Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yeasted Doughnuts

When I was growing up, we spent the summer at a cottage whose back door was conveniently located across the street from a doughnut shop. Every morning my parents would buy a dozen of them for everyone--except I was a little weirdo and liked the plain doughnuts best, so they always had to get one or two of those for me.

I've tried making doughnuts a few times over the years and they've always ended up a bit of a mess with flour and grease spattered all over the kitchen and me close to tears. No more! I was determined to do it right this time. So given my tiny--TINY!--obsession with the show Good Eats, I decided Alton Brown's doughnut recipe was as good a starting place as any. On top of making the doughnuts vegan, I had to do a few things differently because I don't own a stand mixer. Or a doughnut cutter. Or pastry rings. Or a deep fryer. And I don't keep instant yeast around the house. And I can't really be bothered to break out the scale every time I cook. I also wanted to try to make filled doughnuts, which this recipe doesn't provide instructions for. Since I'm sure a lot of people are in the same boat there, I rewrote the recipe with my substitutions and instructions on how I did it. But it's totally based on his.

Basic Yeasted Doughnuts
makes about 2 dozen, depending on shape

1 1/2 cups plain almond milk
1/3 cup earth balance
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup plain soy yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
5 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting

canola oil for frying (amount depends on the size of your pot or deep fryer)

Heat the almond milk and earth balance until the earth balance has melted. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine yeast and warm water (not too warm! about 95 degrees, or your yeast will die and your doughnuts won't rise) with a pinch of sugar. Let sit for five minutes, or until bubbles form.

When the almond milk and earth balance is cooled to about lukewarm, stir it into the yeast mixture along with the soy yogurt, sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Add half of the flour and stir until incorporated. Add the rest of the flour in small increments until you have a cohesive dough. Transfer dough to a very well-floured countertop and knead for 5-10 minutes--you may end up adding quite a bit of flour at this point to keep the dough from sticking, and that's okay! Transfer your dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with a dish towel, and let rise for an hour or so. It should double in size.

Once the dough has risen, lightly flour a counter or cutting board and a baking sheet. Fold the dough over several times on your work surface to distribute the bubbles evenly, then roll it out to a little less than half an inch. How you cut out the doughnuts depends on what tools you're using: a doughnut cutter or pastry rings are the obvious choices, but I have neither, so I used a glass and a (clean) cap from a 2-liter bottle of seltzer. First I cut out the doughnuts with the glass (I got an even dozen) and then cut out the middles. Transfer the doughnuts to the baking sheet and let rest, covered with a dish towel, for another half hour.

Roll up your scraps into a ball and let it rest for at least a half hour before re-rolling and cutting a second batch of doughnuts. For filled doughnuts, just cut out rounds and don't cut out the middles, obviously. I did this for the second batch, and used the scraps to make slightly misshapen twisted doughnuts.

Heat your oil to about 360 degrees F. (I used a pot and a frying thermometer, so you don't really NEED a deep fryer for this.) Fry the doughnuts two or three at a time, for one minute each side. Remove and place on your cooling/draining rack--I use a cooling rack and paper towels, but paper bags and newspaper work too.

A word about the number of doughnuts to cook at once: if in doubt, go with one fewer. Don't be a hero and try to fit as many doughnuts as possible; crowding the pan will cause the oil to drop too much in temperature, and then you'll have greasy doughnuts, or your doughnuts might stick to each other, or both, and you will be frustrated and unhappy.

Wait until doughnuts are cool to decorate. For the unfilled doughnuts, you could sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, or go all out and make a glaze and use sprinkles, if you have them. For the filled doughnuts, you'll need a pastry bag with a large tip filled with jam or custard. Poke a hole in the doughnut with a chopstick and widen it a little bit. Fill using the pastry bag. Tada! Jelly doughnuts. Of course, if you're a little weirdo like me, you'll leave one or two plain, just in case.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Unwise Decision to Bake & NYC Noms

First things first: a while ago I agreed to bake a few batches of yummy things for an event my mom and I are going to tomorrow. The temperature today is somewhere in dear-god-I'm-being-boiled-alive territory, but I'm not one to duck out of baking. Luckily, a few people are avoiding refined sugar, so I got to switch out no-bakes for regular cookies--more on those later. In addition to that, though, the oven was on for almost three hours today for these lovelies:
Blueberry Scones (Vegan Brunch)

Toasted Coconut-Chip Muffins (Vegan Brunch--dried mango swapped out for chocolate chips)

Banana-Raisin Scones (Veganomicon--dates and walnuts swapped out for raisins)

Oat Bran Muffins with Jam (The Joy of Vegan Baking)

You know what's even better than a well-planned, thoroughly-thought out trip? Deciding to hop on a train to New York City then doing it hours later.

Backstory: My cousin, who lives in Oakland and whom I haven't seen since I was a wee child, was staying in New York. Since it's easy enough to take a train from New Haven, my brothers, Avocado, and I decided to go visit.

Our first stop was Lula's, of course. Both brothers thought it was damn fine ice cream, so if you've got skeptical non-vegan friends, bring them here! Their peanut butter-chip ice cream is the only vegan ice cream I've ever had that has the exact right ratio of peanut butter (a lot) to chocolate (a little).

We ended up stopping at a Mexican place fairly close by called Mary Ann's, which said they could do vegan food. My food was pretty tasty, despite the plain tofu; everything else was so flavorful that once I mixed it up it wasn't bland at all. Unfortunately the service was kind of poor. Avocado told the waiter she was a vegetarian, and they gave her a chicken taco instead of vegetable (after forgetting her food completely) and for some reason both of the brothers' entrees came with no cheese. When it was brought up to them they gave us a discount to make up for it, but still. Kind of a bummer. Remember to check your food at non-vegan restaurants, mistakes happen!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hot Weather Food & It's Only Natural

   In Connecticut, it seems to go from pleasantly warm in the day and cool at night to whimper-in-discomfort hot and humid all the time overnight. This kind of weather begs for snacky, room-temp-friendly foods--even if they require a half hour or so in front of a hot stove, as this meze we had the other night.

    That's fresh veggies, Yellow Rose Recipes quinoa tabbouleh, pita, falafel, hummus and some Greek-inspired zucchini fritters I made up--my mom doesn't like falafel, so I wanted to have something substantial (and of course, fried) for her to have. The texture needs some tweaking, but they were good.

    Some of the leftovers went into a pretty tasty bento for work the next day.

    Of course, you could always just let someone else do the cooking for you, even if the cooking consists mainly of sandwich-making. My uncle was paying a quick visit for a few days this week so we took him to one of my favorite restaurants for lunch today: It's Only Natural.

    We got the southern fried tofu appetizer for the table, which was pretty quickly gobbled up.

    This time I got the veggie melt, which is pretty much a stir fry sandwich with cheese on top. They did have melty vegan cheese available, but I went with cashew parm instead. If you're skeptical, it turns out that a stir fry sandwich is an excellent idea. This was super good, although after way too much southern fried tofu, I could only finish half of the sandwich.

    Stringbean and Avocado both got the cajun tempeh sandwich, which is still my favorite on the sandwich menu. Both sandwiches come with the best sweet potato fries I've ever had in my life. Seriously. Of course, in the week or so between whining about weather too hot to cook and today, the temperature dropped by about twenty degrees and it's chilly and gloomy. Nothing a cup of coffee can't fix. Okay, maybe three cups.