Sunday, December 09, 2012

Apple Cider Doughnuts

The best doughnut is a fresh doughnut. I know, I don't have to tell you that. But this might be news: the best hour-or-so-old doughnut? That's a cake doughnut.

So doughnuts come in two main forms: yeasted and cake doughnuts. Even if you don't think you know the difference, you probably do. Yeasted doughnuts are airy and fluffy (from, you guessed it, yeast), the fried pillows that you find filled with custard or jelly. And cake doughnuts are, well, a bit cakier, a bit firmer. The kind you find at the apple orchard.

As a rule, I love the fluffy pillow of a yeasted doughnut best of all. But here's the thing: yeasted doughnuts do not age well. At all. After they cool down, they're just sad pillows of air and grease. But cake doughnuts? They hold up great. Sure, they're best hot from the oil. But even the next morning, their sturdier crumb (sturdier-yet-still-somewhat-delicate, mind you) still makes for a fine accompaniment to your morning coffee — especially if you've rolled them in some cinnamon sugar to sop up the grease. And so, when I wanted to bring some doughnuts to a Hanukkah party, and that party was being held more than half an hour from my kitchen, I decided to make up a batch of cake doughnuts.

These are dangerously delicious. The liquid in the dough comes from boiled-down cider and buttermilk, which are both baking perfection. The apple flavor comes through (thanks to the concentration), but subtle enough to play nicely with the other spices. There is some fussing involved — the dough must be par-frozen and then chilled — but the delicate handling of a soft dough yields doughnuts that are toothsome-yet-light. They're amazing straight from the pan. But even a few hours later at a party? They're pretty amazing as well.

And if you're looking for another greasy treat to enjoy this holiday season, I can direct you toward a recent story about spinach and cheese boyos. They come with their own rich tradition (and their own lashings of oil), over at NPR. Happy Hanukkah!

Apple Cider Doughnuts

adapted from Lauren Dawson at Hearth Restaurant, via the Washington Post
yields 18 doughnuts (and doughnut holes)

1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons butter, warmed to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (if you don't have, you can substitute an equivalent amount of milk with a hefty splash of cider vinegar, or, if you're frying for dairy-free folks, cider vinegar plus coconut milk is a crazy good substitute)

oil for frying
1 cup sugar tossed with 1 heaping spoonful cinnamon to finish

Start by reducing the cider: Pour into a saucepan, and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Reduce until it's just high enough to maintain a rolling simmer, and let cook off until reduced to 1/4 cup, ~20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Fit a mixer with a paddle attachment, and beat together the softened butter and sugar for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add the boiled-down cider and buttermilk, mix until well combined, then add the flour mixture and stir on low until the mixture just comes together — do not overmix!

Line two sheet trays with parchment or waxed paper, and sprinkle generously with flour. Turn the dough out onto one of the sheets, sprinkle with a bit more flour, and pat/roll until it's 1/2-inch thick. Transfer the tray to the freezer until it firms up slightly, ~20 minutes.

Remove from the freezer, and round up some dough cutters (Dawson recommends 3-inch rounds, but I used my 2-1/4-inch round cutter for the doughnuts, and a well-cleaned cap from a bottle of Campari for the holes). Cut out the shapes, and transfer to the other tray. Mush the scraps together, re-roll, and cut out the remainder. Move the tray to the refrigerator, and let relax there for 20-30 minutes.

When the dough is nearing the end of its relaxing time, heat a few inches of high-heat oil in a large pan (I used my cast iron Dutch oven) over a medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Prepare a rack for the cooked doughnuts, or a plate lined with paper towels or brown paper (I ripped up a few grocery bags). Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.

When the oil is hot, add a test doughnut. It should become brown on the first side in about 60 seconds, and on the second side in a little less. If it passes this test, add a round of doughnuts. Cook until brown, flip, and fry until brown on the second side. Transfer to your prepared tray/rack, let drain/cool for a moment, then transfer to the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Coat with the mixture on each side. Enjoy hot, or not.


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