, the recommendation of the people at America's Test Kitchen, I went with this:

Yes, shortening. Crisco vegetable shortening - which is trans-fat free, but by no means healthy - is the ideal frying medium for one major reason. It just happens to be the reason everybody thinks it is so gross - it is solid at room temperature. This means that when your doughnuts cool down, the fat they've absorbed will also be room temperature, and therefore the doughnut will feel and taste less greasy. 

Moving on to something just as exciting - safety! I know you're probably bored already, but I would feel irresponsible if I didn't mention some key safety points if you're new to deep frying. First - your pot needs to be much deeper than the level of the oil - things will splash, and bubble and you want it to be far away from you. Second - do not drop things in to the oil. Place your doughnuts onto a spatula and lower them in gently. Third - if things go wrong, do not attempt to put out any fire with water. This is a grease fire, and water will make things 100 times worse. Turn off the flame, and cover the fire to smother it. If things get out of hand, break out the fire extinguisher. And though it should go without saying - never leave your pot unattended!

Now we're done with the boring stuff - back to doughnuts! I topped half of them with a chocolate glaze and sprinkles, and dipped the other half in a sugar glaze. Both were really good, but I think the chocoholic in me loved the chocolate ones. You could also cover them in powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or any other desired toppings.

I also put a few aside and baked them, to try out a healthier alternative. They were...interesting. While one of my friends said she actually preferred these, I think they basically tasted like a bagel. A glazed bagel. Other people said it tasted like a cookie. Not a bad thing really, just not a doughnut.
One last note on doughnuts. They don't keep. The day after you make doughnuts, your doughnuts will no longer taste good. So move fast! Invite over your friends! Bring them to your neighbors! Do it before it's too late. 

Tip of the Day:You can buy special doughnut cutters in most baking supply stores - but as long as you have a 2 to 3-inch round cutter, and a 1/2 to 1 inch small cutter, you're set. Be creative with drinking glasses, lids, and even pastry tips for the centers.

Recipe:  
Makes about 22 doughnuts, and about 30ish doughnut holes
Recipes for chocolate and sugar glaze below - each covers about 1/2 the doughnuts.
 

1 ½ packets active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 1/3 cup milk or soy milk, room temperature
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 ¾ to 5 cups all-purpose flour 
¾ tsp. salt
9 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened

6 to 8 cups vegetable shortening

In the bottom of a large bowl, place the yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar and the milk. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until bubbles have formed. Add in the eggs and beat to combine. Add in the 4 ¾ cups flour and the salt and stir until well mixed. Add in the butter, several pieces at a time, and mix until incorporated. It should form a slightly sticky ball. Add more dough if it is too wet.
Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl (I wash the first one and reuse) and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. 
Roll half the dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut out as many large circles as possible. Using a metal spatula, transfer the circles to a lightly floured baking sheet. Once there, cut out the center circles and place nearby. Cut out more small circles from the scraps and add to the baking sheet - do not reroll scraps. 
Repeat with the rest of the dough. 
Cover the baking sheets loosely with plastic wrap, and leave to rise for 45 minutes. 
About 10 minutes before they're ready, fit your pot with the thermometer, and fill with the shortening. Set over a flame and heat the shortening to 375 F. 
Gently lower the doughnuts - no more than 3 at a time, into the hot oil. Let cook 45 to 60 seconds on each side, then flip and cook another 45 to 60 seconds. Repeat for the doughnut holes, giving them 30 to 45 seconds per side. Return the heat to temperature between batches - it should never drop below 360 F or above 385 F.
Remove to a paper-towel lined plate, then to a rack to cool completely. 

Chocolate Glaze
1/2 stick  (1/4 cup) butter or margarine
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Combine the butter, milk, corn syrup and vanilla in a saucepan, and place over medium heat until the butter is melted. Over low heat, add the chocolate and whisk to combine. Add in the sugar and whisk until smooth. Dip the tops of the doughnuts in the glaze, and top with sprinkles. Let dry.  

Sugar Glaze
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup milk or soy milk
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir together ingredients until well combined. Dunk the doughnuts in the glaze, then place on a wire rack with something underneath to catch drips. Let dry.

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