Sunday, November 04, 2007

Doughnut Adjust Your Set

Back when I was very young, barely versed in the baking skills, I used to watch the Chef Mother in action. Though I don't remember us having anything truly fancy (aside from the wedding cakes she used to decorate), sometimes she would pull a new treat out of her hat. And one of the sweet treats that fascinated me the most was her recipe for doughnuts.

It wasn't as though I'd never seen doughnuts before. One of our favorite Saturday morning errands, in fact, was to stop at the local bakery for potato bread, cookies, and fresh glazed doughnuts or cream sticks. But store-bought doughnuts are radically different from what we had at home. The bakery's confections were light and yeasty and fairly crackling with a sugar glaze, whereas the Chef Mother's version had a moist cake-like texture and tasted best when rolled in cinnamon sugar.

Still, our homemade doughnuts passed through the deep-fryer, a small slow-cooker type of pot that sat on the countertop and scared the wits out of me. So I stood back and watched, wide-eyed, as the Chef Mother slipped the dough rings and centers (for we ate the "holes," too -- no waste!) into the bubbling oil and then snared them again, lifting them out to drain.

No doughnuts ever tasted as good (though the ones made by the college dining hall here come awfully close). But having a deep aversion to deep-frying, I never thought I would make them myself.

It wasn't until I spotted a doughnut baking pan in the Bakers' Catalogue that I realized that doughnuts could actually be baked. I didn't buy the pan, but I did start looking online for recipes to try, and this morning I finally decided to give it a go.

Choosing a recipe for baked spice doughnuts, I whipped up the dough, which turned out to be very similar to an enriched yeast bread dough (with warm milk, maple sugar, butter, and egg... all local). I kneaded it and then let it rise for a while before rolling it out and cutting out the doughnuts.

I guess that, in my many relocations over the years, I've lost the center part of my doughnut cutter, because all I could do was to cut out large circles without the inner circle. So I pulled my smallest liqueur glass into service, lip floured, and cut out the center holes with no further problems.

Having arranged the doughnuts and holes on the cookie sheet, I brushed them with butter and let them rise again, then brushed more butter on top and sprinkled them with a mixture of cinnamon and maple sugar before sliding them into the oven.

They smelled heavenly, but I admit that they turned out on the dry side. I know I overbaked the first pan, but even the doughnuts from the second pan were too dry. So I think I'll have to go back and either tweak this recipe or try a different one the next time I want homemade doughnuts.

Because now that I know how easy it is to make doughnuts without the dreaded deep-fryer, I know I'll have to try them again sometime!


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