I can make cake that takes several stages and days to make, Christmas cakes, cookies, pralines or truffels, but nothing makes my children happy as doughnuts. If they are store bought and with the whole inside (what’s it with the whole where the best part of the doughnut is?!?, I don’t get it!), glazed in all rainbow colors, and sprinkled with glitter, coconut or other cookies, oh what a joy. When the Shrovetide is approaching our traditional doughnuts are everywhere to be found. I was glad to see them in the staff room of a maternity ward where I used to work. Table was covered in doughnuts that nurse Jerneja brought. All of them same shape, practically clones of each other. As I was about to ask her the name of the bakery, the other nurse, while gulping one of them, observed, that hers are not lookers as Jerneja’s and it was the same recipe. And the taste… not oily, just right on the sweet side, slightly acid apricot jam (homemade of course) showed someone who was not just comfortable operating incubators and aspirators at nursery ward, but also handy in the kitchen. I asked Jerneja, how did she get this yellow ring around doughnuts. She was happy to share all her secrets: “Heat up the oil on the medium heat, drop in the wooden spoon when you hear the sizzling sound and see the bubbles around the spoon, the temperature is right. I took a recipe and followed it to the letter, dots, commas and exclamation marks. I proudly admired my yet uncooked puffed doughnuts under the kitchen towel. The oil started to heat up, the wooden spoon was ready, I positioned the pan on the biggest burner, and lowered down the gas thinking that should be the medium heat, and waited patiently. Oil started to produce barely visible waves on the surface I dipped in the spoon, and… nothing…pulled it out wiped it, thinking quickly, if I cooled it down with the cold water and than dipped it again, would it influence the oil temperature? I dipped it again, ears to the max, yes I was getting some faint sizzle, there was a bubble, and another one. I put first doughnut in the oil, it puffed, I could see the difference in color, the yellow ring was definitely forming, oh instead of sizzling sound, in my ears I heard Triumphal march, even saw Radames coming to my kitchen…but what! yellow ring was getting more brownish, I turned the doughnut and was shocked realizing that ring was now disappearing… I had sent Radames back to Egypt, I had to concentrate, on the next one, no ring anywhere to be found, no belt, no thread of yellow, not in any single one that exited hot oil vortex. I served them to my faithful public, the first one with quarter of the equator at the top, but the family threw themselves in destruction mode licking the jam from the sticky fingers, not worried where the rings were…they were tasty but …not “social media photo” perfect, and alas ringless.
The following day, at the break, Jerneja and I dissected and analyzed every single step from sifting the flour onwards. The quarter of the ring made her suspicious that my medium heat was a bit higher. She said that she had used electric stove, heated between mark 3 and 4 and all of them were cooked to perfection and engaged with ring…. That somehow didn’t help my problem, I couldn’t translate mark 3 or 4 to my gas stove… so I got scientific and found out that 170 C was the right temperature, and key to frying a perfect doughnut. I was back on track, in next few minutes thermometer was ordered online, the one you can dip it in hot oil, sugar syrup or jam!
And my doughnuts were going to have yellow belt without karate lessons!
Next try: all ingredients ten-hut! Eggs(organic) checked!, butter (eco)checked!, yeast (can’t remember was it eco or not eco, it did its job later that day), flour sifted (from the nearby mill), lemon zest from organic lemons, all ingredients present and prepped. Alas I forgot to buy extra frying oil, so the only strategy was small pot, one doughnut at the time. The other ingredients lined in little white bowls like I’m having my own TV culinary show. Under the kitchen towel already formed doughnuts are rising, I decided to spritz the jam after the cooking not to compromise the looks.
Thermometer showed desired temp, I dropped the first one, … temperature started to rise, and I haven’t touched the gas knob, I removed the pan from the gas ring, temperature was stable, the ring is there, I turned it… the ring is good 2 cm wide….and was still there, I removed it from the oil, And I had before me a perfect oval shaped doughnut with yellow belt of victory!! Radames was knocking at my window, singing Ode of Joy! Freude schönner……Yes!!! Science helped me… again!!!! At the breakfast, everyone at the table was eating them, complimenting the taste, but no one gave a toss for the perfect looks, and there were no doughnuts survivors left to take with me at work. Just photos.
I did show the photos apologizing not making enough to bring to the expert tasting, A lot of my coworkers asked me to order the thermometers for them also. But I still bow to all those unknown chefs inside their own kitchen who are producing beautiful doughnuts with the feeling not with technology.
80 g castor sugar
40 g fresh yeast
80 g unsalted butter
1 egg, 3 yolks
1 tbsp rum (or any alcohol)
vanilla sugar or bean or whatever works for you
1 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
plum jam (of course you can choose a different one)
vegetable oil for frying
METHOD (the bowl, the ingredients should be lukewarm)
Sift the flour in the big bowl, make a well in the middle. Dissolve the yeast in 120 ml of milk, add 1 tsp of sugar. When it begins to foam, add it to the well and mix it with the small quantity of surrounding flour, leave it to rest. In the small pot, melt the butter, the rest of the milk, sugar and salt. After the butter is melted , I just add and mix the ingredients just to warm them up and then add them to flour and yeast mixture, which by now has risen and you can see the cracks on the soft dough. Add the eggs, one by one, I usually beat the mixture with wooden spoon until glossy and smooth. I haven’t tried it yet with mixer and hook, but I intend to next time. Leave it to proof for at least 2 hours or until it doubles in size.
Scoop the dough onto the flat surface, roll it with the rolling pin 2-3 cm thick. Cut it with the round shaped cutter. Put the doughnuts on the floured kitchen towel, leave enough space between them to proof. Cover them with either cling film or another kitchen towel, until they rise at least for one third of their size.
Put them carefully in the hot oil, upside down. Fry them 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove from oil and put them on paper towel. Fill the piping bag with your favourite jam and dust them with icing sugar. Enjoy!!!!