Friday, April 3, 2009

Fry, fry again

Oh, Nancy. You're such a talented baker and an excellent cookbook-writer. Your turns of phrase are inspiring and sometimes laugh-out-loud amusing. Or, in this case, both: "For the rushed doughnut maker, these cake doughnuts are a quick fix."

Why, you've captured my recipe sensibility perfectly, Nancy! These old-fashioned buttermilk cake doughnuts of yours, these bits of fried goodness that underline the importance of the dough in the doughnut, are so quick and easy that I can't believe I didn't make them the first time I read the description of the recipe in Pastries from the La Brea Bakery. How could I wait so long to make a recipe for the "rushed doughnut maker?"

Actually, I admit that I do know why I waited. Frankly, I was worried that what might be quick for you, Nancy Silverton, would be prohibitively time-consuming for me. You have all day to putter around in the kitchen and write cookbooks and open fantastic restaurants with Mario Batali and fry doughnuts to your heart's content, whereas I have only a snatched hour here or there between overnight calls in the hospital in which to binge-cook, limited significantly by only having one oven.

And, to top it all off, this so-called quick doughnut recipe calls for yeast. Yeast! Yeast equals time-consuming. Except, I'm pleased to inform you, in this recipe. Yeast is but an adjunct to the baking powder and baking soda, and Nancy adds it, she says, for "lightness." These doughnuts are light, which seems like an odd, if desirable, attribute for a cake doughnut. Other desirable attributes: the spice of nutmeg throughout the batter, the crispness of the fried exterior, the sweetness of the powdered sugar or cinnamon-sugar topping.

I like these doughnuts so much that I've made them twice this week. (I think the fact that I just finished my inpatient cardiology rotation, on which I checked a cholesterol panel on nearly every patient the day of his/her admission for chest pain, is unrelated, but I'm not sure.) I've halved the recipe both times (fifteen doughnuts seemed like a few too many for me and B to share), which required a little bit of adjustment with the ingredients. It is very difficult to halve an egg! Mom, prepare to be horrified: I don't follow recipes exactly as they are written the first time I make them.

Even worse, prepare for mother-horrifying fact number two. Sometimes (O.K., most of the time) I don't measure very precisely when I'm baking. I know that I'm supposed to scoop the flour from the bin and level it off with the back of a knife, but at one point, by now many years ago, I didn't. And you know what? The cookies or cake or doughnuts or whatever I made turned out fine. I don't even own a sifter right now; I just use high-quality flour and add a little bit less of it when a recipe calls for sifted flour (generally, the guideline is to subtract 1/8 c. from each full cup of flour). I'm sure these factoids will also horrify JMc, who uses a measuring spoon to figure out how much to salt her pasta water. Of course, now that I've settled on a good combination of ingredients for these doughnuts, I promise that I will be more precise in the future.

Mother-horrifying fact number three: I occasionally reuse my frying oil. Per my mother the physician, though not substantiated on several internet searches I have done, once oil is brought to a certain temperature once, it irreversibly forms esters which are in some way hazardous to your health. Even though there's now a place in eco-friendly San Francisco to drop off used cooking oil, it seems wasteful to only use the oil once. Which is why I had to make the doughnuts again, while I still had oil out. I have a deep-fryer, thanks to J and B, but I actually used my cast-iron wok. This picture of the doughnuts is very "fire burn and cauldron bubble," don't you think?

Regardless of how you fry them, don't miss out on these doughnuts. They are best when eaten immediately and warm (which makes me think of the fried dough at the fairground, straight from the oil to your hand--but these doughnuts are infinitely better, especially since I'm pretty sure the idea of only using the oil once or twice would be anathema to the funnel-cake purveyors). Enjoy!

Cake Doughnuts in a Rush
Adapted from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery

Makes: 8 doughnuts, plus a few doughnut holes
Time: 30 min active and total

1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 c. plus 2 T. sugar
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 to 1 t. freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1/2 t. active dry yeast
2 T. sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 egg
1 t. vanilla extract
canola oil, for frying
1/4 c. powdered sugar, or 1/2 c. granulated sugar mixed with 1 t. ground cinnamon

Heat the oil to 375 degrees. While the oil is heating, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Add the yeast to the well, and place the sour cream on top. Let sit for 1 min. Then pour the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla in the well. Whisk the wet ingredients together, gradually whisking to incorporate the dry ingredients as well. The dough will be very sticky.

Place dough onto a floured surface. Place more flour on top of the dough, and pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness. Dip a 2 1/2-in round cookie cutter into flour and cut out the doughnuts. Use a 1/2 in cutter to cut out the holes. Place doughnuts and holes on a floured surface. Gather scraps together, pat into 1/2-in thickness, and cut out more doughnuts and holes.

Fry the doughnuts and holes in two batches for 1-2 min on each side until crisp and browned. Drain on paper towels. Allow oil to come back up to 375 degrees between batches. Sift powdered sugar over the tops of the doughnuts when cool, or roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture while still warm. Serve immediately for maximal enjoyment.


  1. Sounds and looks delicious! I admit to not leveling off or sifting my flour either, and my baked goods have not suffered because of it!

  2. OMG this looks amazing. I need to get Robby to make stuff from your blog!!

  3. I don't measure the salt in the pasta water! But I sure as hell measure everything in BAKING. You are a renegade. A RENEGADE I TELL YOU!