When I was growing up, we had six maple trees lining our lawn, and Dad tapped them every spring. We kids rushed home from school to help gather the buckets for Mom to boil down the sap in her turkey roasting pan, straddling two burners on her stove, until the syrup sheeted, and the wall paper was starting to droop around the kitchen. New syrup always meant raised doughnuts, and this was the only time of the year that Mom made them for us. Still warm, puffy doughnuts and lightly heated new maple syrup…do I need to say more!
The doughnut, sometimes donut, is fried dough, although there are baked doughnuts. They are made in one form or another all around the world. Many lands and cultures have their own variations on the theme, from the French beignet and the Italian bomboloni, to meat-filled samosa, the cala, with rice and nutmeg from Trinidad, or the Isreali sufganiyah.
American doughnuts come in a large variety and are often glazed, frosted or powdered. Some are stuffed with jelly, fruit or custard, or made with cider in the fall during apple season. Potato doughnuts are sometimes referred to as “spudnuts,” and the crueler is a twisted bar of doughnut dough, often rolled in caster sugar while still warm. Old-fashioned doughnuts were spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and sometime cardamon.
Doughnuts may be leavened by baking powder or baking soda, which make a denser doughnut, or by yeast, which makes them light and fluffy. Doughnut dough is moist, enriched with eggs, sugar and fat, resulting in a moderately sticky dough, lending to their light, springy texture when cooked.
Yeast-raised doughnuts can be made for any weekend morning breakfast, if you like to get up in the morning. They rise fast in a warm kitchen and can be prepared in 2 hours or so, if made in a stand mixer.
Doughnuts are cooked at a moderately hot 365 degrees, in plenty of oil. When the high moisture dough hits the hot oil, it quickly produces steam, which in concert with the leavening agents and any beaten egg, puffs up the doughnut to airy lightness before the outside gets too hard. The lighter yeasted doughnut rides higher up in the oil than its baking powder brethren, requiring that it be turned over after a minute or so, but leaving a lighter band about its circumference where the outside gets cooked less.
One word of caution on deep-frying doughnuts: do not over crowd the pan and allow the oil to drop in temperature. Soggy, greasy doughnuts are not only not good for you, they don’t taste very good either. Not that properly cooked doughnuts are “good” for you, but life isn’t worth living if you can’t indulge a little bit now and again. And spring sugaring season with the new maple syrup only comes once a year, so why not pair it up with the warm goodness of a yeast-raised homemade doughnut…I ate three in a row!
1 ½ cups milk
2 ½ oz (1/3 cup) vegetable shortening
2 Tbl instant yeast
1/3 cup warm water (95-105 degrees F)
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
23 oz AP flour, plus some for dusting the work surface
Peanut, canola or vegetable oil for frying.
Place the milk in a saucepan and scald. Place the shortening in your stand mixer bowl and pour the milk over it. Set aside.
In a bowl, place the yeast in the water and allow to dissolve 5 minutes. When the milk in just warm, add the yeast mixture, the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg and half the flour. Mix with the paddle starting slowly but increasing the speed to medium until everything is well combined. Turn off the machine and add the rest of the flour. Incorporate slowly, then increase the speed to medium until well combined. Switch to the dough hook, and knead at medium speed for 5 minutes or so, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn dough into a well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for an hour or until double in bulk.
On a well floured surface, turn out the dough and pat or roll out to 3/8 to ½ inch thick. Cut doughnuts with a well floured doughnut cutter, placing the rings ½” apart on a parchment paper lined sheet pan. Cover with a tea towel and let rise 30 minutes or so.
Preheat the oil in a rondeau or Dutch oven to 365 degrees. Carefully turn each doughnut over, placing the top-side down in the oil. Don’t crowd the pan or allow the oil to fall in temperature. In 1 minute, flip each doughnut over, cooking the other side 1 minute. Drain on a rack over paper towels.
Toss with sugar or glaze in 10 minutes or so, when slightly cooled. Or serve with warm maple syrup.