I discovered last weekend that bringing two dozens donuts to a party is one of my best potluck decisions ever. Not just any run-of-the-mill donuts from the corner cafe. Not even fancy gourmet donuts from the latest hipster donut shop. I’m talking about honest homemade French crullers and custard-filled yeast donuts that emerged from a pot of bubbly hot oil in my kitchen. Deep frying may be intimidating but the result far outweighs the effort.
Since I bought my Thermapen digital thermometer, my confidence with deep frying soared. Knowing that I submerge my food in precise 350F hot oil makes sense because I can relate that to oven baking temperature. Discovering Japanese grease solidifier granules also eliminated one of my worries. Now I can safely dispose of spent cooking oil in one jellied disc along with other organic waste. As long as I do not stink up the house like a fast food joint, I have few reasons to avoid deep frying. Combined with my love of donuts, I sense a slippery slope in dietdom.
My cooking friends and I share a penchant for themed cooking parties. Pie Day, Cake Day, and Dumpling Day have become much-anticipated annual traditions. Last Saturday we had our inaugural Choux Day filled with cream puffs, éclairs, profiteroles, and gougères. What do donuts have to do with choux pastry? My favourite donut, the impossibly airy French cruller, is in fact deep fried ring of pâte à choux. A dozen honey glazed French crullers was my contribution to Choux Day. But since I already had the whole deep frying set up at home, I extended its mileage by throwing in a dozen of yeast raised donuts for good measure. Because, why not?
My choice for these two types of donuts is not coincidental. The night before the party, I put together dairy-free coconut pastry cream and Joanne Chang’s brioche-like dough (recipe at epicurious) to rest overnight in the fridge. I woke up early the next morning to roll out the dough and cut into a dozen rounds. They were left to rise until pillowy while I worked on the pâte à choux.
My favourite pâte à choux recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated. I used it most recently as Meyer Lemon Cream Puffs and absolutely loved the ease of this reliable recipe. The puffs had great flavour and they puffed to tremendous height. I followed Lara Ferroni’s direction for making crullers. In a nutshell, I piped rings onto parchment paper strips and cut the paper to size. I slipped the squares of pâte à choux and parchment paper into 370F oil to preserve the shape of the donuts. Once it puffed up, the parchment paper fell away and I simply removed it with a pair of chopsticks. A double batch of the pâte à choux yielded 16 crullers along with a few pets de nonne.
It is of utmost importance to control the heat and do not undercook. Too cold, the crullers would take too long to fry and soak up excess oil. Too hot, they would brown too much. The steam created from the dough is what makes pâte à choux puff up. However, if the crullers are not fried long enough, they would collapse once you remove them from the oil. A deflated cruller is a sad sight to behold.
By comparison, the yeast donuts were far less fickle. When all the crullers were done, the yeast dough rounds were ready. I simply fried the rounds in 350F oil for 2 minutes on each side. The donuts were immediately tossed in sugar once cool enough to handle. I cut a slit on the circumference and filled them with pastry cream made with coconut milk, coconut butter, and a glug of dark rum.
I glazed the crullers with a simple glaze made of icing sugar, orange blossom honey, and water. The thin glaze lightly coated the eggy fritters and accentuated the characteristic ridges. I shaped the extra yeast dough into twists and coated them with honey glaze too. Calling them non-photogenic is an under statement. They looked like they belong in a bachelorette party. Needless to say, my girlfriends and I giggled over them as we devoured the delightful crullers and custard donuts.
Homemade donuts are one of those simple joys that remind me why cooking at home is rewarding. 2014 is all about learning to cook new things and I am proud to conquer yet another challenge. Homemade French crullers are totally doable.