What is it that makes sweetened dough deep-fried in very hot fat such a great comfort food? Whose emotional black hole cannot be filled with the sweet angelic light that burst forth out of freshly fried doughnuts?
Do you know anyone that does not like doughnuts? I do not.
As a kid, every time I watch one of these B-grade law enforcement movies in which the good(ish) guys (in B-grade movies the line between good and bad guys is not always that clear) eat heaps of doughnuts whilst on a stake-out, I wanted to become a policeman. But we did not live in a town with a dedicated doughnut shop, so I held back on my final career choice until I realized that Namibia is probably not ever going to get a Dunkin’ Donuts during my natural life time, and that our cops on stake-out (if they’d every do stake-outs) are probably chewing on biltong and droeewors rather than doughnuts. So I said goodbye to my dream of becoming a cantankerous, doughnut-scoffing cop.
On the odd occasion that we visited the capital city, we were treated to doughnuts, only these were called, Berliner. They were different from the doughnuts I became familiar with in the movies.
They were balls of dough with no holes in the middle; and they were willed with apricot-jam and sprinkled with confectioner sugar that stuck to your fingers and no amount of licking could make it go away and mom would threaten to whack and slap you silly if dare you touch anything with your filthy sweet hands.
Invariably, when you bit into them it would be on the wrong side of the jam-hole and the filling would spurt back out that hole out and end up on your brand new shirt (cause the other thing we did when visiting the nation’s capital, was shop for clothes. There was no Pep Stores on the Namibian platteland at that point in time).
Predictably mom would issue another series of undistorted threats.
But nothing – not even the harshest threat issued by your own mother – could dilute the joy of that first bite; for when tongue met fried dough and sugar all sorrows would melt away; they would simply dissipate into nothingness (okay I have to admit I once tried to erase the emotional consequences of a huge overdraft at the bank with doughnuts and other than giving me a three-and-a-quarter-day sugar rush it did nothing to lighten my load).
I doubt that there is a nation on this earth that has not done the sweet, fried dough thing.
Germany alone has doughnuts that are called: Berliner Ballen (or simply Berliner), Pfannkuchen (which could also mean pancakes), Krapfen or Kräppel or Kreppel or Fastnachtsküchelchen. The German influence on the doughnut-eating world extends beyond it borders. The Netherlanders have their Berlinerbol, the Belgians have boule de Berlin and the Fins have berliininmunkki.
One possible explanation of how the doughnut landed up in the USA is that it was brought over by Dutch settlers who loved their “oilcakes” or “oliekoeke”. It is this very same “oliekoeke” that are the immediate ancestors of our “fatcakes” or “vetkoeke”.
I have no statistics to back this up, but I have a strong suspicion that Namibians prefer Berliners to doughnuts (that is the little round cake with a hole in the middle). I, on the other hand, like to remain loyal to my love the childhood B-grade movies so I go with the doughnut; but only if I have to I have to choose.
Typically sprinkling a form of sugar and/or spice over them whilst still hot provides a finish to homemade doughnuts. Or they can be glazed or frosted.
The little dough ball that is left after the doughnuts has been pressed, are typically fried and eaten too.
Now, if you have never made doughnuts at home, here is a recipe to get you started. You do not need much, just a doughnut press (they are available at baking shops or even supermarkets and cost very little) and a pot for deep-frying. Use only oil with a high smoking point because you will have to fry these at around 180˚C. Vegetable oil is perfect. Then you need to decide to sprinkle or frost.
That is it.
Doughnuts with Chocolate Glaze
55 grams Butter
55 grams Vegetable oil
530 grams Milk
150 grams Eggs, Beaten
21 grams Dry active yeast
940 grams Bread flour
170 grams Sugar
6 grams Salt
47 grams Diastatic Malt Powder, Optional
Nonstick spray, as needed
Vegetable Oil for frying
The Chocolate Glaze
100 grams Milk
4 grams Salt
375 grams Powedered sugar
25 grams Cocao Powder
1. Combine the butter, vegetable oil and milk in a saucepan. Wait until the butter is melted, then whisk until the ingredients are well mixed. Then add the eggs and whisk in. Heat the mixture to between 38℃ and 43°C then transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer. Make sure the mixture is not hotter than 43℃ or the yeast will die. Add the yeast and whisk. Let is rest for about 10 minutes.
2. Sift and combine the bread flour, sugar, salt and diastatic malt powder (if using) in a mixing bowl. Mix well.
3. Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer. Set the mixer to medium-low and add the flour mixture to the yeast mixture, one large spoonful at a time, until it’s completely incorporated. Mix on medium high until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl (10-20 minutes). Spray a bowl with non-stick spray then shape the dough in a ball, place in the greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator and let it rest for one hour.
4. Dust a work surface and the top of the dough in the bowl with flour. Punch down the dough, then transfer it directly onto the floured surface. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Roll it out to about 15 mm thick.
5. Use a doughnut cutter to cut out doughnuts. Dip the bottom of the cutter into flour before each cut. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper, spray the paper with nonstick spray, and transfer the donuts to it, leaving about 30 mm between them. Spray the donut tops with the nonstick spray, then cover them with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap doesn’t touch the donuts. Allow them to proof on the countertop until they double in size, about 30–60 minutes depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
6. In a large pot over medium heat, bring at least 100 mm of oil to 180°C. Working one at a time until you get the hang of it, place a donut in the fryer and fry it for 15 seconds, then flip with a spider strainer and cook until the bottom has a dark, amber colour, about 80 seconds. Flip it and cook for another 80 seconds. Transfer to a rack over a half-sheet pan or to a paper towel–lined plate.
7. Let the donuts cool off for 15 mins before adding any toppings. If they’re too warm, the glaze will not stick but run off.
8. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper, spray the paper with nonstick spray, and transfer the donuts to it, leaving 2–3 inches between them. Spray the donut tops with the nonstick spray, then cover them with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap doesn’t touch the donuts. Allow them to proof on the countertop until they double in size, about 30–60 minutes depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
9. To Make the chocolate glaze: Combine the milk and salt in a medium metal mixing bowl. Add the sugar and the cacao powder and whisk the mixture until completely smooth.