Posted in baking

Yeast-risen donuts, or how I learned to stop worrying and love cornstarch

I have some European friends whose estimation of the USA rose immensely when they discovered Krispy Kreme Donuts.  They made up a song about them:

I have a hole

In the middle

And I’m glazed

All a-round!

Whenever a new international student would arrive in Atlanta, we would ceremoniously take them through the Krispy Kreme drive-thru in the middle of the night (“We can get donuts now? Without even leaving our car?”) and have them try The Proof of Existence of God.  They were all duly impressed.

Imagine my distress upon moving to Massachusetts, a Krispy Kreme-less wasteland but otherwise lovely state.  I had always thought to myself, as a person who grew up having Krispy Kreme donuts every Sunday (well, every Sunday that I got up early enough to go to the morning church service), a person who remembers when the local Krispy Kreme burned down, a person who once nearly got in an accident trying to change lanes upon seeing the Hot Now sign, that donuts were one food I need never learn how to make, because the perfect donut already existed.  Alas, now it’s up to me.

I didn’t attempt donut making until my friend threw a Hannukah-themed party and told us that fried foods like donuts were traditional.  She mentioned lots of other things, but I knew my calling. I decided to go for a Krispy Kreme copycat recipe by the 99 Cent Chef, which I doubled.

I thought 3/4 cup of milk per batch sounded like a lot, but I shrugged and went on.  Turned out that was probably one of those moments when I should have listened to my instincts.  My dough rose beautifully, but it wasn’t actually dough.  It was definitely batter.  Rolling it out was unnecessary; cutting out shapes was impossible; picking them up and dropping them in oil was laughable.  So I started adding flour – cake flour, so it wouldn’t get too tough from an excess of gluten.  The flour wasn’t helping much, so I started adding cornstarch.  Lots of it.  Cornstarch is great stuff.  I think it’s really underutilized by average home cooks.  You know when you try to sprinkle flour on wax or parchment paper before putting a dough on it?  But you just end up with specks or streaks of flour and then a lot of uncovered space?  If you spread out cornstarch, it actually spreads.  And it turned my batter into a dough, slowly but surely.  It was still plenty sticky, but having tried to make ciabatta bread, I knew that good things rarely come of doughs that are actually comfortable to handle.

I cut out the donuts with my roommate’s cookie cutter and I cut the holes with the top from my bottle of canola oil, which was about the right diameter but not really high enough.  Speaking of which, the dough didn’t rise as much the second time as I had hoped; maybe the yeast were freaked out by everything I was doing to the dough.

DonutThe frying went fine.  I put a bunch of canola oil in my very favoritest stainless steel chef’s pan with my very unfavoritest candy/fry thermometer – unfavoritest because its sensor is higher up on the thermometer than anything I make ever reaches to, so I had to use extra oil just to get a decent reading. (This was before my Christmas present!)  I kept it in the ballpark of 180°F, which was probably a little high, but it seemed to keep things bubbling fast like I wanted.  That’s supposed to mean your fried foods won’t turn out too greasy.  My stove is, like my oven, overzealous, so I had to constantly turn it off and on to keep the temperature in the right ballpark.  I used a metal slotted spoon to handle the donut holes and unpainted chopsticks to handle the donuts (after putting them in with my hands, and a lot of difficulty).  I read about the chopsticks online, and it is brilliant.  I don’t know how else I would have managed.

The donuts came out a deep golden brown, soft on the inside, and a little denser than Krispy Kremes.  I wouldn’t quite put them in the same category as Krispy Kreme donuts – the search is still on – but I’d say they’re yummy fritters.  Maybe less egg would be closer; maybe a better second rise would have helped, too.

Ginger and Cranberry Glazes
You can see some pieces of candied ginger left in the syrup.

I served them with ginger glaze, aka the syrup left over from when I candied ginger, and cranberry glaze, aka the fondant diluted with cranberry sugar syrup that I made for my meringue cookies.  My friend Claire, who adores ginger, thought ginger donuts were an excellent idea.  I was just happy to get to use more of those glazes up.


2 thoughts on “Yeast-risen donuts, or how I learned to stop worrying and love cornstarch

  1. Corn starch is the best! It’s so cheap but works miracles in the kitchen.
    I’ve always hated frying things because it creates a disaster, but yeast doughnuts do look fun…
    Have you ever tried making bagels before? I went through a bagel phase and I think I tried every variety I could think of- those were the days! 😛

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