There were so many amazing things I loved about living in California, I won’t try to list them here. But my biggest gripe, by far, was the lack of cider and doughnuts in the fall. Seriously, how can large swaths of the population live without this magical combination? Sure, it was warm enough to trick-or-treat with our kids in short sleeves and we could head to the beach after we went to the pumpkin patch, but darn it, I need a styrofoam cup full of freshly pressed cider and a warm cinnamon doughnut in my hands by the first weekend in October for it to officially feel like fall.
Lucky for me, we are in the heart of cider-and-doughnut country now. And lucky for you, I have a vintage recipe from my Anniversary Slovak-American Cookbook for homemade yeasted doughnuts that will let you have that fresh fall feeling any time you want.
This recipe starts with a can of evaporated milk. The original recipe calls for it to be scalded, but I decided to simply warm it so it would activate the yeast and get the dough going. Once the milk is hot, pour it over a bit of salt, a generous amount of sugar, and half of a stick of butter. The butter will melt, and you cool the mixture to lukewarm before adding the yeast. Add half of the flour, stir everything together, and set it aside to do what yeast does and develop some flavor.
After an hour has passed, you add egg yolks, some vanilla, and the rest of the flour and combine everything together. This was tougher than I expected with a wooden spoon, and I had to use my hands to actually get the dough to combine. But combine it did, and although the original recipe doesn’t specify how long to knead it, I kneaded it on a floured surface for about three minutes to get the dough into a smooth bowl that sprung back when I poked it. I am nothing if not professional in my measurements and timing. Let this rest for another two hours, and you are ready to fry up some fresh doughnuts.
I admit that this is the first time I’ve ever really deep-fried anything, and I was a little intimidated. I had to look up the best temperature for frying doughnuts, since the Anniversary Slovak American Cook Book assumes that you know all of this in advance, and will just say ‘fry’ and leave it at that. I poured canola oil into my large enameled cast iron pot until it was about 2.5 inches high, then I heated it to 360°F. This temperature is important – anything lower than 350 will result in limp doughnuts, and anything over 360 will leave you with doughnuts that are overly brown on the outside and raw on the inside.
While the oil heats, roll out your dough and, using a 3” doughnut cutter, cut out your doughnuts. Save the holes, because there is nothing better than homemade Timbits. In a medium bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar.
Drop doughnuts into the oil one at a time, risen side down. Make sure the doughnuts don’t touch, so you should only have three or four in there at a time. Fry them for a minute, then carefully flip them and fry for another thirty seconds. Take them out of the oil, dry them briefly on paper towels, and roll them around in the cinnamon sugar. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts, and get ready to gorge yourself on my favorite fall treat. And don’t forget to pour yourself a glass of fresh apple cider!
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Canola oil for frying
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- Warm the evaporated milk in a small saucepan until hot but not bubbling.
- Add the salt, sugar and butter to a large heat proof bowl. Pour the milk over it to melt the butter, then allow the mixture to cool until it is lukewarm.
- Add the yeast and two cups of flour and mix together with a wooden spoon. Let this sponge rest and bubble for an hour.
- Add the egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining two cups of flour. Stir together, then pour out onto a floured counter and knead it until it forms a smooth ball that springs back when you poke it. Put it back in the bowl, cover it loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, and let it rise until it has doubled in bulk, about two hours.
- Turn the dough out again onto a floured counter and roll it out until it is about ¾ of an inch thick. Use a doughnut cutter to cut out doughnuts and holes, and let them rise while you heat your oil.
- Heat at least two inches of canola oil in a heavy bottomed cast enamel pot and heat it to 360°F. Use a candy or digital cooking thermometer, since having the oil temperature right is the key to great doughnuts.
- Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Using a metal slotted spoon or spatula, carefully place a doughnut, raised side down, in the oil. Add two or three more doughnuts, depending on the size of your pot. Fry for one minute, until the bottom is golden brown, then flip over and fry for another thirty seconds. Remove the doughnuts, one at a time, and place them on paper towels to dry and drain off any excess oil. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, dip them in the cinnamon-sugar and get all of the doughnuts covered.
- Repeat the frying process with the rest of the doughnuts. Make sure you check your oil temperature to keep it between 350°F and 360°F before adding each batch.