Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Essence of Doughnuts

I've been psyching myself up to make doughnuts for a while.

As often happens, it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be.

I was most nervous about the deep frying thing, but it turned out to be pretty simple and not particularly stressful. I also baked half of the batch, to investigate the differences between them from the same mixture. The general conclusion is that the fried ones were nicer, which makes sense because that's the general way for doughnuts.

In fact, I got an astonishing compliment from my dad:
This might be the best doughnut I've ever eaten.
High praise indeed, especially for such a doughnut connoisseur as he is.

Doughnuts have yeast in them. Did you know that? I didn't know that. They're just bread. It kind of makes sense when you think about it. In fact, maybe everyone knew that except me. Anyway. They're bread, with extra stuff in. Kind of like this, in fact. The ratio starts with half the amount of liquid as flour. Sound familiar?

10 Flour : 5 Milk : 2 Sugar : 2 Egg : 2 butter

  • Warm up the milk. It doesn't need to be boiling, just lukewarm. The easiest way is probably to heat it in the microwave, or in a pan on the hob. It only needs to be warm because the yeast is going to be mixed into it, and yeast likes to be warm. If put it into milk straight from the fridge, it would take forever to start working. So, add the yeast to the milk. The general amount of yeast to use is 1% the weight of the flour. So, 200g of flour, 2g of yeast. But realistically it's fine to use a bit more than that. I used 500g of flour, and those packets of dried yeast contain about 7g - I just used a whole packet. Mix in the yeast and then leave it for ten or fifteen minutes. By the end of that time, there should be some foamy bubbles on top of the milk. If it looks exactly the same as it did before you left it to rest, that means the yeast isn't working and you'll need to try again with different yeast.

  • After the yeast has started working, you just need to mix in all the other ingredients. The order doesn't really matter, except for what might make it easiest to mix. When I made mine, I added the flour half at a time and mixed that, then I added the eggs, then the butter and then the sugar. My batch was 500g of flour, 250g of milk, 100g of sugar, 100g of eggs (two eggs) and 100g of butter (melted to make it easier to mix in). It made about 20-24 middle-sized doughnuts.
  • When it's mixed, it will be a really sticky and fairly unappealing-looking dough. Now you have to knead it, which is quite difficult given the texture. Put loads of flour on a worktop and plenty on your hands too, and then just try to squidge it around as much as you can. It doesn't need to be for a really long time, just a few minutes.

  • Now let it rise. Leave it in a bowl somewhere warm (I used the top oven with the bottom oven on the lowest heat it has) until it's doubled in size (if you can handle that description). A better one I've heard recently is that, when you poke it, the indent should stay. If it bounces back up, it isn't risen enough.
  • After it's risen, knead it again for a few minutes and then shape it however you're going to cook them. I just made mine roundish blobs. If you're baking them, you can just shape them and put them straight onto the tray you'll be baking them in. If you're frying them, take care not to leave them on a baking tray which they will stick to, thereby requiring you to squish and mangle them to pull them away from the tray before the frying, and destroy the whole process of rising they just did. Speaking from personal experience, that sucks. Let them rise again, until doubled in size or until the indent stays.

  • Now it's cooking time. Baking them is easy. Just cook at 180C until they look sort of, cooked. Golden-browny and appealing.
  • Frying is a bit more tricky, but it's not as scary as I thought it would be. So don't be scared if you've never done it before. Two things to remember about using hot oil:
    • 1. Hot oil is hot. It's much hotter than hot water. It will really hurt if it gets on you.
    • 2. Hot oil is not malicious. It doesn't want to hurt you. As long as you don't do anything silly, there is not reason that it will hurt you.

  • You also need a cooking thermometer. The same one you would use for cooking fudge if you're into that kind of thing. They're really cheap and easy to get hold of, and will make the whole process much less stressful, so I really recommend one. You'll need about a litre of cooking oil (not olive oil) in a medium-sized pan. To fry things like doughnuts, the oil should be between 175-185C. If it gets too hot (250 or more) it will catch fire. Yes, it will catch on fire spontaneously if it gets too hot. Better safe than sorry, so keep an eye on the temperature and if in doubt, turn the heat off and let it cool for a while. When your oil reaches the right temperature, you can just turn the heat off. It cools down very slowly, and if it gets too cool it's easy to heat up a bit more again. And don't make the mistake I did, while heating it, and take the thermometer out once it got up to 180C, assuming it was fine. If I'd left the thermometer in, I would have seen that it was going to keep going up to over 190C, and that my first few doughnuts would cook far too quickly and burn when I put them in.

  • When your oil is at the right temperature, you can put your first doughnut in. If you've never deep-fried before, I'd recommend doing the first one on it's own to get the hang of it. Get a slotted spoon, and put the doughnut into the spoon, then lower the spoon into the oil and tip it out. The oil will bubble a bit around the doughnut while it's cooking, but it's not going to explode or anything. Just exercise reasonable caution. If the temperature is right, it should take between 2-5 minutes to cook. It will gradually turn golden brown on the outside, and when the colour looks right (when it looks like the colour of a doughnut you would want to eat), you can take it out, using the same slotted spoon, and put it on some kitchen roll (this is just to soak off the extra oil). Don't forget to turn over the doughnut regularly while it's in the oil, otherwise it will cook too much on one side and not enough on the other. Once you've done your first one, you can cook the rest in batches of two or three at a time.

  • Now they're cooked, it's decorating time. I guess some people put icing and stuff on doughnuts, but that's just wrong as far as I'm concerned. All you need is sugar - lots and lots of sugar. Get a smallish bowl of caster sugar and roll the doughnuts around in it until they're covered. It's best to do this right after they're cooked, because they'll still be covered in oil to soak up and stick to the sugar. For baked doughnuts, melt some butter and roll them in that before the sugar, to help it stick.

They really are best eaten straight away. It doesn't get much better than a warm doughnut. But if you have to save them, then try to eat them within a day or two because they go stale fast.


  1. They look great! I agree, there's not much better than hot doughnuts, especially the kind you get from vendors on cold days. I also like them rolled in white sesame, Chinese-style - they add this almost savoury dimension, really worth a try. :)

    1. Thanks! Ooh, that sounds really interesting!