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Saturday, December 22, 2012

On Donuts

There seems to have been a conundrum surrounding the entire idea of donuts. As Americans, we're normally accustomed to believing that donuts are something of a fattening, albeit delicious beyond celestial boundaries, treat. And that's about it. No one ever thinks beyond the fact that they're donuts. I mean, they're just there.

Anyway, earlier I was at Dunkin Donuts and while browsing through the flavors (because, you have to admit, they do have a lot of flavors, especially at chain stores like Krispy Kreme and Peter Pan), I was wondering why there were so many varieties in the first place. Obviously, there's the different combinations of colors, creme, icings, designs, sprinkles, and who-knows-how-many other embellishments customers just love smothered across their donuts like gravy on egg foo young. Factoring out the cheery marbled holiday designs, there was the simple decision -- what sort of donut do I want?


Now, for anyone who's thinking on terms of glazed vs. jelly, I'm past the fillings and decorations. There's (almost) literally hundreds of batters and doughs you can use to make donuts. Yes, batters and doughs. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from the myriad combinations of cider, sour cream, red velvet, cake, etc. donuts I've seen a distinct difference -- donuts, once thought to be a fried culinary delicacy, seems to be jumping out of that hard-enclosed box these days.


Quoting Wikipedia, "doughnut or donut (pron.: /ˈdnət/ or /ˈdnʌt/) (see spelling differences) is a type of fried dough confectionery or Dessert food. doughnut or donut (pron.: /ˈdnət/ or /ˈdnʌt/) (see spelling differences) is a type of fried dough confectionery or Dessert food...They are usually deep-fried from a flour dough, and shaped in rings or flattened spheres that sometimes contain fillings. Other types of batters can also be used, and various toppings and flavorings are used for different types.” 

In a nutshell, donuts (or doughnuts for the more literally correct) seems to have the connotion of being fried. Not just shallow fried like pancakes or those adorable crepes you can buy off a street vendor along the Champs-Élysées. Real, hardcore, deep-fried balls of dough. If I'm not mistaken, this eliminates the entire line of cake donuts, waffle donuts, and adorable bagel-like donuts that have recently been showing up in donut stores everywhere. 

What's the big difference anyway? Negating the excessive use of oil and calories gained from frying, texture and taste-wise baked donuts have the same variety for which fried donuts are loved. Unless you're a fan of greasy and crispy crusted balls of dough, opting for the baked seems to be the better choice. Although Dunkin Donuts seems to have a tradition of frying all of their donuts, in that past few years many stores have been baking their goods (hence the promise of "fresh baked goods"). 

Besides, what's the one feature we love about donuts anyway? It's their light, fluffy texture, their perfect pick-me-up conglomeration of sugary goodness, and simple, satisfactory puff of air that escapes when you pull it away from your mouth in a bite. Personally, so long as my donuts taste right, I wouldn't mind switching to the baked varieties.

Out of simple curiosity, I've compiled a list of unique donuts from around the world. They say it's a small world, but I believe otherwise.

Over the Top Bagels
Fine, so these aren't donuts. Since when have I ever been able to pass over exotic foods, though, and bagels and donuts are confused often enough (more about that in a future post). With the grand opening of a new Dunkin Donuts in Xi'an, China, they began a line of "Over the Top Bagels" which are certainly over the top, with their flavors including Pineapple , Ham, Tomato & Cheese; Spinach, Roasted Red Peppers, Roasted Garlic Mayo and Cheese; and Caramelized Onion, Cracked Black Pepper and Cilantro.

http://164.109.96.224/DDBlog/2011/12/dunkin_donuts_opens.html

Mochi Donuts
Found in Dunkin Donuts across China, these treats are made of glutinous rice that is then fried in oil in their distinctive ring shapes. The green one is green tea latte, with "the texture and color of split pea soup." From my personal experience, however, they are more like chewy cakes.
http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/dishing/2008/11/tang_en_dou_le.html

Daiquiri Donuts
Found in Spain, these donuts provide a burst of er, happiness, for any rum/cocktail afficianado. Seems as though they must be pretty popular in the area.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-most-unusual-dunkin-donuts-from-around-the-wor

Kimchi Donuts
Yippee, savory donuts! Though I'm typically opposed to such combinations of sweet and savory, these kimchi donuts sound like they might be perfect for an after-dinner treat that isn't too sweet. Slash that, not sweet at all. In Korea, Dunkin Donuts sells varieties of kimchi or lentils curry croquettes, which are really more or less fried balls of dough stuffed with fillings. Not the conventional donut, but a work of art nontheless.

http://cltampa.com/dailyloaf/archives/2009/10/28/strawberry-chocolate-cream-or-fermented-cabbage-dunkin-donuts-stuffs-their-dough-with-kimchi-in-korea#.UNZUbOTAfD4

Red Bean Bismark
For the culturally inclined (at least in tote with the Asian subculture) there's no surprise someone would dream of injecting our lovely Berliners/bismarks, yeast based fried donuts, with red bean filling. 

Dried Pork and Seaweed
Again, found in China, these are savory donuts that just need some love. If you've ever been in a Chinese bakery, you know how it looks -- among sweet, delicious sheet cakes and buttercream fantasies, there are small, dilapidated fried buns of pork, seaweed, fish powder, and just about every unlikely combination. Not too surprising to see Dunkin Donuts jump on the bandwagon.

 Donut Balls (On a Stick)
...because anything tastes better on a stick, right? I find these little cake pop-esque creations by a Dunkin Donuts in Thailand absolutely adorable. I can just imagine the faces of the little toddlers who get these as a treat for finishing their veggies. :3

Siam Square
I haven't seen these outside of Thailand. Unlike the usual ring-shaped donuts, these are actually infused with jelly along the length of their rings. I'd say it was innovative, if you eliminate the wonder of why they didn't just infuse the donuts with jelly to begin with...

Waffle Donuts
Armed with a new waffle maker (thanks for the birthday present!!!) I am entirely intent on making these waffle-batter-based donuts. Apparently they have the texture of a Belgian waffle with all of the nostalgia of the flat donuts you sometimes try to make on your own (assuming you have no clue how to bake as I once was).

Be Happy!
What's not to love of these adorable emoji donuts from Russia? I'd buy one!

And finally...


Because we all love kolestrol!
                                     

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sugar Cookies

As with every holiday season, my fingers start itching for the oven once the first tinkles of bells start ringing in the doorways of the little corner stores of NYC. There's just that sentiment of "Winter Wonderland" and "Frosty the Snowman" that make me want to frost up some snowmen of my own. This weekend, since we had time and I didn't feel like studying for the big Geometry test coming up on Monday (joy, proofs!) I went shopping for new holiday cookie cutters.


Now, I'm no newbie to the tradition of Christmas cookies -- ask anyone in my family and they'll tell you all about the horrors of finishing cookies months after the holidays have ended -- but until this year I'd never made cut-outs before. Not one. Sure, I've made sugar cookies, soft shortbreads, gingerbread, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, almond cookies, candy cane twisted-colorful-naturally-flavored cookie bars, and just about every gluten-based pastry you could think of that was even slightly related to the holidays, but it never crossed my mind that I didn't own even one tiny little cookie cutter. How's that for a baker?

If you ask anyone for the smells of Christmas, vanilla's bound to come up in the top ten, alongside the more popular pine and cinammon. It's common knowledge -- at least in these parts -- that Christmas cookies are an imperative addition to any holiday season. It's like a Christmas tree without a star, a door without a wreath. Where's the fun in that?

I started out by experimenting. About a minute into the recipe, I discovered I was missing a stick of butter -- no doubt my parents had used it for some other recipe I was unaware of. Plus, the butter we did have was partially used, from other experiments with baking and stuff. I made do with my 2.9 sticks of butter, compensating by removing an entire cup of flour. I'd read someplace that more flour makes for crispier (aka dry and hard) cookies while less flour makes for more moist cookies. Not that I'd want shortbread, of course, but I figured that if anything was right, it was the word of the Martha Stewart commenters.

Anyway, I didn't have any trouble until I found out that creaming the butter was a little harder without my trusty egg beater. While I did use the electric mixer in the past, I simply couldn't find it today, this not being my kitchen to begin with. Figuring that there was nothing to lose, I spun a whisk. It kind of worked albeit in a messy splash across the table in random spurts of buttercream kind of way. Fun.

Next, the egg and vanilla. I was thinking about adding some almond extract for some depth in flavor. In the past, I'd made orange and lemon flavored cookies by adding about 2 teaspoons per 50 cookies. Amazing. Maybe I'll try it out on some spring-themed ones.



Another thing: the dough. It was painful to watch, my whisking the dough so amateurishly. First were chips, then they slowly, slowly, slowly clumped together. I started feeling some impatience when they were still barely coming together and I'd been kneading it for almost half an hour. After sometime, and a bit of heat, it came together and was ready to roll out into the awkward mats of doughy goodness that is the birthplace of Christmas cookie heaven.

My first batch of cutouts was pretty awkward -- and not too pretty to look at. I didn't want to take a picture, to spare your eyes, but the dough had been rolled pretty unevenly - and a few of the tender candy canes broke at the curve. That's something I'll keep in mind -- make your candy cane cookies thicker, or else they'll snap in half at the slightest movement!

Afterwards, I lightly decorated them. No need to be too fancy on my first batch after all. They were perfect in my opinion -- almost the same flavor as chocolate chip cookie dough minus the chocolate chips. A bit bland to European standards, but what do they care anyway? I'll be giving some away this holiday for sure!


Sugar Cookies

Yields about 50 cookies (depending on cookie cutters)

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups butter (about 4 regular sticks)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 cups flour (plus extra for rolling out the dough)
Directions:
  1. Cream the butter and sugar.
  2. Add egg and vanilla.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients and slowly add to butter cream mixture until incorporated.
  4. On lightly floured board or table, roll out to desired thickness. 
  5. Cutout even shaped cookies and bake at 400 degrees F for 7-10 minutes.
  6. The bottoms should be slightly browning and the cookies should be light in color.
Note:
Thicker dough tends to make softer cookies, while the thinner dough makes crispier ones. Whatever you do, make sure all of the cookies in your batch are the same thickness!
 

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