Doughnuts can be so very amazing, and so unbelievably underwhelming. There is something like a doughnut in cultures all around the world - and why not? An amazing, deep-fried (maybe baked) sweetened ball of risen dough. What could be more comforting?
In an unfortunate turn of events, we've also allowed doughnuts to become the specialty of conglomerated food companies, many of whom have in turn convinced us that we should like the cheaply, quickly made rounds and sticks that are passed off as 'doughnuts.' Some even allow you to forget that these beautiful items come from an equally beautiful dough with the corrupted 'donuts.' In return we've gotten health warnings about trans-fat, such that doughnuts are the portrait of a nearly irredeemable food indulgence*.
No more! These doughnuts are designed to be started on Friday afternoon or evening, and finished for a wonderful breakfast treat on Saturday. Hence...
- 500 g / 4.5 c white flour
- 65 g / heavy 1/3 c sugar
- 10 g / 1 Tbsp salt
- 15 g / 2.5 tsp yeast
- 4 eggs
- 1 lemon's worth of zest
- 155 ml / a sloshing 1/2 c water
- 125 g / 9 Tbsp fat**
- Lard or oil for frying***
Start out with your yeast, as always. Wake it up, brush off its cobwebs in your warm water (you all know what this means by now). 8 minutes of wake-up is perhaps not enough for you, but yeast is quick to rise.
Toss your flour, sugar, and salt and make a well in the center. To this, add your eggs, yeasty water, and lemon zest. Give it a few turns with a sturdy spoon, and then get in there with your hand and pull things together in a fairly serious way. This should take you no less than 8 minutes of grabbing, pulling, and mashing. Make sure all of the goodness that sometimes gets up on the sides of the bowl is pulled down.
Now, add your softened fat, a knob at a time until it is all incorporated. Your dough will likely feel on the greasy side - this is perfect and should remind you of how wonderful your resulting doughnuts will be. After all the fat has been added, give it another 8 minutes of hand mixing. You can use an electric mixer on medium speed for all of this, but imagine if you lost power and needed doughnuts? Your hands would be unable to do the requisite work. Such would be quite sad, so I take the previous comment back, no electric mixers until you are thoroughly sure that you could perform the necessary work with your hands. After all of this, your dough will look something like a glossy orb, elastic and smooth.
Throw this resulting product in a bowl with some room, sprinkle lightly with flour, cover in some manner, and let it rise for 2-3 hours. Once risen, punch it back so that the yeast is fully aware of your authority over its rising abilities. Now, cover again and put it in a cold place, like a fridge overnight.
Now, what I do is set my alarm on Saturday morning for about 5 or 6 AM. Wake up, stretch, grab a glass of Campari on the rocks, or something equally medicinal to clear some of your cobwebs out (but containing enough alcohol to put you back to bed in about 20 minutes). Take your dough out of the fridge, the yeast will have likely raised a great puffy mountain of bacterial accomplishment, punch that cheeky yeast down again. Now, cut your doughnuts into whatever shape you would like, be creative but restrained, nothing too large otherwise they will not cook. I like to go with the simple pillow-like shape, as they help me fall back asleep afterward. Place them on a well-floured**** sheet or counter, and go back to bed for 2 or 3 hours.
When you once again awake, put your coffee on, and heat your oil or lard in a pot to 190° C / 375° F. The temperature is crucial. Estimating the temperature may result in your doughnuts being very soggy (too low), or burning (too high). Fry the doughnuts 3 or 4 at a time, until they are a deep golden brown, and transfer them to some kind of absorbent paper. Toss with cinnamon and sugar, or enjoy plain. The taste is a wonderful way to begin a top-notch weekend. This process results in about 25 doughnuts, so you may want to invite friends over to help you finish, and possibly tell you that you ought to start your own doughnut store, only open from 9-11 AM on Saturday mornings, and only serving french-pressed coffee and beautiful doughnuts.
* You probably shouldn't eat these every weekend, but the fair amount of work involved will likely discourage this anyhow. Twice a month doesn't hurt though.
** At the very minimum use butter (homemade) for this process (plant oils just won't taste right). At the very maximum, use rendered pork lard or beef tallow. At the bleeding edge, use bacon grease - you will not be disappointed. Don't want to buy crappy hydrogenated lard from the grocery store? Stay tuned next week for my bit on rendering your own lard/tallow.
*** If you are nervous about heating lard to a few degrees below its smoke point, sunflower oil will work fine. Just steer clear of soy and other vegetable oils, unless you want your home to smell like burnt KFC for the entire weekend.
**** Be quite profligate with your flour here. If your counter or sheet is not well-floured, your will deflate your pillows of joyful doughnut and have a far less enjoyable experience. Also, be careful when transferring from counter to oil, you may have a little deflation, but try not to lose everything.