Our Best-Ever Donuts: The Inside Story
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There's nothing the 42 Burners team loves more than honing in on a single ingredient or dish for a story. Food director Sarah Carey's latest deep dive? Donuts! She developed what the test kitchen unanimously declared our best donut recipes yet. Sarah isn't a big fan of super-gourmet donuts with crazy glazes or toppings. While there's no shortage of trendy donut shops in New York, she's partial to Peter Pan, an old-school neighborhood spot that has been open since 1953. Sarah is more of a donut traditionalist, whether she's at the helm of the fryer or not. For her story, she says, "I just tried to make the best versions of classic donuts that I could."
Sarah kicked off the development process with cake donuts, which she'd been making different variations of on-and-off for the past couple of years. She tweaked the recipe until she got the texture just right: crunchy on the outside but impossibly tender on the inside. She also made three different flavors: vanilla, apple cider, and lemon (Martha's favorite, given our founder's penchant for lemon desserts!).
The most challenging donut to master? The yeasted kind. "I worked the longest on the yeasted donuts because I wanted them to be light but have a certain amount of chew," says Sarah. She was also determined to get that light spot on the exterior of each donut to show that it wasn't completely submerged in oil. The trick was to proof the dough for much longer than she had originally planned. The resulting dough is quite delicate and needs to be handled gently once cut into rounds-Sarah recommends using a chopstick to turn them in the hot oil-but it yields the airiest, most ethereal donuts. They're wonderful every which way: dunked in a simple lemon, strawberry, or chocolate glaze; filled with jelly and sprinkled with powdered sugar; or stuffed with vanilla custard and dipped in a chocolate glaze, Boston cream pie-style.
Sarah also decided to try her hand at churros because it's so hard to find a good version in New York (the ones sold in subway stations are never as tasty as we want them to be!). She starts with pâte à choux, a French dough that typically serves as the base for cream puffs and éclairs, which might sound fancy, but Sarah swears that it's fun and easy to make. She pipes the batter into loops before frying and tossing in cinnamon sugar.
Whichever fried dough strikes your fancy, Sarah's got some hot tips for working with that hot oil. First, use the right tools: a large, deep, heavy pot and a deep-fry thermometer (make sure it works!) are essential. Also be sure to choose a neutral-flavored oil, such as safflower, peanut, or vegetable; you don't want it to affect how your donuts taste. Next, don't rush the frying process; work in batches without overcrowding the pan. Last but not least, keep an eye on the temperature; maintaining it is key to golden, evenly cooked donuts.
And if you'd rather skip frying altogether, Sarah's still got you covered-with baked donuts. She says, "I don't consider baked donuts real donuts, but I wanted to offer different entry points for home cooks. They still taste delicious, but they're just not donuts to me!" She experimented with a donut-mold pan and different quickbread recipes until she developed something for everyone in the baked donut category: chocolate cake, gluten-free coconut almond, vegan banana, and pumpkin. As Sarah likes to say, now you know everything she knows-everything you need to dazzle everyone with homemade donuts at your next brunch!