If you try to tempt me with anything fried, I'm pretty much going to enjoy it no matter what it is -- except for doughnuts, which are frequently disappointing. Too often undercooked, over-glazed, floppy or dry, the truly exceptional doughnut is hard to come by. But when a doughnut is good, it's probably my favorite dessert, which is why I recently spent some time in the kitchen learning how to make the perfect doughnut.
When it comes to baked goods, I always start with the blog Smitten Kitchen, because Deb Perelman has never let me down (and her instructions are crystal clear, which helps if you're taking on an ambitious project with which you have no prior experience).
I started with her recipe -- which originally came from Hearth, a restaurant in the East Village -- making some slight modifications because I wanted the flavors to be more intense, and I discovered that frying doughnut holes, rather than doughnuts, gave me the consistency I wanted.
The final results were crispy edges and airy and flaky centers infused with cinnamon and nutmeg. They were great with vanilla ice cream right out of the pot -- and maybe even better the next morning with a cup of coffee.
Here's how to make them:
Electric hand mixer or standing mixer Deep-sided pot or pan (I used a deep-sided stock pot to prevent splattering) Candy thermometer
For the doughnuts
1 cup apple cider 3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon ginger 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature 1 cup granulated sugar 2 large eggs, at room temperature 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature Vegetable oil for frying (you'll need a lot; you can also use safflower oil or any oil with a high smoke point)
For the glaze
1 cup confectioners sugar 2 tablespoons apple cider 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Over medium-low heat, reduce apple cider to 1/3 cup. Set aside to cool (If you plunk it in a glass container nested in an ice bath, this goes faster). 2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Set aside. 3. Cream butter and sugar with mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until blended. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides. 4. Gradually add buttermilk and then apple cider, mixing on low speed until just blended. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides. 5. Add flour mixture a little at a time, mixing on low speed until blended completely. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides. You'll know you're done when the dough comes together -- it should be pliable but cohesive. 6. Line two cookie sheets with floured parchment paper. Turn the dough onto one cookie sheet and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. 7. Using your fingers, press the dough flat -- it should be about 1/2 inch thick. Don't use a rolling pin because you risk overworking the dough, and that will make your doughnuts less airy. 8. Freeze for twenty minutes.
9. After twenty minutes, remove the dough from the freezer and use a cookie cutter to cut into shapes. Perelman recommends a doughnut cutter so you get doughnuts and holes. I discovered I like the texture of the holes better than the doughnuts themselves -- so I cut to the chase and just cut small circles (actually, I used a small apple-shaped cookie cutter -- I know, I know). Transfer the cut shapes to the other cookie sheet. If you work fast, you can re-pat the dough and re-cut. If it's too soft, stick it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes. 10. Refrigerate all your cut shapes for at least twenty minutes (I actually refrigerated mine for a couple of hours, and that worked out just fine). 11. While those are in the refrigerator (or at least ten minutes before you want to start frying), start your oil: attach the candy thermometer to the side of your heavy-sided pot or pan and fill with oil to about three inches. Heat until the oil gets to 325° and then turn the stove down to medium -- you want the oil to reach 350° and stay there. 12. Line a plate with several layers of paper towels -- or, better yet, bust out a rack and line the counter below with paper towels. Get a slotted spoon (metal, or it will melt) ready. While your oil is heating, make the glaze. 13. In a mixing bowl, add your apple cider and cinnamon. Whisk in the powdered sugar a little at a time until you achieve a stiff consistency.
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14. Fry the doughnuts in batches -- don't crowd the oil -- using the spoon to turn them over. You want them to be deep golden brown on all sides and puffy. This will only take a minute or two. Fish them out and put them on the paper towels to cool slightly. 15. Once they're cool enough to touch, dip one side of each doughnut in the glaze. I sprinkled mine with a little cinnamon sugar, at Perelman's suggestion. Candied ginger would be delicious, too.