Donuts have a long history in our family. Back when I was in second and third grade and lived in King of Prussia, there was a tiny hole-in-the-wall donut shop called Suzie Joe's. We used to go there Friday evenings for a dozen donuts in preparation for Saturday morning. My best friend in King of Prussia, Bruce, knew this, and come early Saturday morning, he'd ride his bicycle up and down the street waiting for my Dad to come out and get the paper. The conversations invariably went something like this:
Dad: Good morning, Bruce.
Bruce: Good morning, Mr. Mero.
Dad: Would you like to come in and have some donuts with us?
Bruce: Why thank you, Mr. Mero!
Naturally, Bruce's Mom was scandalized when she heard of this, but my parents insisted that Bruce was more than welcome to share donuts with us and always was polite and well-mannered.
Not only do I remember Suzie Joe's donuts being the source of this amusing anecdote, I remember, with much fondness, the chocolate-covered cream-filled donuts. They were always good, and I always requested one when we went to Suzie Joe's.
Now, almost thirty years later, I've started making my own donuts. I'm starting to explore different donut recipes and glazes and fillings to see if I can come up with The Perfect Donut. Here's what I've tried so far:
Alton's Glazed and Filled Donuts
History - For a while, most of my donut attempts came out as heavy, cakey donuts. I wanted something that was lighter, more in line with what I remembered from my childhood.
That's when I saw Alton Brown's "Good Eats" episode on donuts. And I had to try them. I'll say this for Alton, when's he's hot, he's hot. These donuts were what I wanted. They have a texture as good as anything you can get out of Krispy Kreme. While my notorious sweettooth could stand for the unglazed doughtnuts to be slightly sweeter, that doesn't stop me from devouring these guys with Homer Simpson-like efficiency and gusto. And besides, for sweetness, that's what the glaze is for. After all who eats an unglazed donut?
It wasn't until a few batches of donuts later that I wondered, "I wonder if I can make my Holy Grail of donuts - the chocolate-glazed cream-filled donut?" So I used Alton's recipe as the base and then improvised a cream filling. And I figured while I was experimenting with filling donuts, I'd play around with jelly-filled versions as well. I am happy to say that they worked better than I expected and the chocolate-glazed vanilla-cream filled donuts were exactly what I hoped for and remembered.
Update June 15, 2011 - A happy confluence of extras in the refrigerator (whole milk + strawberry jam) and of a yearning for some donuts inspired me to answer the following question: are jelly-filled donuts better with chocolate glaze instead of just powdered sugar? I've always been disappointed that the standard jelly donut always seems to be topped with just powdered sugar. Very ho-hum. Why can't I find them topped with chocolate? Then I realized, I'm the cook here - I can do whatever I want! And thus the question was answered. Yes. So very much YES! Chocolate-glazed jelly-filled donuts are far superior to those merely dusted with powdered sugar.
Ingredients - donuts
Ingredients - sugar glaze
Ingredients - chocolate glaze
Ingredients - fillings
Preparation - Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat and heat just enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour the warmed milk over. In a small bowl, place the yeast in the warm water and let dissolve for about 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening have cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until the flour is incorporated and then increase to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, beat on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat until blended. Change to the dough hook and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and becomes smooth, about 3-4 minutes more. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut the dough out using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center hole (omit the hole if making filled donuts). Set on a floured baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oil in the fryer to 365F. Place the doughnuts in the oil and cook 1 minute each side. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool and drain. Let cool at least 20 minutes before filling and/or glazing.
To make cream or jelly-filled doughnuts, once the doughnuts have cooled, poke a hole in the side using an icepick and carefully wiggle the icepick around inside the doughnut to hollow out the interior. Be careful not to poke holes in the sides or bottoms when doing this. Prepare Jello instant French vanilla pudding as per the directions on the box if making cream-filled donuts. If making jelly-filled donuts, warm several spoonfuls of jelly in a small bowl in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to loosen up and make flowable. Put the jelly in a piping bag with a plain circular piping tip with at least 1/4" hole. Put the piping tip into the hole and squeeze the jelly into the doughnut until it fills to cavity and starts to seep out. Place the doughnut hole side up on the plate until the jelly settles. Top with sifted powdered sugar or a glaze.
To make a sugar glaze, combine the milk and vanilla in a pan and heat over low heat until warm. Sift the confectioners' sugar into the mixture. Whisk slowly until well-combined. Remove the glaze from the heat and put over a bowl of warm water. Dip the doughnuts into the glaze one at a time and then put on a rack to set for at least 5 minutes.
To make a chocolate glaze, combine the butter, milk, corn syrup, and vanilla in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter is melted. Decrease the heat to low, add the chocolate, and whisk until melted. Turn off the heat, add the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Place the mixture over a bowl of warm water. Dip the doughnuts in one at a time. Remove to a rack and let the glaze set for at least 30 minutes.
Coconut Cream Donuts
History - The Donut Plant's coconut cream-filled donut is the best donut I have ever tasted. So naturally, I want to duplicate it at home. My first attempt needs some improvements. First, I think using butter instead of shortening in the donuts is not the right way to go. The texture comes out more cake-like than the light, fluffy texture in a quality fried donut. Second, cream of coconut by itself is far too thin to use as a filling. Maybe thickening it with modified cornstarch would help. A more drastic solution would be to hand mix a coconut cream from sugar and coconut milk. Third, I really need to come up with a better glaze than the confectioner's sugar + milk standard. I don't know what professional donut places use for their vanilla glaze, but I need to find out.
Update July 6, 2012 - Substituting vegetable shortening for butter improved the texture of the donuts significantly. The flavor still needs some work, though, as they are not sweet at all and rather yeasty.
Ingredients - donuts
Ingredients - coconut filling and glaze
Ingredients - chocolate glaze
Preparation - In a medium bowl, dissolve 2 tablespoons of the yeast into 3/4 cup of the milk. Add 3/4 cup of flour and stir to create a smooth paste. Cover and let rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes. The paste will almost quadruple in size from the rise.
Combine the remaining milk and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the rested flour mixture along with the sugar, salt, vanilla, and egg yolks. Mix until smooth. Turn off the mixer and add 1/2 cup of the remaining flour. Mix on low for about 30 seconds. Add the butter or shortening and mix until it becomes incorporated, about 30 seconds. Switch to a dough hook and add more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time with the mixer turned off, kneading the dough at medium speed between additions, until the dough pulls completely away from the sides of the bowl and is smooth and not too sticky. It will be very soft and moist, but not so sticky that you can't roll it out. You may have flour leftover. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (and up to 12 hours).
Line a baking sheet with lightly floured parchment paper. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/2 inch thick. With a doughnut or cookie cutter, cut out 3 inch diameter rounds. Place the doughnuts on the baking sheet at least 1 inch apart and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm spot to proof until they almost double in size, 5 to 20 minutes. To test whether the dough is ready, touch lightly with a fingertip. If it springs back immediately, it needs more time. If it springs back slowly, it is ready. If it doesn't spring back at all, it has overproofed. Punch it down and reroll it once.
While the donuts are proofing, heat a deep fryer with at least 2 inches of oil to 360F. With a metal spatula, carefully place the donuts in the fry oil. Fry 60 to 90 seconds per side or until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on a wire rack over a paper towel, and let cool slightly before glazing.
To fill, poke a hole in the side of the donut with an ice pick and gently wiggle the ice pick around to create a cavity in the center of the donut. Pipe the cream of coconut into the hole until it starts to ooze out.
To make the glaze, place the sugar in a medium bowl and slowly stir in the milk, a little at a time, to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You probably won't need the entire portion of milk. Mix in the flaked coconut. Either dip the donuts in the glaze or pour it over the tops of the donuts.
If making chocolate glaze, sift the sugar and cocoa together in a bowl. Slowly stir in the milk and vanilla, a little at a time, to make a smooth, pourable glaze. You may need additional milk.
Room temperature - okay
Refrigerator - poor
Freezer - unknown
Regrettably, fried donuts do not store well at all. Their quality goes downhill within a day of making, usually within a few hours. I try to make only a half batch unless I'm serving them to enough people to eat the entire batch within twenty-four hours.