My favorite mornings growing up, I’d wake to the sounds of Mom busy in the kitchen, rolling out freshly risen dough as a pot of oil heated on the stove. I could soon tell by the aromas wafting through the house that the morning was going to be special.
Mom was making doughnuts for breakfast.
Before too long, we were picking out our favorites from the freshly frosted bunch. I always chose one of the long johns she shaped using a large dog-bone-shaped cookie cutter. My siblings and I would pile in front of the TV, all four of us propped against the family dog (a very big St. Bernard), devouring her creations as we fought for the remote.
The crisp, brittle crust of each golden-brown doughnut would give way to a warm and tender interior, delicately flavored and comfortingly fragrant. We’d savor every last bite, licking the rich chocolate glaze from our fingers as we watched cartoons.
There’s something magical about the doughnut. You don’t have to be Homer Simpson to swoon when you’re greeted with all those bright colors and sparkly decorations in a doughnut shop display case. But no matter how wonderful they may appear, it’s hard to find a store-bought doughnut that compares with homemade.
And believe it or not, they’re really not hard to make. You can whip up a batch of cake doughnuts in about an hour. Put together a batch of yeast-raised the night before, and all you have to do is fry them the next morning. Making breakfast for someone special? Try a batch of French crullers, their thin, golden crusts yielding to the most delicate, lightly flavored interiors.
A classic buttermilk cake doughnut is a great place to begin. The method is similar to a classic cake recipe but with a slightly thicker dough. I add an extra egg yolk for a little more richness, and mix in a cup of buttermilk for both texture and a hint of tang.
Leavened with baking powder and a little baking soda, these doughnuts don’t need time to rise. Simply roll them out and cut them up. Use a doughnut cutter, or go with a couple of biscuit cutters or empty cans.
Then fry. Use a neutral, refined oil, such as canola or vegetable oil — they have a higher smoking point and a more neutral flavor. And always use a thermometer — a candy or digital probe works well — to keep the temperature consistent.
Proper temperature is key: too high and the doughnut’s crust will scorch before it is done in the center; too low and the doughnut won’t cook in the oil, it will soak it up like a sponge.
Then, of course, there are yeast-raised doughnuts. The best are wonderfully light and fluffy. Not quite Krispy Kreme light — you want to know you’re eating one — and with just a little “chew” to give it personality. The key is a very moist dough.
These take a little more time to prepare. You need to mix the dough and give it time to rise before rolling out and cutting. But a little investment in advance preparation yields a nice payoff, as most of the work can be done the day before you fry.
Refrigerate the raw doughnuts overnight, then set them out on the counter first thing in the morning to warm and begin rising while you inhale that first cup of super-strong coffee. Then all you have to do is fry the doughnuts and frost them.
Glazes are simple to make. For the chocolate, simply heat some cream, water, butter and a little vanilla and then stir over a bowl of some chocolate chunks or chips to melt. The glaze is rich with a beautiful sheen, but the method is simple.
For maple, whisk together syrup with some powdered sugar and butter — brown the butter first just to give the glaze a little depth.
Or go with a fresh fruit glaze: Whisk chopped or pureed berries or stone fruit with powdered sugar and a little vanilla or a liqueur.
Finally, be sure to enjoy the doughnuts while they’re still warm. Put on another pot of coffee and take in the quiet morning.
Or do what I still do, and throw on some cartoons.
Total time: About 1 hour, plus rising and overnight resting times
Servings: Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 dozen doughnuts
1 cup lukewarm milk (no warmer than 110 degrees)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active-dry yeast
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 3/4 cups (16 ounces) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) softened butter, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
Canola oil for frying
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl, drizzle the yeast over the warm milk and stir to combine. Set the mixture aside for a few minutes to moisten the yeast.
Add the eggs and egg yolks to the milk mixture and gently beat to combine using the paddle attachment or a sturdy hand mixer. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until incorporated.
With the mixer running, add the flour, a spoonful at a time to incorporate, until three-fourths of the flour is added (if using a hand mixer, you may need to finish by hand as the dough may be too tough for the beaters). Add the salt and butter to the dough, mixing thoroughly to incorporate.
Add the remaining flour to the dough, gently but thoroughly beating to combine. The dough will be very soft and sticky, almost like a batter.
Grease a large bowl and place the dough inside. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 11/2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and gently roll to a thickness of one-half inch. Using a doughnut cutter or 2 biscuit cutters (a larger one measuring 3 to 31/2 inches in diameter, and a smaller one measuring about 1 inch in diameter), cut the dough into doughnuts, spacing the doughnuts as close as possible. Collect the scraps, quickly knead to combine and roll the dough as before, cutting additional doughnuts.
Place the doughnuts on a floured sheet of parchment paper set on a baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between each doughnut. Sprinkle a little flour over the tops of the doughnuts, then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.
The next morning, remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and set the doughnuts aside for about an hour to warm slightly. Meanwhile, fill a deep fryer with oil, or fill a large pot to a depth of at least 3 inches, and heat to a temperature of 375 F.
Gently place the doughnuts in the fryer, being careful not to crowd. Fry the doughnuts on each side until puffed and golden, about 1 minute on each side.
Drain the doughnuts on a rack and cool slightly, then frost and decorate as desired.
Each of 24 doughnuts: 248 calories; 3 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 18 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 44 mg. cholesterol; 4 grams sugar; 60 mg. sodium.
Total time: 1 hour
Servings: Makes about 1 1/2 dozen donuts
4 1/4 cups (18 ounces) flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, grated nutmeg and cinnamon.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the eggs and egg yolk with the sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
In a large measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk and butter. Alternately beat the dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture into the egg mixture, one-third at a time, until all of the ingredients are combined and a dough is formed. It will be soft and sticky.
With floured hands, remove the dough to a floured board and gently roll out until the dough is one-half inch thick. Using a doughnut cutter, or 2 biscuit cutters (a larger one measuring 3 to 31/2 inches in diameter, and a smaller one measuring about 1 inch in diameter), cut the dough into doughnuts, spacing the doughnuts as close as possible. Collect the scraps and roll out to form another batch of doughnuts (note that this batch may be a little tougher than the first as the dough has been worked).
Meanwhile, fill a deep fryer with oil, or a large pot to a depth of at least 3 inches, with oil, and heat to a temperature of 350 degrees.
Gently place the doughnuts in the oil, being careful not to crowd. Fry the doughnuts on each side until puffed and golden, about 11/2 to 2 minutes on each side.
Drain the donuts on a rack and cool slightly, then frost and decorate as desired.
Each doughnut: 291 calories; 4 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 17 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 41 mg. cholesterol; 9 grams sugar; 237 mg. sodium.
Total time: 15 minutes
Servings: Makes about 2 1/2 cups glaze, enough to frost a batch of doughnuts
1 pound bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (chips or finely diced)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons corn syrup
Place the chocolate in a large bowl.
In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, cream, water, vanilla, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a good simmer over high heat.
Remove from heat. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and gently stir to combine, melting the chocolate and forming a glaze.
The glaze will thicken as it cools. This makes 21/2 cups glaze, which will keep for up to 1 week, covered and refrigerated. Rewarm slightly to thin.
Each tablespoon: 81 calories; 1 gram protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 7 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 7 mg. cholesterol; 4 grams sugar; 5 mg. sodium.
Maple Brown Butter Glaze
Total time: 20 minutes
Servings: Makes about 2 cups glaze, enough to frost a batch of doughnuts
Note: Grade B maple syrup is less filtered than Grade A, making for a more richly flavored syrup; it is generally available at most markets.
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) butter
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B
In a small saucepan heated over medium-high heat, melt the butter and continue to cook until the butter browns, being careful not to burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place the powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl. Using the whisk attachment or a hand mixer, beat in the melted butter and browned bits along with the vanilla. Slowly beat in the maple syrup. When all of the ingredients are incorporated, briefly beat over high speed to remove any lumps. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed (bring back to room temperature and beat briefly before using).
Each tablespoon: 94 calories; 0 protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 2 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 6 mg. cholesterol; 18 grams sugar; 1 mg. sodium.