“I’ll take ‘Foods With Holes’ for $500, Alex.”
“This fried yeast bread pastry is heavily glazed with sugar and is likely to put you to sleep after eating just one, if you are over the age of 50.”
“What is a donut? I’ll take ‘Foods With Holes’ for $1,000, Alex”
“This versatile New York delicatessen staple is sometimes served with smoked salmon, onion, capers, and cream cheese.”
“What is a biscuit?”
“No, I’m sorry. We were looking for, ‘what is a bagel?’”
That scenario is actually not too far off. A bagel shop opened in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the mid 1990s, and I overheard the conversation of one man attempting to explain a bagel to another man. He said, “It ain’t nothin’ but a chewy biscuit with a hole in it.”
I like foods with holes. Unfortunately, most foods that have holes are unhealthy.
Swiss cheese, the holiest of holey cheeses, is tasty and has a mild, nut-like flavor but packs over 50% of its calories from fat. Lifesavers candies have holes, but they also have a lot of sugar. Onion rings are fried, as is calamari, though an order of calamari has holes in half of it as the tentacles make up the other half of the order. Angel food cake is low in fat but high in sugar, again not a healthy choice.
Pretzels have three holes and aren’t too bad in the nutritional category. Cheerios might be the healthiest “hole food” out there but they are still made with corn and sugar.
Since January I have been switching between two dietary lifestyles— low-glycemic, which cuts out sugar and most foods that convert to sugar once eaten, and gluten-free, which eliminates all wheat-based foods. Donuts would be the evil villain and main offender in both of those dietary lifestyles.
I dream of donuts. Even though I never really ate donuts before this diet. Something about not being able to eat a donut makes me want to eat one even more. It’s the forbidden fruit, except that it’s not even a fruit, it’s the most unhealthy food item on the planet— enriched white flour, deep fried, and then dipped in a vat of liquefied sugar. Donuts are bad, bad, bad for you, and I would eat a dozen right now while I am typing this column and not worry about getting this keyboard sticky.
My go-to donut doesn’t have a hole. It’s a Bavarian-crème filled donut. Technically, I guess it has a hole on the end where they inject the crème filling into the donut, but that doesn’t count in my book. The Bavarian crème-filled donut easily makes my top 10 list of culinary guilty pleasures.
Donuts are universal. While travelling in Europe I stop at Autogrill stores to fill the car with gas and to get my donut-crème fix. An Autogrill is similar to what we would call a truck stop except they are immaculately clean and sell fine wine, gourmet cheeses, high-end food products and espresso served in porcelain demitasse cups.
In the Italian Autogrills they offer bombolini, which are small Italian donuts— slightly larger than our donut holes— filled with chocolate or custard. I always opted for the custard.
These days, donuts are a “cheat day” treat. My lifelong friend Laura and I meet for breakfast every few months and catch up over Bavarian crème-filled donuts and a cinnamon twist. She is on a very strict diet and looks forward to donut day even more than I.
I’ve been a donut eater all of my life. My childhood church always served donuts in the Fellowship Hall every Sunday morning. They still do. Sometimes there were donuts left over on Sunday evening for our youth group meetings. Donuts are like slices of pizza or pieces of fried chicken— they’re still good cold.
There are many foods with holes, some are good, and others are not so good. None are as tasty— or as unhealthy— as a donut, even a chewy biscuit with a hole in it.
3 each ¼ oz. packages rapid rise yeast
¼ cup Warm water
½ cup + ¼ cup Sugar
1 each Whole large egg
2 TB Unsalted butter, melted
½ cup Whole milk
½ tsp Kosher salt
4 cups All-purpose flour
½ tsp Ground cinnamon
1 tsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 recipe Italian creme or chocolate filling (recipe follows)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the yeast, water, ½ cup sugar, egg, butter, milk and salt on medium-low speed until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Slowly add in the flour ½ cup at a time until 3 cups have been added. At this point, add flour in tablespoon increments just until the dough is no longer super sticky.
Transfer into a mixing bowl, coat with the olive oil and cover. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough.
Transfer to a lightly floured surface and roll the dough out to ¼“ thick. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut out 24 rounds and place on a floured baking sheet and let rise again until doubled, about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ¼ cup sugar with the cinnamon and set aside.
In a large heavy pot, heat 4-5 cups canola oil to 350. Add the Bombolini, 3 at a time, and fry until golden brown, about 30-40 seconds. Turn once halfway through. Transfer to paper towels to drain. While still warm, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Fill them with the Italian creme using a pastry bag fitted with a ½” tip.
Italian Creme Filling
2 TB Powdered gelatin
½ cup Cold water
4 each Large egg yolks
½ cup Sugar
¼ tsp Kosher salt
2 cups Whole milk
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2 cups Heavy whipping cream, cold
1 recipe Bombolini
In a shallow bowl, add the water and sprinkle the gelatin evenly across the top. Allow to bloom for at least 5 minutes.
Combine the yolks, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes.
In a 2 quart sauce pot, bring the milk just to a boil over medium heat, watching closely so as not to scorch. Very slowly, pour into the yolk mixture so as not to scramble the eggs. Return to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula until the mixture thickens, about 6-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately strain. Let cool to 160.
Heat the gelatin just enough to dissolve and fold into the warm custard with the vanilla extract.
In the chilled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the heavy cream on high until medium peaks form, about 3-4 minutes and fold into the custard. Let cool at room temperature, or chill overnight. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a ½“ tip and use to fill Bombolini.
For Chocolate Variation:
Finely chop 6 ounces (by weight) of bittersweet chocolate and place in a large bowl. When you strain the hot mixture, strain it over the chopped chocolate and stir until completely incorporated and smooth.