Time to make the doughnuts - FamilyEducation

Time to make the doughnuts

October 06,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I had an attack of Fall Fever this past weekend. On Thursday, while the kids and I were waiting in the waiting room for T.'s speech therapy appointment, I leafed through a local magazine and saw pages of fall events for this month: apple-picking (here?), the state fair, corn mazes at local farms, street fairs. I love the fall--it's my favorite time of the year and, while I'll say again that I am happy about the life we've made here in NC, I'm not happy about sacrificing my favorite season. Fall here is depressing: It stays warm and humid even well into October, and the mosquitoes still abound in droves until the first frost, which may not happen until well AFTER October 31. Some Halloween nights have been downright hot, and it's hard to feel festive when your kids are sweating underneath their costumes on Halloween. For me, fall is about sweaters and sweatshirts, hot apple cider, homemade doughnuts at a local pumpkin farm, Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte, and that cold tingle in the air that makes you think about the winter to come.

In the seven years we've lived here, I still haven't managed to adjust my fall expectations to the point where I'm no longer disappointed when October fails to meet my expectations. This usually means I sulk a little all through October about the lack of fall around these parts, and we never fully explore the fall activities our community has to offer. But looking at the family activities guide in that waiting room on Thursday made me realize that there are probably lots of fall activities we could do around here, if we're willing to lay aside our need to have the weather cooperate just right (I guess we could do a hayride in t-shirts and shorts--I guess we could).

Apparently you can go apple-picking in our part of the state, and there are farms that sell cider and offer hayrides and pumpkin-picking. So I told my family this weekend that we will make a commitment to do a fall activity every weekend from now until the end of October. If fall won't come to us, then we'll march right up to it and make it happen.

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With this new-found fall spirit flowing, we decided to make our own doughnuts on Sunday. Back in upstate New York we used to go to a farm that made the most amazing, melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts. We'd buy them by the bagful, and take our brown paper bag outside. When we opened it up, the steam would rise up in the air, bringing with it the cakey, warm goodness of a fresh doughnut. To me that's the embodiment of fall: a fresh doughnut and cup of cider, and the smell of dry leaves.

After I posted on my Facebook profile on Sunday that the kids and I were embarking on doughnut-making, I got several replies pointing me in the direction of a New York Times Magazine article on the very subject! By that point I had already found a recipe--this one--and T. and I had whipped up a batch of the dough, which we had chilling in the fridge for later (every doughnut recipe I found called for chilling the dough up to two hours--so prepare your eager beaver helpers for a wait).

A couple of points about doughnut-making, before you start:

Use a biscuit cutter to cut the doughnut shapes (if you don't have one because you don't live in the South, where a zillion well-meaning people bought you biscuit-making kits, use a round cookie cutter of some sort, or a clean can). You'll also need something to cut the holes. I used the plastic lid of a .5 liter bottle of spring water:

(plastic lid, biscuit cutter, and T.'s hand--also useful)

Here's the recipe (from here, and tweaked by me):

4 cups of flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter (I substituted I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. Have I ever told you that I never use butter? I know this is terrible, but I actually don't like the taste of it.)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup milk (I used vanilla soy milk--it worked great)

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a larger mixing bowl, cream the butter/margarine, add the sugar, and beat well. Add eggs and beat well again.

Add milk and vanilla and stir until combined. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix until the dough holds together. Roll it into a ball, cover, and chill for two hours.

Meanwhile, make the glaze:

Mix 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk/soy milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Set aside--this is what you'll dip the hot doughnuts into.

Now for the fun part:

On a floured board, roll out doughnut dough to 1/3" thick (I think I rolled mine too thick--live and learn) and cut with your biscuit cutter, then press the plastic lid into the cut dough to make the holes, like this:

Heat a pretty thick layer of vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry until golden brown.

WARNING: These cook really, really, really quickly! The first batch came out the best. I sprinkled some drops of water in the pan to test the heat--when they sizzled, I threw the first batch in:

But then the oil got so hot when my back was turned (for maybe 1.5 seconds) that two of the doughnuts burned and didn't make it. Be vigilant! Don't be distracted by a four year-old's claim that her fingers are stuck together by vanilla glaze!

Drain the doughnuts on a plate lined with paper towels, then dip in the glaze and transfer to a wire rack for cooling. You can then top with sprinkles, shaved chocolate, shredded coconut, or chopped nuts.

A fresh doughnut is a thing of beauty.