First of all, it's doughnut not donut. Let's give this pastry the respect it deserves. I suppose Mr. Doughnut is a bit much-- this treat is far too familiar to most of us for such formality. By familiar, I mean taken for granted. We've invited doughnuts into our homes often enough and spent endless hours with them in coffee shops, but what do we know about them? Have you ever bothered to ask one anything about itself? Of course not. They've infiltrated our children's schools, yet I doubt any County Administrator has ever bothered to do a background check on a single one.
Well, I have. Sort of.
You can say dank u to the Dutch. While you're at it, you might also want to thank them for cobbler and the koekje (cookie, if you couldn't figure that out on your own). The Dutch brought their recipe for olykoeks with them to the New World, where the name easily translated to "oily cakes"-- balls of sweet dough fried in pork fat. Sound like heaven on earth. Sweet dough and pork fat. I'm not kidding.
Somewhere in history, the oily cake hired an image consultant and changed its name to doughnut, most likely because they were, quite simply, little nuts of fried dough. Washington Irving mentions them as early as 1809. He seemed to know a lot about Dutch Americans.
There are a few tales, some of them tall, about how the doughnut got its hole. The best and most famous is that of one Captain Hanson Gregory whose mother sent him off to sea with-- what else?-- fried pastry. During a violent storm, Captain Gregory needed both hands free to man the wheel of his ship, so he impaled his doughnut upon the top spoke of the wheel, thereby creating the center hole.
Believe it. Or not.
A more likely explanation is that the center of the pastries had been notoriously hard to cook thoroughly. They usually ended up a doughy, oily goo. By punching a hole in the center, more surface area is created, therefore allowing for faster, more even cooking. But if you prefer to believe the first explanation, by all means do.
For a really good read about doughnuts, please visit Mr. Breakfast. I think he might be my new hero.
The Dutch, and through them, Americans, are not the only people on earth in love with puffy fried dough. The Argentines have their facturas, the Austrians love a good krapfen (giggle, it's okay), the Chinese go for youtiao (though it is not sweet), and the French, of course, are dating the beignet.
Wherever in the world you may eat them, eat them warm and fresh. A doughnut made yesterday dunked into this morning's coffee might be fine, but it really cannot compare to a doughnut still warm from the fryer. I almost typed friar, which might say a lot about me.
The last time I made doughnuts was in June of 2001. I must have been in love or something. I was going to my boyfriend's cousin's annual oyster party on Limantour Beach. I wanted to make a favorable impression on them and, for some reason, doughnuts seemed the perfect thing to make. Perhaps I had hoped that, had the wind kicked up a bit too much, no one would notice the sand that would stick to the pastries, camouflaged as they would be by their coating of granulated sugar. My boyfriend thought I was crazy to go to so much trouble. Maybe I was, but everybody still remembers the doughnuts.
Try making a batch for yourself. They're really easy. I mean it. You'll need a good thermometer though. The temperature of the oil is key.
What I like most about this recipe, which has been borrowed from Epicurious.com, but altered slightly, is that the sweetness is rather subtle. I'm just not a super-sweet fan. I tend to regard these doughnuts as, well, cakes, though hopefully not oily ones. I like these served up on a plate with a bit of fruit sauce. Blueberry compote works really, really well. It's sort of like a lazy man's version of a jelly doughnut. Or, looked at in a more positive way, a healthy (or healthier) man's version.
Servings: Makes about 10
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, room temperature
3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 tablespoon almond extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil (for frying)
1. Place 1 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/4 cups sugar in large bowl.
2. Add buttermilk and next 7 ingredients.
3. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until just smooth.
4. Beat in remaining 1 cup flour.
5. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.
6. Turn dough out onto floured work surface; roll to 1/2-inch thickness.
7. Using 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut dough into rounds.
8. Using 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut hole from center of each round, making doughnuts.
9. Gather scraps and reroll dough, cutting additional doughnuts until dough is used up.
10. Pour oil into heavy large pot to depth of 5 inches. Heat oil to 350 degrees Farenheit.
11. Add 3 doughnuts at a time to oil and fry until golden, turning once, about 6 minutes total.
12. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper-towel-lined rack to drain. Repeat with remaining doughnuts. Cool.
13. Sift powdered sugar thickly over doughnuts.