They sold me a dream. A spotless kitchen, big dough-rolling tables, commercial Kitchen-aid stand mixers, pots of 360-degree bubbling oil, silicone spatulas and all manner of baking tools that we did not have to wash. In my real world, the one back home, scrubbing and tidying up really get in the way of getting things done.
Donut boot camp was like competing in an Iron Chef with yourself. Dirty all the pots and bowls, drop an egg from time to time, ramp up the speed of the mixer to get that “ribbony” dough, do culinary battle with the other donut-meisters crowding the bubbling pots. Get dizzy over glazes.
Why am I slipping into donut boot camp with my neighbor and her son, the three of us hunched over a prep table, serious as all get out, punching donuts out of sweet dough—clad in the outfit of a pastry chef who seems to have no limits of imagination or wit?
Two reasons: If we are going to eat fried food, fry it yourself and learn how to do it. Let’s not demonize things. You don’t have to supersize it. Besides, if you take the time to prepare it yourself, you’ll be surprised how little of it you eat. I brought home four dozen donuts and within 24 hours had given them all away.
Also, learning to make donuts was high up on my bucket list, something I’d always wanted to learn. As someone with a lifelong obsession with sweets, a really good hot and airy donut is a wonderful thing. With a shot of espresso, it’s heaven.
There was a procession of all-stars, each one shockingly good. Dense chocolate donut holes rolled in powdered sugar or cinnamon-chili dust. Chubby orange molasses cake donuts with candied ginger. And then…and then… the glazed yeast donuts.
Not straight-up glazed yeast donuts. No. Ours defied comparison. They were alarmingly literal PB&J donuts—yeast-raised balls that fit in your fist, the centers injected with a shot of raspberry filling from a piping bag fitted with a pastry tip, then deep fried in hot oil. It looked like a UFO—unidentified fried object. In the hot oil, the ball took on a pale racing stripe around the middle, the Equator, if you will. ThenWhen they were cool enough, we smeared the tops with peanut butter glaze. This was no slacker donut. Reduced to its ingredients it was about as all-American as it gets, one of those what-the-hell taste experiences. But this donut, like the other recipes we prepared, had changed with the times. When did a previous generation mince candied ginger, use Maldon sea salt, shave citrus zests, or whisk heavy cream with mascarpone. For a donut!?
If you haven’t fallen completely in love with the way an extra hit of salt can enhance something sweet, you could feel lightheaded while allowing the salted caramel glaze to set on a plump of fried dough, which was then sprinkled with expensive bits of flaked sea salt on top. Oh when did salt and caramel find each other—one of those rare flavors, say the food trend mappers, which worked its way across the pond from France.
The only thing missing was a flyer on our way out for gourmet coffee donut franchise opportunities that advertise the chance to cash in on a piece of the 10 billion donuts per year that Americans eat.
Later that night, I found that on-line...
However, before you make a move to jump in on that donut craze, you can see whether or not that's a career for you by trying it out at home:
Hand Forged Doughnuts - by The Top Pot Doughnut Shop: "Among enthusiasts, Seattle's Top Pot Doughnuts reigns supreme. Now, doughnut aficionados everywhere can enjoy these tasty treats at home. Committed bakers, casual home cooks, and sweet-toothed fans will eat up these 50 tried-and-true recipes from classic Old-Fashioneds to the signature Pink Feather Boa and become experts themselves after learning the secrets of doughnut-making tools, terms, and techniques (no, you don't need a deep fryer). And the selections of toppings and glazes, from chocolate to lavender? That's just icing on the doughnut."
The FLOUR cookbook. I have personal experience that this woman knows how to bake. Amidst all the confections here are some awesome donut recipes as well. "Every day 1,500 Bostonians can't resist buying sweet, simple treats such as Homemade Pop-Tarts, from an alumna of Harvard with a degree in economics. While at Harvard Flour Bakery-owner Joanne Chang's discovered that nothing made her happier than baking cookies, which lead her on a path that eventually resulted in a sticky bun triumph over Bobby Flay on the Food Network's Throwdown. From Brioche au Chocolat and Lemon Raspberry Cake to perfect croissants, her repertoire of baked goods is deep and satisfying. Almost 150 Flour recipes, plus Joanne's essential baking tips!"
babycakes Covers the Classics. If all this sets you into convulsions due to dietary restrictions, the babycakes cookbook is the answer. Erin McKenna, proprietor of the New York and Los Angeles Bakery called BabyCakes, eliminated wheat, dairy and refined sugar from her diet five years ago and began a desperate search down the Whole Foods' aisles for baked goods she could safely enjoy; it was futile. Driven to satisfy her insatiable sweet tooth, McKenna set out on a culinary journey and experimented with alternative ingredients such as agave nectar and cold-pressed coconut oil to create a new kind of baked good. Four months of trial and error later, McKenna had developed allergy-friendly recipes that were actually sweet, moist and incredibly good. BabyCakes NYC was born, soon thereafter, and McKenna was a full-time baker.
And here's a charming video of the proprietor of the Peter Pan Bakery in Brooklyn, one of Food and Wine's "Top Doughnut Shops in America". This baker has clearly found her passion.
Peggy Wolff’s stories on what, where, and with whom people eat have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Tribune's SUNDAY Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel, and more. Her new book, Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie, a compilation of food writers on Midwestern Food, comes out in November 2013.