Classic Glazed Doughnuts

If you're in Italy this time of year, and if you too enjoy studying the displays in every bakery you go in to for your morning coffee (just me?) you'll have certainly noticed the abundance of fried sweets -- dolci fritti -- around lately, stacked high and proud, golden and sugar-dusted. This fried food frenzy is no coincidence, occurring (happily, and so very lucky for us) once a year in celebration of Carnevale, or rather the period leading up to martedi' grasso (Fat Tuesday) and subsequently Lent. The reasoning here is straightforward and sensible: if you'll theoretically be following Catholic protocol and fasting -- or at least giving up certain foods before Easter -- you might as well go all out beforehand and eat your desserts fried, yes? Italy's dolci carnevaleschi include all sorts of delightful fried treats with fun-to-say names, like bomboloni! crostoli! frappe! bugie! among many others, each more delicious than the next. 

So! As you may or may not recall, I've already dabbled with dolci carnevaleschi on this blog, mastering and devouring these castagnole (ricotta fritters rolled in sugar) and these zippulas (potato saffron fritters from Sardinia, likewise rolled in sugar). As this blog is a give and take of Italian and American recipes however, I got to thinking: what else could I fry -- in true Carnevale spirit -- that would put the (fried, bubbling, golden) spotlight on my home country rather than on my adopted one?!

I've said it before, here, but I'll say it again -- I love doughnuts. Love them.  Doughnuts and I go way back -- there was nothing more special than a stop at Dunkin' Donuts for a chocolate glazed when I was growing up -- and they're a nostalgic sweet I very much associate with home. Nowadays, my more mature taste buds and I prefer to get our doughnuts at PVDonuts when we're in Rhode Island -- pure doughnut witchcraft, I tell you -- and when we're not in the U.S, we have learned to make our own doughnuts at home (Rome is many things, but doughnut savvy it is not). 

Where to begin on these?! These doughnuts are marvelous. MARVELOUS. They're deeply golden and crisp but also light and airy and not at all heavy, a pillow of fried goodness, barely sweet and the perfect blank canvas for a robe of pearly white powdered sugar glaze -- and if you're living in a country where doughnuts are just not a thing, they are particularly exciting, a piece of home brought right in to your kitchen in Rome and in time for Carnevale, no less. I made more than 20 of these -- plus doughnut holes -- and the whole batch, the whole batch, disappeared or were whisked away in the span of an afternoon (my friends feel the same way about doughnuts as I do, apparently). Best of all, these aren't nearly as difficult to make as you might think -- throw together the ingredients for the dough, let it rest, roll out and shape said dough, let it rest again, and fry (each doughnut takes about 60 seconds to cook). Easy as pie (or doughnuts?)

Is it too early to say I've found my favorite recipe of 2020?!

A couple of notes on frying: If there's one form of cooking I used to tiptoe around and avoid, it was frying, as we're dealing with a pot of bubbling hot oil -- intimidating, to say the least -- and besides that, frying not done right equals soggy, heavy food or food burned to a crisp. But relax! Frying isn't so scary. Here are a few helpful tips that I've picked up over the years that have freed me from my frying fears:

-Use the right kind of oil! Vegetable, peanut, canola, sunflower, and corn oil are good for frying as they have a neutral flavor and high smoking point.

-If you want to be sure the oil is the exact right temperature, invest in a kitchen thermometer which can be found in most kitchenware shops (or and don't cost much.

-Make sure you have a large pot with high sides -- that way, if the oil gets a little bubbly, its sure to bubble right up the pot and not on to your stove top or you. Make sure that you have about 3 inches or so of side once you've poured the oil in. Woks, Dutch ovens, or big saucepans with high sides are usually suitable.

-Don't crowd the pot when frying, as this will lower the temperature of the oil and give you soggy fried food. 

-Be sure to lower whatever you are frying slowly -- no splashing! -- in to the oil using tongs or a slotted spoon. Be sure to wear an apron, too.

-To remove your doughnuts from the oil, you can use a slotted spoon. If you want to be fancy, there are also bamboo skimmers that work well and are cheap, but I doubt most people have them in their kitchens.

A couple of more general notes: This is an excellent yeast doughnut recipe that can be dressed up any number of ways; as you can see from the photos, I glazed most of them, but then improvised and added some cocoa powder to the glaze to make a few chocolate frosted, and then filled a few with jam and rolled them in sugar. My next mission: to make homemade strawberry frosting. These are best eaten the day they're made, but aren't terrible the day after (just not as soft). According to the recipe this makes a dozen doughnuts, but I got a lot more out of this -- I would say about 20 doughnuts (I did also make some of these mini). 

Looking for other fried sweets? I've got these cannoli, these pumpkin doughnuts, these zeppole sarde, and these castagnole di ricotta

Recipe from the New York Times. Makes 12 (see notes). 

Ingredients for doughnuts:
1 1/4 cups (300 mL) whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) dry active yeast 
2 eggs
8 tablespoons (112 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/4 cups (552 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 quarts neutral oil, for frying 

Ingredients for glaze:
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
4 tablespoons (60 mL) milk 

Ingredients for my improvisations:
1 generous tablespoon cocoa powder (to make chocolate frosting)
Strawberry jam (to make filled doughnuts)
Granulated sugar

1. Heat the milk until it is warm but not hot, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) if you want to be very precise. In a large bowl, combine it with the yeast. Stir lightly, and let sit until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. Using an electric mixer or a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, beat the eggs, butter, sugar, and salt into the yeast mixture. Add half of the flour (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons, 225 grams more or less) and mix until combined, then mix int he rest of the flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Ad more flour, about two tablespoons at a time, if the dough is too wet. If you're using an electric mixer the dough will probably become too thick to beat; when it does, transfer it to a floured surface, and gently knead it until smooth. Grease a large bowl with a little oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl, and cover. Let rise at room temperature until it doubles in size, about one hour. 

3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and roll it out to 1/2 inch thickness (dust the dough or the rolling pin with a little flour if the dough feels sticky). Cut out the doughnuts with round cookie cutters or a drinking glass and shot glass if that's easier (I used a cookie cutter and a pastry tip, which worked great). The larger cookie cutter should be about 3 inches in diameter. Flour the cutters as you go if necessary. Reserve the doughnut holes for frying; if you want to make jam filled or filled doughnuts, do not cut out the middle. Knead any scraps together and repeat the process, being careful not to overwork the dough and letting the dough rest in between. 

4. Put the doughnuts on two floured baking sheets so that there is plenty room between each one. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until delicate and puffy, about 45 minutes. If your kitchen isn't warm, heat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit at the beginning of this step, then turn off the eat, put baking sheets in the oven, and leave the door ajar. 

5. About 15 minutes before the doughnuts are done rising, put the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and then heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius) using a candy or frying thermometer. Meanwhile, line baking sheets with paper towels. 

6. Carefully add the doughnuts to the oil a few at a time (don't fry more than three at a time). When the bottoms are deep golden, about 45 seconds, used a slotted spoon to flip the doughnut and cook until deep golden all over. Do the same with the doughnut holes, keeping in mind they cook faster. Transfer the doughnuts to the prepared baking sheets. Repeat this process until all doughnuts have been fried, adjusting the heat as needed to keep the oil temperature at 375 degrees.

7. Once the donuts are cool enough to handle you can finish them off as you'd like. To make glazed doughnuts, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. Dip the doughnuts in on both sides, then place on a cooling rack (preferably with some paper under it to avoid any mess) and let the glaze harden and any excess glaze drip off. 

8. To make chocolate frosted doughnuts, make the glaze as above but add in some cocoa powder; to make filled doughnuts, fill a pastry bag with strawberry jam, poke a hole in the side of the doughnut, and fill accordingly; roll in granulated sugar. Yummm. 

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