Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mmm, etc., etc.

Have you ever done a Google Image search for "mmm doughnuts"? Here, try it. I'll wait. Hmm hmm hmm, la la la. You back? Now I ask you, how badly do you want a doughnut right now? Pretty badly, right? That is how I feel pretty much nonstop throughout the months of September through November. I want, no, I NEED doughnuts on a daily basis. With fresh apple cider. Served hot. With a cinnamon stick.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite places to go when the air got brisk was Uncle John's Cider Mill in St. Johns, Michigan. For years afterward, no doughnut has ever compared to the memory I had of the ones at Uncle John's -- even the phenomenal lavender doughnuts at The Doughnut Plant left me strangely unfulfilled. So last fall, during one of my trips home, I insisted on heading out to St. Johns to fill the void.

The first thing I noticed was that the cider mill has become a rougher place in recent years.

The second thing I noticed was even more devastating. The doughnuts? Not that good. There! I said it! Are you happy? They were dense, over-sugared (yes, it's possible), and worst of all, stale.

What was I to do? My cinnamon-sugar doughnut craving had now ballooned to the size of an aging Hell's Angel's stomach, and if I didn't do something to feed it, I would die. Die from an acute lack of doughnuts. Like any self-respecting amateur baker, I turned to the Internet. I wasn't terribly optimistic, since most doughnut recipes call for a deep fryer, and while we don't suffer for kitchen space as badly as most New Yorkers, we still keep things fairly minimal. Luckily, the brilliant Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks had just what I needed (just what I needed!): a recipe that delivers light, fluffy, yet satisfyingly chewy baked -- yes, baked! -- doughnuts.

A word to the wise: I tried experimenting by rolling these in powdered sugar, and had a lot of trouble getting it to adhere. The regular sugar/cinnamon combo worked beautifully, and I bet glazing them would, too.

Baked Doughnuts

From Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks.
Makes 1 1/2 - 2 dozen medium doughnuts, plus holes
  • 1 1/3 cups warm milk, 95 to 105 degrees (divided)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • A pinch or two of nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt (Kat sez: I used kosher)

For the sugar dusting:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
    1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

  • Parchment paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Doughnut cutter OR two biscuit cutters, 1" and 3"

Place 1/3 cup of the warm milk in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the yeast and set aside for five minutes or so. Be sure your milk isn't too hot or it will kill the yeast. Stir the butter and sugar into the remaining cup of warm milk and add it to the yeast mixture. With a fork, stir in the eggs, flour, nutmeg, and salt - just until the flour is incorporated. With the dough hook attachment of your mixer beat the dough for a few minutes at medium speed. If your dough is overly sticky, add flour a few tablespoons at a time. Too dry? Add more milk a bit at a time. You want the dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl and eventually become supple and smooth. Turn it out onto a floured counter-top, knead a few times (the dough should be barely sticky), and shape into a ball.

Transfer the dough to a buttered (or oiled) bowl, cover, put in a warm place (the top of a preheating oven works well), and let rise for an hour or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and roll it out 1/2-inch thick on your floured countertop. Use the cutter(s) stamp out circles. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet and stamp out the smaller inner circles using a smaller cutter. If you cut the inner holes out any earlier, they become distorted when you attempt to move them. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for another 45 minutes. (Kat sez: I saved the inner circles and let them rise/bake along with the big guys -- why waste a doughnut hole?)

Bake in a 375 degree oven until the bottoms are just golden, 8 to 10 minutes - start checking around 8. If you're unsure, err on the side of underbaking. While the doughnuts are baking, place the butter in a medium bowl. Place the sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven and let cool for just a minute or two. Dip each one in the melted butter and a quick toss in the sugar bowl. Eat!