Monday, December 2, 2013

Homemade Cronuts - Happy Chanuka!

Unless you've been living under a rock this past year, you'll know that the biggest craze in pastry these past few months has been the "cronut." The what? A cross between a croissant and a doughnut, it all started at a bakery in New York and has since inspired a million copycats, an underground market but sadly, very few Halloween costumes. Now, a food this indulgent isn't something I can really justify eating, except for once a year: Chanuka (aka Hanukkah, Chanukah and Hanukka) - the festival of lights (and fried foods).
How were the cronuts? Certainly sinful - definitely more work than regular doughnuts but not prohibitively so, and it is spread out over a longer period of time. The daunting task is not the frying but the making of the croissant dough - a bit like making puff pastry dough, with a lot of rolling and folding and rolling and folding. I'd done it before once - in pastry school - but that gave me a bit of a boost.
The basic idea is to create a yeast dough, then slather it with butter and fold it up like a letter, then keep folding and rolling it out and folding and rolling until you have created dozens of little layers of dough and butter - how a croissant gets it flaky - you guessed it - layers.
Since this site is called Baking and Mistaking - lets talk about what went wrong. Were these perfect cronuts? Definitely not. They lack the towering layers that the original have. The first thing I did wrong was roll the dough too thin - I went for about 1/2", but I think it should be closer to an inch.
Also, as I cut the doughnuts out, I did what I usually do when cutting, pressed down and twisted. But this method seals together the outside of the doughnut, not allowing for all the flakes to flake out. Finally, my cutter for the hole in the center was a bit too big. 
Now that I've said everything I did wrong - let's talk about what went right. They were delicious. Light, flaky, airy, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, just as indulgent as you would imagine then could be. Half of them I drizzled with a basic glaze, and the other half I just tossed while still warm into granulated sugar to get a nice coating.
The original version of the cronut - and lots of copycats - include also a filling of pastry cream or a similar alternative for the inside. I'm more of a doughnut than filling kinda gal, plus I just couldn't be bothered and I don't think they really need them. But go ahead if you're feeling adventurous!
So, if you've got a hankering to experiment in the kitchen, and are looking for a fun way to celebrate one of the remaining three nights of HanukkahHanukka, Chanuka, try your hand at cronuts - and if you don't make my mistakes, or even if you do - let me know how they went!
For tips on safe frying, see past posts.

Recipe: (Lightly adapted from Food52) - Makes about 27 cronuts*
3/4 cup milk or soy milk
1 tablespoon yeast**
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour

1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk or soy milk
OR
1 cup granulated sugar

Warm the milk until just above room temperature. Mix with the yeast and let stand for 5 minutes; the mixture should be bubbly.
Add in the sugar, eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Add in a cup of the flour and the salt, and stir to combine, then continue to add the remaining flour, kneading until smooth (you may need slightly more flour).
Form the dough into a rectangle (it will still be sticky), wrap in plastic and place in the fridge for an hour.
Beat the butter and 1/4 cup flour together until aerated. 
On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Spread with the butter mixture, then fold up like a letter, divided in thirds, first one third over the center, then the other third over that. Return to the fridge for a half hour, then roll out again and fold the same way, returning to the fridge for a half hour. Repeat two more times. (You can do two of these at night and the next two in the morning). Return the dough to the fridge overnight.
Roll out to about (1" or 1/2" - see above) thick and cut into rounds, then cut out the centers.
Heat about two inches of oil in a large pot to 350 F.*** Fry the doughnuts, flipping when necessary, until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel.
Mix together the powdered sugar and milk until you get the desired consistency. Drizzle over the cronuts. Serve as soon as possible. 

*I made 1 1/2 times this recipe, using a 2.5" cutter, and got 40 cronuts (plus scraps). The original recipe didn't specify a size, and said it made 12.

**This method works for active dry yeast, the most common sold in the US. I used instant dry yeast, which is what I get here in Israel. If you are too, then skip the proofing step, and add the yeast in with the flour.

*** Can you do this without a thermometer? Sure, people fried things long before they were commercially available. But I find that the temperature fluctuates in between batches so much that its not advisable - too hot, the outside will burn before the inside is cooked and too cold, the dough will absorb tons of oil as it fries. Plus, you can If you do choose to however, you can test the temperature by throwing scraps in - they should brown in about 60 seconds.

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