Sunday, February 19, 2012

Valentine Doughnut Double Fail

We have a new tradition of making doughnuts for Valentine's Day. Techman generally avoids the marketing of what I think he'd call a "faux" holiday, and there's little I can buy him, or make for him, or do for him that seems like a gift he would enjoy.

Except for doughnuts. Techman loves him some doughnuts.

Last year's picture of sheer doughnut beauty and delicacy.

So I was all set last Saturday to fry up some yeasty, sugared goodness, and after getting everyone excited for doughnuts, I mixed up the dough and read the instruction (cue horror movie crescendo): "Refrigerate dough for at least 8 hours, or overnight."

Well, crap.

Who wants donuts after dinner?

Obviously, there are pitfalls to treats that happen only once a year.

So I put the dough in the fridge, and eagerly the next morning as I dump it out on my floured board, it lands with a dull "thump" and lies there, lifeless, less animated than the playdough I've made for Starboy.

I push it, I prod it, I curse a little, and, knowing that the process is going to take all morning even if the dough is great, I bailed. It was too disappointing to kill Valentine's Day that way.

So we tried again this week. I made the dough last night, to refrigerate only overnight, not 24 hours. The basic ingredients are: Flour, eggs, butter, salt, and a milk-sugar-yeast mixture.

I was concerned because the milk may have been a little overheated, and I was worried about killing the yeast. But it seemed to be frothing fairly well. We are out of white sugar—how this has happened, I have no idea, especially since I discovered this LAST Sunday—so I used brown sugar instead. How gamey could a little molasses make a doughnut? Should be fine, right?

Oh, and I thought I'd try a cup and a half of white whole wheat flour instead of 100% AP flour.

It's already not looking so good for the doughnuts.

Again the cold dough fell out of the bowl with a sickening thump. Techman helped roll it out. I already was skeptical. Dough is supposed to feel alive and springy. This felt dull, like a bad high school history lecture. It hadn't risen much. Was it supposed to? Was the fridge too cold?

Oh and did I mention I forgot to add the salt?

After the hour-long rise, the outlook was even more bleak. The dough had barely budged. The rings were sorry wannabes.

Last year's effort: Puffy, airy goodness! Each one like a little Pillsbury Dough Boy belly!

I let them rise about a half hour more, before realizing this was as good as it gets: they're now thinking about falling.

At least I was smart enough to start the oil about 45 minutes before the rise was finished, so I wouldn't have to wrestle with a long wait and fluctuating temperatures. That would be an improvement from years past.

Pressing onward.
Once I was ready, the oil was too hot! Then too cold. Then too hot. Then too cold. Then way too cold. The ideal temp is 375, which I marked with a clothes pin. I alternated deep, exasperated sighs with reading my hopelessly neglected RSS queue. I regretted not borrowing my mother-in-law's electric deep-fryer, which would easily have cut an hour off the whole process.

So I started by frying the holes, which looked like they had risen okay.

The holes end up being perfectly round so that one side is dark and over-fried and the other side is light and barely cooked. You can't really flip them, they keep popping back up like Weebles. I expected this to happen.

And I decided that's what frosting is for. This is the fondue Techman made me for Valentine's Day. It ultimately was too rich for donuts. But that didn't stop us from eating several of them, to be sure.

So, we fried away our sorry, 98-lb weakling doughnuts, pale in comparison to last year's fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth sugar bombs.

Last year's fluffy goodness.

This year's puny wannabes.

Despite all of this, Techman seemed unfazed and managed to eat at least five of the little hockey pucks. After all, he's been waiting a year and a week for this. I thought the finished doughnuts were dense and a bit flavorless (salt! needs salt!), becoming even more dense as they cooled.

Starboy didn't seem to mind the deficiencies, and chowed on his fair share of plain holes, and a single, glazed doughnut.

After a while, he approached me and said,

"Mommy my tummy doesn't feel good."

So maybe there was some minor success, after all.

Last year's Valentine doughnut love story with a happy ending.

I still recommend the recipe, from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

• Don't leave out the salt, duh!
• Make sure your milk is the right temperature, to avoid mass yeast casualties!
• Don't use whole wheat flour—they are doughnuts, so what's the point in trying to play like there is something healthy about them? Go eat a carrot, if you're that worried.
• If your mother-in-law has a temperature controlled deep fat fryer for you to borrow, don't be a hero and try to go all granola on the project. Take it!

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