I have had a lifelong love-hate relationship with donuts.
Actually, “hate” would be the wrong word. I have never hated donuts. No one hates donuts. Donuts are awesome. It’s just that in my younger days I could eat all of the donuts I wanted and easily slip into a pair of 28-inch waist blue jeans. Thirty years— and 10 inches— later, I still love donuts they just don’t love me.
I have to temper my adoration for donuts. They might be the one food that I self-regulate and deny myself more than any other.
This lifelong love affair with a piece of fried dough covered in sugar began at my childhood church. Main Street United Methodist Church, in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Miss., always had donuts on Sunday morning. Though they weren’t hot donuts. They were day-old donuts. That’s not a bad thing in my mind. A day-old donut or— a three-hour old donut— are just about the same. They stay warm for a few hours immediately out of the oil, after that they pretty much taste the same for the next 24 to 36 hours.
Everybody wants the hot ones.
I will admit a hot donut is a beautiful thing. The term “melt in your mouth” gets thrown around a lot in the restaurant business, but I can’t think of many other foods that truly melt in your mouth like a hot donut. It’s the foie gras of fried morning bread.
As a kid I didn’t mind the day-old variety. I was just happy to be getting a donut. I wasn’t always fired up about going to Sunday School, but the promise of a donut in the Fellowship Hall before Sunday School was a strong motivator (the church elders apparently knew what they were doing). The problem was that I was already a hyper kid. Once I got a few overly sugared donuts in my system, no one wanted to turn me loose in a room with safety scissors, construction paper, and glue.
My next memory of donuts was in the 1970s version of mini cinnamon-sugar donuts that one could purchase in a small box on the frozen food aisle in a grocery store. I think Morton was the company that made the donuts and they are probably one of the first things I ever cooked on my own. Granted, I was just opening a box, placing the donuts on a cookie sheet and then popping them into a pre-heated over, but it was the first step in a lifelong love affair with the kitchen.
Those little cinnamon-sugar donuts were pretty tasty for a frozen product. I never really ate them for breakfast, but they were good as after school or late-night snacks.
Once I acquired a driver’s license I frequented the donut shop on the way to high school. Again, that’s probably the last thing I needed in my system before confining myself to sitting still in a small desk all day, but they were quick, portable, and tasted great.
That donut shop, Shipley’s, is still there today. I try my best to support local business. I know that Shipley’s is a franchise, but my friend, Danny owns it, and he’s a local. Everyone should have a friend who owns a donut shop. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s I mostly ate donuts late at night. Shipley’s was open until midnight in those days and that is when I bought donuts. They weren’t hot, but that didn’t matter. I worked the late shift at the radio station and as soon as my disc jockeying was finished I drove through the donut shop for a few custard-filled donuts and a cinnamon twist. That— almost 40 years later— is still my go-to order.
There is something about a custard-filled donut that speaks to me. Later in my life, once I started travelling to Italy and France, I was exposed to a lot of custard-filled pastries.
The major interstate toll-ways of Italy have limited opportunities to stop and purchase gasoline. The gas stations in Italy look a little like our truck stops on the outside. Though on the inside one will find gourmet pasta, fine wine, and giant copper espresso machines with dozens of Italians hovered around stand-up tables drinking a quick shot of espresso after filling up with fuel. Many serve bombolini, which are small, golf-ball sized donuts filled with custard or chocolate. My son likes the chocolate, but I go for the custard-filled every time.
I have never been a fan of chocolate topped, or filled, donuts. Though I am obviously in the minority because most of the donut shops I have ever visited have a lot of chocolate donuts available.
Hot out of the oil or day old, I am a donut fan. My waist, not so much.
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 cream or chocolate filling
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 cream using a pastry bag fitted with a ½” tip.
Italian Cream Filling
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp powdered gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream, chilled
Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer in the refrigerator to chill.
Combine the yolks, sugar, and salt in a bowl and whisk until smooth and pale yellow, 2 to 3 minutes.
In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the milk just to a boil over medium heat, watching closely so as not to scorch. Very slowly, pour into the yolks, whisking constantly so as not to scramble the eggs. Return to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the custard thickens, 6 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately strain into a bowl. Let cool to 160ºF (check with an instant-read thermometer).
While the custard is cooling, evenly sprinkle the gelatin across the top of the water in a shallow bowl. Allow to bloom for at least 5 minutes. Heat the gelatin in a microwave or over simmering water just enough to dissolve it. Fold it into the warm custard with the vanilla extract.
In the chilled mixer bowl, whip the cream on high speed until medium peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold into the custard. Let cool at room temperature, or chill overnight.
Variation: Chocolate Cream Filling:
Finely chop 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate and place in a large bowl. Strain the hot mixture over the chopped chocolate and stir until completely incorporated and smooth. Proceed with the rest of the recipe.
Yield: 3 cups