Monday, November 7, 2011

Sweet Treats for Sunday... a Doughnut Making Adventure!

When it comes to sweets, I'm usually a little picky.  That is to say, I'll rarely eat a hard, crunchy cookie that doesn't look worth the calories, as opposed to a soft, gooey and perfectly chewy cookie that is so worth it.  Cake should be sweet and crumbly, cookies should be soft and chewy, ice cream should be smooth and creamy, doughnuts should be fresh.

But for some reason, doughnuts can be just mediocre and yet I'll still be compelled to take one if it's offered.  My all-time favorite is Krispy Kreme.  I just don't think there's any other doughnut that even comes close to those soft, fresh, yeasty treats.  And yet, when someone brings doughnuts to work, what is it that tempts me to try one, even if I know ahead of time that it won't be exactly what I'm hoping for, and that I'll regret eating it?  As one of my coworkers said so perfectly, "Because it was there and it had chocolate on it!"  After all, a doughnut is still a doughnut, and therefore something that's ultimately yummy and comforting.

My taste in doughnuts has changed radically over the years.  As a kid, of course, I was drawn to whatever had the most colorful sprinkles on it.  I don't even think I knew what doughnuts were supposed to taste like since all I could taste were the sprinkles.

Then came the discovery of the "hot glazed".  Oh, wow.  Nothing else even comes close to that melt-in-your-mouth doughnut.

But if a hot glazed isn't available, then the chocolate covered, cream-filled (not custard) variety are pretty close to perfection.  I read a funny article on "donut personalities", and this is what the writer had to say about choosers of this doughnut:  "Much like his donut choice, this person has a soft, creamy centre. A real softy who wears his heart on his sleeve. Great person to have around if you need to borrow some cash, but not who you want in a crisis. Will sob inconsolably if his donut is sold out."

I don't think I would cry if my doughnut was sold out, and I hope I'd be reliable in a crisis!  But I did cry yesterday when I accidentally broke Jamie's "J" coffee cup.  :(  I had bought those black and white "H" and "J" cups in our early months of dating, and it makes me so sad that I broke his - I hope I can find another just like it.

When it comes down to doughnut choices, though, I will almost always choose a cake doughnut - glazed sour cream cake doughnuts, to be exact.  I don't know what it is about those doughnuts that I love so much, but they are doughnut perfection.  The article I referenced earlier says this about me for my love of these doughnuts:  "This strange type has some very deep seeded issues. They hold deep resentment and anger towards those around them. Especially towards those who mock them for eating a donut with a covering meant for baked potatoes. What bizarre fools."

Ok, well, maybe I'm strange, and maybe not.  But who cares!  This is what I like.  :)  At some point this winter, I'll make some cake doughnuts, but first, I wanted to make Jamie's favorites.  He's had a request for homemade yeast doughnuts on the table for a while, so this past week I researched some recipes and decided to try out Alton Brown's (see, I promised that sooner or later I would try out something of his), so that we could have a doughnut-making adventure yesterday.

The rest of this post, other than the recipes at the bottom, are my notes and comments on the recipes and what I learned during the process.

Now, I consider Alton a master at his craft.  That said, everyone has different tastes and preferences for what makes a recipe just right.  So after trying his recipes for Basic Yeast Doughnuts, Plain Glaze and Chocolate Glaze, I made a few changes.  That's not to say that someone else wouldn't like them just the way they are, but there are a few things that I think would make them even better.  So I'll share with you all some things I learned about the recipe and the process.

First, I've noticed that he always lists "instant yeast" in his recipes.  I've never actually seen anything labeled "instant" at my grocery store, so this confused me - I've only seen two kinds available, one formulated specifically for pizza, and then the standard "Active Dry" yeast.  I did a little research, and really the difference between instant and active dry is simply that instant needs no proofing at all, and active dry needs that 10-15 minutes to dissolve with warm water and a little sugar to get active and foamy.

While making the dough, I was surprised at how "loose" and sticky it was, and his directions didn't really address that.  I was expecting it to form into a dough ball, which it didn't, even after I kneaded it and added exactly the amount of flour the recipe called for.  However, I decided to trust the recipe, and didn't add any more flour or knead it any longer.  And although after rising it was still very soft, I was able to roll it out very easily by using a LOT of flour on the counter, handling it very gently, and taking care not to punch it down too much.

The resulting doughnuts were very soft and light, an I was happy with the texture.  And after being kept in an airtight container, they still tasted very soft and fresh today, so that Jamie could take the leftovers in to work.  I would add a little more sugar, though, because the dough itself was barely sweetened, and depending on how much or how little glaze you're going to put on the doughnut, a little more sweetness in the dough itself may be needed.

Next up were the glazes.  The chocolate glaze was delicious - I wouldn't change a thing on that one.  It was perfectly sweet and chocolatey, set up just right with a smooth shiny appearance, and soft and creamy inside when you bit into one.  The plain glaze never did set up the way I wanted, and I really think it was because it didn't call for corn syrup.  I have learned through trial and error that a little corn syrup in a powdered sugar glaze really adds that element that you need for it to set instead of remaining sticky or running everywhere.  So I have adjusted the recipe to include that, as I like glazed doughnuts to have that nice crunchy, sugary shell on the outside while being soft inside.

And lastly, the cream filling.  I looked at many cream filling recipes online, and saw that most people use a combination of granulated sugar and powdered sugar, beat with the butter until it's fluffy and creamy.  But Jamie and I both found the use of granulated sugar a little odd, though, since even after beating it with the butter for over 10 minutes, it stayed gritty and never dissolved into the cream.  Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be, but for my own personal preference, I would make this only with powdered sugar so that it's very smooth and creamy.  Filling the doughnuts (the ones we cut with a round cookie cutter, instead of the doughnut cutter with a hole in the middle) was easy.  I just took a warm doughnut, poked a chopstick in one end and poked it about 2/3 of the way through to the other side, then swirled it around a little to create a space inside.  After that, it was just a simple matter of inserting the tip of my piping tool to pipe a little cream in.

The thought of a big pot of dangerously hot oil scared me a little, especially after hearing a story of a terrible oil burn one of my friends got from frying doughnuts, so I heated it very slowly to achieve and maintain a consistent temperature.  We don't have a deep fryer, so I used a wide, flat-bottomed stock pot, with 2-3 inches of vegetable oil in it.  But when I pulled out our thermometer with a clip on it to clip to the side of the pan, I realized that it only reads up to 220 degrees.  Not cool, since I had to get the oil up to a steady 365!  I should just call Jamie "MacGyver", because he cleverly rigged our meat thermometer to a little clip on the side of the pan, held in place with a twisty-tie, so that it was resting just right in the oil, not against the bottom or the side of the pan.  It worked great, and the doughnuts fried just right.  I had a little trouble with the doughnut holes, because after cooking on one side, they simply refused to flip over when prodded, so they ended up more brown on one side than the other, but the regular doughnuts cooked great on each side.

This doughnut recipe makes a lot of doughnuts (20-25), so instead of making all those doughnuts, I split the dough in half and just cut out doughnuts from half the dough.  I rolled out the other half of the dough, sprinkled it with some cinnamon, sugar and diced apple, rolled it up and placed it in a loaf pan to bake into a nice little loaf of yeasty, cinnamon apple swirl bread.  Yummy!  Since the dough itself does not have much flavor or sweetness on its own, you can be pretty generous with whatever you'd like to sprinkle on the rolled out dough.  Some other nice additions would be chopped dates, raisins or pecans.  You could even spread it with a little lemon curd and sprinkle with blueberries for a lemon blueberry swirl bread.

The bread came out of the oven really beautifully, golden on top and soft inside, with nice little pockets of cinnamon and apple throughout.  Since the bread is not overly sweet, it's very conducive to a spread of apple butter or jam.  My plans for the leftovers this week include a delicious bourbon bread pudding with golden raisins on Friday night, and possibly some french toast on Saturday morning.

And with that, I'll end this post, as it's gotten insanely long...  Happy doughnut making!  :)

Basic Yeast Doughnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup (2/3 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • vegetable oil for frying

Place the butter in a bowl.  Warm the milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to steam.  Pour the milk over the butter, whisk together until combined and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Pour the warm water into the mixing bowl of your electric mixer.  Sprinkle the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar over the water and let dissolve for 10-15 minutes.  Pour the milk and melted butter into the mixing bowl.  Add the eggs, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, nutmeg and half the flour.

Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed to incorporate the flour, then on medium speed for 1 minute.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add the remainder of the flour, then return speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.  Switch to the dough hook.  Beat on medium speed for 4 minutes, until dough is smooth and starts to pull away from the bowl.  (Note, mine was still very "loose" and sticky at this point, and did not at all resemble a dough ball.  But I resisted the urge to knead it for longer or to add more flour, and just trusted that it would work out.)

Dump the dough into a large, well-oiled bowl.  Cover with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2 inch thick.  (Use a LOT of flour since the dough is still super sticky and loose.)  Be careful not to pummel the dough down too much or it will become tough.  Cut out dough using a 2 1/2 inch doughnut cutter with a ring in the middle, or a round cookie cutter without a ring in the middle for filled doughnuts.  Gather any scraps together and cut those into shapes also.  Place all the doughnuts and holes on floured baking sheets, cover lightly with towels and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

If you have a deep fryer, this next step should be simple for you.  If not, you'll need a large, flat-bottomed stock pot.  Fill 2 inches deep with vegetable oil.  Set up an instant read thermometer so that the end of the thermometer is not touching the bottom or the side of the pan, but resting in the oil.  Turn the burner on to just over medium heat and slowly heat the oil until it reaches 365 degrees Fahrenheit.

Use a large slotted spoon to gently place the doughnuts in the oil, working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan or reduce the temperature of the oil.  Cook for one minute on each side.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack set on a baking sheet.  Cook the remainder of the dough.  Glaze the doughnuts while still slightly warm.

Yields 20-25 doughnuts, plus holes.

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown.

Basic Doughnut Glaze
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk, warmed slightly
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl until smooth.  Add more or less milk for desired consistency.  Immediately dip doughnuts into glaze then place on waxed paper.  Glaze should set in about 15 minutes.

Yields enough to glaze 20-25 doughnuts.

Recipe adapted from Alton Brown.

Chocolate Doughnut Glaze
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Combine the butter, milk, corn syrup and vanilla in a saucepan and warm over medium heat until butter is melted.  Decrease the heat to low, add the chocolate, and whisk until melted and smooth.  Turn off heat, add the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth.

Immediately dip the doughnuts in the glaze then place on waxed paper.  Glaze should set in about 30 minutes.

Yields enough to glaze 20-25 doughnuts.

Recipe from Alton Brown.

Cream Filling
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

With an electric mixer, beat on medium speed for about 10 minutes, until fluffy, thick and creamy.

To fill doughnuts, poke the narrow end of a chopstick into one end of the doughnut, about 2/3 of the way through.  Swirl it around a little to create a space inside for the cream.  Pipe cream into the doughnut.

If glazing doughnuts also, first fill with the cream, then dip in glaze.

Yields enough to fill 20-25 doughnuts.

Apple Swirl Bread (made from Yeast Doughnut Dough)
  • 1 recipe of basic Yeast Doughnut Dough (above)
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • chopped pecans, dates, raisins, etc (optional)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons coarse Turbinado sugar
Prepare the dough according to the recipe above, and set aside to rise in an oiled bowl until doubled in size.

Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and split into two sections.  Dough will be very sticky, so use a lot of flour to handle it.  Be careful not to pummel the dough down too much or it will become tough.  Roll out one half of the dough into a rectangle, about one half inch thick.

Sprinkle with half the chopped apples, brown sugar and cinnamon, and nuts or other dried fruit that you're using.  Carefully roll up into a log and place in a greased loaf pan, seam side down.  Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling ingredients.  Cover pans loosely with a kitchen towel and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Brush the tops of the loaves with the beaten egg then sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until a deep golden brown on top.  When you tap the top of the bread, it should sound hollow.  Turn bread out onto a wire rack, and cover loosely with a kitchen towel to cool completely before slicing.

Leftovers are fantastic for french toast or bread pudding.

Yields 2 loaves.


  1. So glad it worked out! They look amazing and yummy. Great job - glad my burn story didn't scare you away :-)

  2. Wow, these doughnuts look amazing! I like your explanation of all the different glazes and the process you went through making the dough and everything. It's very helpful, thank you! And that bread looks fabulous as well :)

  3. I've made jelly filled donuts and just loved them. I'm with you - I used to live near a Krispy Kreme and if the light was on...I turned into the parking lot!

    Your donuts are usual!

  4. We moved to Connecticut for a few years where there are Dunkin' Donuts on every other corner. I called it Donut exile because I missed Krispy Kreme so badly. When we first moved back south, we were out running errands one day and I was talking along. I stopped so abruptly my husband looked at me like I was having a heart attack. He followed my gaze until he saw I was staring straight at the HOT NOW sign. He started laughing and pulled right into the parking lot!

  5. I grew up in South Carolina, so when we moved to Colorado in '91, there were no Krispy Kremes here. Disaster! :)

  6. If you've seen the jars labeled bread machine yeast,then that's instant yeast. Kroger carries blue saches of yeast labeled as ideal for bread makers and again it's instant. The other differences between instant and other kinds is that instant is more finely grained and contains ascorbic acid. I share Alton's love of instant. Last year I bought a vaccum bag of SafInstant to make croissants with. My first attempt was success,and surprising as well. The recipe calls for putting the dough in the fridged for an hour. I put mine in a 64 oz heatproof plastic measuring jug and when I came back the dough had risen practically to the top! Instant yeast just seems "hungrier" than others and not as fussy,just make sure the liquid in your recipe is neither ice cold or more than 110°.


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