When the Frost is on the Punkin

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious. Now, doughnuts are not a new addition to my repertoire: I’ve made several varieties through the years, from chocolate fritters to apple cider doughnuts to long johns for the super-fun Time to Make the Doughnuts event in 2008. The latter was even based on Alton Brown’s yeasted doughnut and glaze recipes, one of the options for this month’s challenge.

So I put it to Jeremy, and he suggested we make the pumpkin doughnut recipe at Epicurious. A good thing too, since I already had pumpkin puree thawing in the refrigerator. (I got several pie pumpkins from the community garden to make my own puree, but not until they are done being Halloween decorations; in the meantime, I’ve been forced to use 28-oz cans, and freeze the leftovers.) Now brace yourselves for mini-rant #1: Why do so many breakfast pastries have to take hours to make? I am so not a morning person, and a doughnut recipes that calls for a three-hour rest period for the dough is just cruel. Overnight, sure; one hour wait, I can handle; three hours, and we end up eating these doughnuts for lunch—c’est la vie. The dough clearly needed to chill, though, because it was more like low-fat muffin batter than anything.

I cut this recipe in half because we don’t need two dozen pumpkin doughnuts sitting around the house. That meant using one extra-large egg instead of one yolk and a half-egg. I also used plain yogurt in place of buttermilk, and here comes mini-rant #2: Why can’t Safeway carry even one brand of full-fat yogurt? I needed a fresh starter for making homemade yogurt, so I stopped there on the way to the farmer’s market. I’m impressed that they now carry several varieties of Greek yogurt, and grateful that they at least had Nancy’s Organic as an option, but only in a big tub of non-fat plain yogurt. The stuff has such a watery, grainy texture that I’m having to force myself to use it, even in baked goods—how can anyone stand to eat it?! Also, I think they used to carry cups of Stonyfield Farm yogurt, in the tiny refrigerated case next to the organics which is now full of coconut water-based drinks; you win some, you lose some.

After three long hours, it was finally time to fry. The dough had firmed up slightly in the refrigerator, but was still so soft and sticky that I had to use quite a bite of flour to keep from making a huge mess as I rolled it out. I don’t own doughnut cutters, so I just used what I always do to shape them: a 3″ round biscuit cutter and my apple corer. Halved, the recipe gave us 8 full-sized doughnuts and 4 doughnut holes, all of which immediately started softening and sticking to each other and the floured baking sheet while the oil was still heating. In the end, the last two doughnuts had some serious shape issues: they tore as I was transferring them to the oil, and then stuck to my fingers when I tried to let them go. If I had been making a larger batch, I think it might have been worth while to stash some of the cut doughnuts back in the refrigerator until it was their turn in the fat.

We dug into these doughnuts with a plate of eggs and a cup of steaming tea for lunch, snug against the pouring rain outside. Crisp-crusted and fluffy inside, their pumpkin and spice flavors were subtle but very warm. Eating mine, I could imagine them as the perfect snack after a day of hiking or leaf-raking in the brisk autumn air, assuming you live somewhere decidedly less soggy than Oregon. My son gobbled down his doughnut hole, and signed eagerly for more with sticky fingers, so despite the uncooperative dough, we found these to be an unqualified success.

If I make this recipe again, I might be tempted to use my large scoop to dish 1/4 C blobs of dough into a tray of powdered sugar, then to a muffin pan brushed liberally with melted butter to bake into doughnut-muffins. Honestly, I don’t know if that would make it much less fussy, but it might well eliminate the need to chill the dough. In any case, thanks so much to Lori for a great challenge, not to mention a great excuse to eat doughnuts, and happy National Donut Month to everyone!

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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