I am a doughnut snob and that is a good thing. I do not settle for less than perfection, which means that if I want doughnuts, I have to make them myself, and that means I only have doughnuts about once every 3 years. Back in college, my sister used to waitress in a cafe that opened at 6 am (really) and there were customers at this hour who stopped for a coffee and an early breakfast. The cafe served various fresh pastries but according to my sister, the greasy doughnuts always sold out first. But even though I stopped by occasionally, I was never tempted. I knew the doughnuts would inevitably disappoint because they could not measure up to the archetypal doughnuts of my memory, the doughnuts that I measure all doughnuts against: my grandma’s jam doughnuts.
My grandmother was of the generation that learned to cook before fast food was invented and doing things from scratch, at home, was the normal way. Hers were the best doughnuts, not because of some trick but because they were “real”, made with simple ingredients and love. She tought me to make them when I was little and I have her recipe and so occasionally when I get a doughnut craving so strong that it overpowers my fear of having to handle oil heated to 160C, I can have a doughnut that I genuinely enjoy.
Here is what in my mind constitutes “real” jam doughnuts:
- They are yeasted: yeast and a good long rise make for the perfect structure. Baking powder shortcuts produce inferior results.
They are fried. I am sure baked doughnuts taste wonderful, only they are not doughnuts.
They are filled with jam prior to baking. All bakeries doughnuts and even celebrity bakers inject jam into the cavity after frying – cheaters. That’s not how we do things.
They are filled with good quality jam, not some dubious red substance.
They are not glazed. They do not need glaze! A dusting of confectioner’s sugar however, is perfectly acceptable.
Last time I made doughnuts, was on the last day of last year in my parents’ house. They are definitely one of those foods that are more fun if you make them together with others, the process almost a ritual that was a perfect way to close the year. Esther helped me make them and I talked my father into doing the deep frying. I think the memory of their golden perfection filled with ruby jam and sharing them with those I love most in this world will sustain me for a while.
Real jam doughnuts
Makes about 40 smallish doughnuts, or less if you use a cutter with bigger diameter
500 g (1 pound 2 oz) all-purpose flour
30 g (1 ounce) sugar
30 g (1 ounce) butter, at room temperature
3 egg yolks
30 g (1 ounce) fresh yeast or 3 ½ tsp instant yeast
pinch of salt
3 tbsp rum
1/3 liter (1 1/3 cup) milk, heated to luke warm
good quality, not runny jam (raspberry, apricot, cherry or sour cherry&redcurrant)
oil for frying
confectioner’s sugar for dusting
In a small bowl, mix the yeast with about 4 tablespoons of the milk, 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the flour. Set aside somewhere warm, until it starts rising, about 15 -20 minutes. In a large bowl, cream butter with sugar. Add the egg yolks one by one, stirring after each addition to incorporate well. Add the yeast sponge, flour, salt, rum and milk and mix everything until the dough is soft and smooth. Cover the bowl and leave to rise in a warm, draught-free spot, until almost doubled in bulk.
On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough quite thick. Use a metal ring or a glass of 5 cm (2 inch diameter) to make rounds on the dough, but do not cut them out. Put a little bit of jam in the middle in the middle of half of the rounds – be careful not to overfill or the doughnuts will be too heavy and sink when you fry them. Cut out the remaining rounds of the dough and place them on top of the filled ones. Press on the edges to seal and then cut out the doughnut. Put the doughnuts on a floured kitchen towel to rise and cover them with another towel. Turn them once during the rise. In a medium pan wit a lid, heat a deep layer of oil to 160C (320 F). Put in several doughnuts at a time, upside down. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the doughnuts for about 3 minutes. Uncover, turn them upside down and cook a few more minutes, until golden. Take them out and let sit on kitchen paper that absorbs the excess fat and dust with sugar. Eat immediately, while they’re still warm.