IMBB#18: A Doughnut By Any Other Name
W is not the easiest person to please when it comes to food. By this, I do not mean it has to be fancy. It just has to be good. Whether it's spending hours on the road in search of the best bowl of pho in Orange County, cramming in three of his favourite sushi bars before his flight leaves Tokyo, or timing soft-boiled eggs down to the last second with the countdown function of his PanoRetroGraph, W is prepared to go to extremes in the name of eating well. His particular standards apply equally to fast food - having lived Stateside many years, he's in fact quite the expert on the subject. What makes the cut? Perfection comes in the form of an In-N-Out burger. A hotdog from Pink's ranks up there too. And when it comes to doughnuts, the choice is clear - Krispy Kreme, not Dunkin' Donuts.
This month's IMBB is hosted by Linda of the wonderful At Our Table, and the theme is Summer's Flying, Let's Get Frying! Here was the perfect excuse to try my hand at making doughnuts, one of W's favourite foods. While looking through my cookbooks, I naturally got sidetracked by other fried dough sweets in the extended doughnut family as well. With the exception of the churros (which do not use any leavening), the other doughs are all yeast-raised. As much as I appreciate a good buttermilk or cake doughnut , I much prefer the airy texture and rounded taste of the yeast-raised variety. With a long slow overnight rise, the egg and butter enriched dough - which is not unlike brioche in construction - develops a nuanced flavour profile that the chemically leavened (typically baking powder) cake doughnut lacks. I also think of them as being spiritually closer to their ancestors, the oliekoecken, fastnachts and beignet viennois brought by Dutch, German and French settlers.
When deep-frying dough, a couple of things are critical. The choice of fat - as leaf lard is virtually impossible to find here, I use canola oil, which is neutral in taste and has a high smoke-point. The deep-frying vessel - heavy, tall rather than wide, and in a material with excellent heat-retention properties, say cast iron. And most vital of all, the temperature of the fat - too low and your doughnuts will emerge sodden with grease, too high and you'll wind up with a burnt exterior and raw interior, so 365 degrees Fahrenheit to be precise (a thermometer clipped to the side of the pan lets you monitor the temperature throughout and adjust your heat accordingly). Hence the need for a great enough body of fat (3 to 4 inches deep is good) so the temperature remains fairly stable, the need to avoid overcrowding the pan (which causes too drastic a drop in temperature) so each doughnut has the luxury of floating freely without jostling for space, and the need to wait for the temperature to recover between batches. Taking a little care ensures a result that's not in the least heavy, beautifully crisp outside and tender within.
"Coffee & Doughnuts", or Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts
I have a real weakness for recipes that are, for lack of a better description, classics-with-a-twist. From the moment I first set eyes on this heavenly dessert pairing in The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, I knew I had to make it. The doughnuts are good old-fashioned deep-fried treats dredged in cinnamon-scented sugar, while the "Coffee" element is a frozen mousse topped with frothy steamed milk. I used some softly whipped Gippsland double cream - lovely stuff, incidentally - instead of steamed milk. I like the charming ring-and-jauntily-perched-hole presentation. As if rendered in spare Modigliani-esque lines, it resembles a top-knotted brioche a tete.
Chocolate Truffle Ravioli and Confiture de Lait
The Chocolate Truffle Ravioli recipe alone in Gordon Ramsay's Secrets is worth the price of the book, which is not to say it isn't an all-round fantastic book. Thinly worked brioche dough encloses a luscious bittersweet ganache. The unctuous chocolate cream oozes out languorously as you sink your teeth into the puff. Messy? Yes. But so very, very wicked. Just to ensure things are teeth-vibratingly sweet, I served them with a tiny bit of confiture de lait, the divine milk jam also known as dulce de leche, simply made by cooking milk with sugar together slowly until the mixture is a lovely caramel blond and almost taffy-like in consistency.
This New Orleans-style beignet recipe comes from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking. The yeasted dough is filled with raspberry jam. Once deep-fried, the little golden pillows are doused in icing sugar. Alongside, the silken Deep Chocolate Cream with Raspberry Coulis from Desserts by Pierre Herme. As with all his recipes that call for chocolate, Herme specifies the exact chocolate to use. In this case, some Valrhona Grand Cru Manjari 64%. Its aromatic fruitiness and soft, rounded flavour makes it the ideal candidate for fruit-and-chocolate desserts.Churros con Chocolate
Churrerias are ubiquitous in Spain, where you can buy lines or coils of dough fritters to dip into cafe con leche (milky coffee) or rich, velvety hot chocolate. Typically eaten for breakfast, sometimes as an afternoon snack, churros are irresistible when freshly fried, piping hot from the bubbling vat of oil. Madrilenos, however, don't just start the day with churros. It is customary to end an evening of juerga, or all-night revelry, at a churreria, many of which open at the crack of dawn or keep similar nightbird hours. On a trip to Madrid some years back, I met up with friends at Chocolateria San Gines in the wee hours. They had just stumbled out of a club, I had woken up extra early to visit this institution in existence for over a century, which serves an incredible pudding-thick hot chocolate - just the consistency for dunking churros into.
This recipe is from Penelope Casas' excellent book, La Cocina de Mama, which takes you into the home kitchens of Spain's finest cooks (including the three Michelin-starred likes of Ferran Adria and Juan Mari Arzak) and pays homage to their greatest culinary influence - mama's cooking. The recipe is inspired by Rufino Lopez of Solera in New York, who is Galician by birth. By ingeniously concentrating the hot chocolate into a potent sauce, churros con chocolate becomes appropriate even for postre.