Is there anyone who doesn’t love a doughnut? Well maybe, but perhaps they just haven’t tried enough yet. As for me, well I have always loved doughnuts. The ones from my childhood came fresh and bouncy from the baker, filled with bright red goo, that was supposed to be jam, but wasn’t like any jam you got anywhere else. They were covered with crunchy sugar. For a long time I thought that was the only kind of doughnut to be had. (Back in the day it probably was!)
But then I discovered the world of doughnuts was bigger than that. I have a particularly soft spot for those little ring doughnuts that you get at the seaside, or at fairs, literally fresh out of the frier and tossed in cinnamon sugar. The smell as you approach the stall or van is enough to make your mouth water.
It’s closed now, but a few years ago there was a lovely Polish shop opposite Ealing Broadway station. They sold the best doughnuts – filled with proper Polish plum jam and finished with a thin, translucent sugar glaze.
On the Great British Bake Off tv show a few years ago (2014!) one of the challenges was doughnuts and I was inspired to actually try making them myself at home. This was quite a big deal as I have always been terrified of deep fat frying (!) with visions of the pan of oil going up in flames, destroying the kitchen, and me crying apologies to the fire service for being such an idiot 😂.
However the look and sound of toffee apple doughnuts was too much to resist. I don’t have any photos of these inaugural doughnuts as we are talking a while ago, but I do remember that they worked really well. The difficulty (if it can really be called a difficulty) is that for best results doughnuts have to be eaten on the day they are made. And even I cannot really manage more than one. But that’s good news for friends and neighbours!
Other countries and cultures have similar fried dough things to doughnuts. In the USA there are the traditional doughnuts (donuts?) as beloved by Homer Simpson. It seems to me that the American doughnut is typically a glazed ring doughnut, rather than jam filled, although the photo above obviously contradicts this!
Other north American fried dough specialities include fried dough flaps, known as beaver tails in Canada and elephant ears in the US. In Spain you can get churros, which are stick shaped and ridged, and dipped in chocolate sauce. Around the world fillings for doughnuts vary, from no filling at all to curd cheese type fillings to jam and preserves, to chocolate, to custards. Some places have savoury fillings – but that isn’t a doughnut in my book.
My most recent attempts at doughnuts have been from my trusty American cook book Joy of Cooking. I wasn’t even going to make doughnuts, but searched the index for buttermilk, as I had a pot of the stuff lurking in the fridge. Buttermilk potato doughnuts sounded intriguing. And when I saw that they didn’t need yeast my mind was made up. Yeast has been almost impossible to get round here lately.
I’ve made these twice now in the last few weeks, and they have turned out really well. I make them quite small and they seem to cook better that way. No jam or any other filling as they are too small, but I roll them in a mixture of cinnamon and caster sugar as soon as they’re out of the pan.
I’m not scared of deep frying now, but I still treat that pan of very, very hot oil with great respect, and never leave it unattended. I think I might try a different style of doughnut again soon, maybe a jam one for old times’ sake!