As you guys might have guessed, I am a big fan of making things from scratch. I think they usually taste better than the alternative, and while I’m not above cutting corners, sometimes it just feels nice to create a dish from raw ingredients, and to be able to say that you’ve made something completely from start to finish.
Doughnuts aren’t really something that I had much toyed with making, even with my homemade-is-better mindset. I guess I was always dissuaded by what I was convinced would be a terrible, grease-spattering mess of a process. In my mind, making donuts would sort of be like making potato chips– sure, they would taste great if you ate them immediately, but are they ever really worth the hassle and the deep-cleaning you have to give your stove afterwards? Plus, not too far from me is a 24-hour coffee-and-doughnuts joint that I, for a long time, was convinced served the best donuts known to man. Somehow, no matter what time of day or night I find myself at this place, their pastries are somehow always fresh. They defy the laws of stale baked goods. More importantly, they are also delicious. The crullers are divine, the Boston Creams are just the right amount of sweet, and I’ve even been compelled to order their plain doughnuts on occasion– the cake is just that good. My favorite, though are the jelly doughnuts, which I can say with confidence taste the way I always thought a jelly doughnut should taste. Not like the Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme stuff– I mean a doughnut that is fluffy and slightly sweet, with jelly that is fruity but not overwhelming.
With this place nearby, I didn’t think I would ever need to test my theory about making doughnuts at home. And then one day I found Deb Perelman’s post about homemade jelly doughnuts and she convinced me that my theory could be wrong. Deb Perelman is also a New Yorker. Deb Perelman also has access to the same plethora of doughnut confectionaries that I do. And if she was certain that making doughnuts at home was really worth it, even in this oasis of doughnut havens, I just had to see if she was right.
No surprises here: she absolutely was. This was my first homemade doughnut experience and I had no idea what I was missing! It was a revelation. No matter how good doughnuts are out there in coffee shops or patisseries or doughnut stores, they would never be real donuts. No, the real doughnut could only be made at home, in a pan, with some love and time and a bit of patience. If you have any inclination at this point to go make doughnuts, just stop reading and skip straight to the recipe. I won’t blame you– your future doughnuts are calling to you, and I don’t want to be what is keeping you from them. If you somehow need a bit more convincing, just try to imagine the fluffiest, moistest, softest cake you’ve ever eaten. Then realize that these babies are made with yeast, so they will be even fluffier and softer than a cake, and that they have lemon zest, so they are fragrant and taste lovely. Imagine cutting little rounds from the dough and dropping them into a pan of hot oil, watching them puff and brown and release and intoxicatingly sweet, bready aroma. Then, when done, imagine filling them with a delicious blackberry jam, puffing some powdered sugar on top, and biting into one, warm and sweet, the combination gourmet while still comforting, and the experience a reunion for your taste buds with a loved but long-lost friend: bliss. Only minimal stovetop cleaning required.
Lemon Doughnuts with Blackberry Jam
Adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe. Makes 16 2-inch donuts.
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 7-gram or 1/4-oz packet) active dry yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
2 large egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter, softened
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
Vegetable oil for deep-frying and coating dough bowl
1/2 to 2/3 cup jam or preserves
A note before we start: there are two rising periods in this recipe. Either the first or the second rise can be done in the fridge, but not both. Keep this in mind when planning your timing. We did the first rise before bedtime and the second rise in the fridge, though if you do this remember to let them come to room temperature before frying.
Another note before we start: the ingredients and recipe call for lemon zest and blackberry jam, because it was a fantastic combination that will win the hearts and minds of brunch guests everywhere. That said, this recipe is actually quite flexible– omit the zest, add some extract, play around with the jams. These babies are yours to play with and enjoy!
Combine the yeast, sugar, and warm milk in the bottom of a large mixing bowl or stand mixer and let stand for five minutes, allowing the yeast to proof– After the resting time it should be a little frothy. Then whisk in the egg yolks, lemon zest, and butter. The butter might not mix well with the other ingredients, but do not worry– this is normal.
Add half of the flour to the mixture. If working by hand, stir with a wooden spoon to combine. If working with a stand mixer, mix it together on low speed. Once combined, add the second half of the flour and the salt and stir until combined. Knead the dough for about five minutes until it forms a smooth, elastic ball. Try to avoid adding extra flour, even if it is sticky– according to Smitten Kitchen, extra flour always makes your donuts and breads tougher and drier. To be honest, though, we didn’t find our dough to be particularly sticky, so you may not have this problem with yours either.
Remove the dough from the bowl and lightly oil the sides and bottom. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest either at room temperature for one hour or in the fridge overnight.
The original recipe goes over two ways to fill the doughnuts, one that is difficult but yields perfectly filled doughnuts and one that is quick and easy. I only tried the quick and easy way– there is only so much I am willing to work for my feast– but you can find directions for the perfect way at the original recipe here.
For the easy filling method, after the first rise, lightly flour the countertop and roll the dough out until it is about a 1/2-inch thick. Cut two-inch rounds from the dough with a biscuit cutter or a glass. Once you’ve cut all of the doughnuts, recombine and re-roll the dough. After finishing cutting this second round of doughnuts, keep the extra pieces to test the oil heat when you are ready to fry.
If you are doing the first rise at room temperature, cover the doughnuts lightly with a towel and let sit for half an hour. Let the scraps rise with the doughnuts so you can eat them later! Note that if you have done the first rise in the fridge, you must do the second rise at room temperature. If you are doing the second rise in the fridge, place the doughnuts on a lightly oiled baking pan and cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let sit overnight. The next morning, pull the doughnuts out of the fridge and let come to room temperature before frying. Do not worry if your overnight fridge-rise does not yield doughnuts that have risen very much– they will still puff up in the oil when fried!
When you are ready to fry, heat about two inches of oil in a cast-iron frying pan or heavy pot. If you have a thermometer, heat the oil to 350°F (175°C). If you, like me, do not have a thermometer, use the dough scraps to test the heat of the oil– you want the dough to puff when it cooks, but not burn. The scraps will also give you a good idea of how long it will take to cook the donuts. Prepare a plate for the cooked donuts by lining it with paper towels.
When the oil is ready, add about four donuts at a time (or as many that fit comfortably in your pan without overcrowding) to the oil, cooking on the first side until puffed and golden brown, about a minute or two. The dough will puff when you put it in the oil. When ready, flip and cook the underside to the same golden brown. Drain the finished doughnuts and spread them on the towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil.
When the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to but a small hole in the side of each doughnut. Place the jelly or jam in a piping bag or, if you do not have a piping bag, create a makeshift one by putting the jam into a plastic sandwich bag and cutting the tip off a corner of the bag. Place the tip of your piping bag into the hole you have created and squeeze gently until a bit of jam peeks out of the hole. Be careful, because according to some people (cough, boyfriend, cough), it is possible to overfill the doughnuts. If you sacrifice one or two along the way to judge your filling process, I certainly won’t tell. Use the same process for the remaining doughnuts.
To finish the doughnuts, either sprinkle them with powdered sugar or roll them gently in a bowl of powdered sugar. Eat immediately, sharing optional.