Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do-nut Miss Out on This Recipe!

A week from tomorrow I move into my dorm room. AND I'M BORED. Everyone's starting to pack up and leave and now that I'm not working I feel like half the day I'm usually twiddling my thumbs or coming up with random errands to run. This morning I was bored out of my mind so, naturally, I flipped open one of my cookbooks and started thumbing through pages for a recipe that I hadn't tested yet.

I flipped through page after page making mental notes of things I might come back to, but when I found a recipe for French Cruller Doughnuts I was sold. I wanted something that was reasonably quick and easy, but different, and these are just that.

My brother tried to argue that these are not doughnuts, but the recipe says so and that's good enough for me. Better yet, there was no frying involved! They aren't as heavy as a typical American style doughnut, which I think works brilliantly in their favor, and the dough puffs up to a texture similar to that of a cream puff. In short, delicious! The dough is a combination of flour, water, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla, cooked on the stove top before beating in 8 eggs. My favorite thing about these doughnuts is that the big blog of dough is piped! I bought that fifty something piece piping set last spring and I've hardly had a chance to pull it out of the closet, but the recipe requested a large star tip and so pipe I did! I couldn't help but laugh a little bit at my piping bag, I always use ziplocks instead of real bags because they are a) cheaper and b) disposable, which I think looked like an obese fish...

French Cruller Donuts

But anyway... I piped the dough onto a large cookie sheet, two circles stacked on top of one another and came up with these, popped them in the oven to bake, and came out with these beauties:

French Cruller Donuts

So cute! The lines are from the star tip on my piping bag. You can use a spoon to shape the dough into a simple circle on the sheet, but this looks so much better! My pretty piping job was masked a little bit by the frosting, but I guess that's a sacrifice I just had to be willing to make. The actual glaze recipe for these doughnuts calls for a bunch of melted butter, which I made, but quickly ran out of since the recipe yielded about twice as many donuts as it told me it would. I was feeling kind of lazy and my second batch of glaze was a simple mixture of powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla, and tasted, I hope, just as good.

French Cruller Donuts

The plateful I gave away seemed to be well received and my family really liked them. My dad even toted off a plateful to work which he claims were gone within a couple hours. I know I say this all the time, but they really are super easy. I'm sure they'd be great company for a cup of coffee or tea and they are delicious for breakfast, dessert, or even just a snack. The recipe is from The Joy of Baking, basically my Bible, and goes as follows (I added in a few notes of my own ;) ):

French Cruller Doughnuts
Makes 12 to 15 doughnuts, depending on size

Choux Paste Doughnut Base
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 8 large eggs

Creamy Vanilla Glaze
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners' sugar (aka powdered sugar)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 to 4 tablespoons hot water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (I would also recommend using a liberal amount of non-stick spray, these things clung to my aluminum foil for dear life).
For Choux Paste Doughnut Base, in a medium saucepan, stir milk, water, sugar, and slat together over medium heat. Stir in butter and allow it to melt. Increase heat and bring mixture to a rolling boil. Stir in flour all at once. Blend well with a wooden spoon, adding vanilla and beating briskly until mixture forms a ball that leaves the sides of the pan. Beat vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes before removing from burner and turning out into a mixer bowl. Allow mixture to cool for 5 minutes.
Using a wide whisk or a wooden spoon, add eggs, 1 at a time, until mixture is smooth and glossy (I actually gave up on the spoon idea and immediately used a hand mixer and was golden :) ). Spoon choux paste into a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch star tip (or a large Ziplock with a hole cut in one corner). On prepared baking sheets, leaving some space between each pastry, make a 4-inch circle of batter with another circle on top (concentric circles). If you don't have a pastry bag you can also use a soup spoon to spread out a ring of batter as best you can.
Bake pastry 15 minutes; then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake another fifteen minutes or until doughnuts are light in texture and medium brown all over. Let cool slightly.
To make Creamy Vanilla Glaze, whisk everything together in a medium bowl to a thick glaze consistency, mixing in more confectioners' sugar or water, if needed, to achieve a gloppy, thick glaze. Dip each doughnut once, let excess drip off back into bowl, let set, and then glaze again (mine were so thickly coated that I only dipped them once). Let doughnuts set on a wire rack.

After making these I couldn't help but wonder, "Why 'doughnut'?" I mean, I get the dough part, but whoever though these resemble a nut is... well... a nut. So I Googled it quick! Turns out the idea of a doughnut was brought to American by pilgrims from Holland who called them olykoeks, or oily cakes. These original doughnuts were balls of dough fried in pork fat. Although delicious, the olykoek presented a problem: the middle of the ball was usually a little undercooked. In order to prevent this from happening, apples, prunes, or raisins were often inserted into the middle of the dough. These ingredients needed only to be reheated, not cooked, and therefore solved the undercooked dough issue. Rumor has it, in 1847 a woman named Elizabeth Gregory of New England was known to make some impressive olykoeks. What was her secret? She spiced the dough with a hint of nutmeg and filled the center with hazelnuts or walnuts, calling it a dough-nut! The story continues to describe the way the doughnut evolved to the shape it is today. One variation claims that Elizabeth had a sea captain for a son named Hanson Crockett. Mrs. Gregory would send him off to see with a batch of doughnuts and provided the cook with her recipe. According to the legend Hanson Crockett didn't care for the nuts in the center and after repeatedly poking the middle out finally ordered his cook to prepare them without any center at all. And there you have it!

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