I was at the sexual health clinic, and I was thinking about doughnuts.
I was at the sexual health clinic because my friend Caroline had asked me to go with her to acquire the morning-after pill. Everyone should have a friend who would invite them to the sexual health clinic, and everyone should have a friend who would go with them: Caroline is mine (both ways). So we were at the sexual health clinic, and we were thinking about doughnuts.
We waited, and waited (because this clinic has the very sensible policy of seeing people in order of need), and we talked: we talked about doughnuts, and cinnamon sugar, and our sins (small sins), and we made very quiet jokes about where we were and what we were and about the fact that the name of the doctor working the sex-work clinic was Dr. Escort, and sly verbal reasoning about the relationship of doughnuts and birth control.
And we talked, and we laughed, and the morning after pill was free, as pretty much all contraception is on the NHS, which Caroline (being Irish) reminded me to find a bit miraculous, which it really is, you know, because if you’ve got free access to contraception then something is fundamentally right with the way things are going, and we walked home together in the last light, and made a rough risotto (garlic, Parmesan), and then these doughnuts.
Honestly? These are impossibly easy and incredibly impressive. The most difficult thing is warming the milk. I promise.
If making your own filling seems like a faff, it is a bit. A delicious, fancy faff, that is slightly easier than shop bought to pipe- but honestly? Buy lemon curd and pipe that in. Buy caramel sauce and pipe that. Raspberry jam! Applesauce! No shame. Making fresh doughnuts is impressive enough that not a single soul is going to ask you if you made the filling yourself.
They are baked doughnuts, not fried, because I cannot deep fry anything with only one competent hand and a terrible extractor fan, but they are still entirely delicious. (My verbal reasoning: These doughnuts are to shop doughnuts what the morning-after pill is to an abortion: neater, less dramatic, easier to arrange on a Monday whim or need, and fundamentally achieving the same result. They hit the spot, in other words.) Eat them warm, and for god’s sake don’t eat too many: they are sweet and sharp and crusty and soft and I love them. Oh, and you will need an enormous syringe. That’s what makes them medical.
That, and the fact I settled on this recipe in the sexual health clinic. And that the fact that the sweet nutmeggy smell of rising dough, a properly good friend, living in a country with free contraception, and a perfect bite of cinnamon sugar, billowy dough, and smooth sharp curd may well be the cure-all for the Monday blues.
Practically Medicinal Blood Orange Doughnuts
Makes enough for at least four people to never want sugar again; eat immediately.
~2 hours from desire to doughnuts
I adapted this recipe from 101 Cookbooks, which half of Twitter seemed to regard as the expert on baking doughnuts.
For the dough:
170 ml milk (semi-skimmed, I think?)
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast (~half a packet)
70g golden caster sugar
320g plain flour (with a little extra, just in case)
Half a nutmeg
A pinch of good sea salt
For the rolling:
Three tablespoons granulated sugar
Tablespoon powdered cinnamon
Wedge of butter
For the curd:
(It is based on this curd, which is based on Nigel Slater’s brilliant lemon, because if it ain’t broke, et cetera.)
Four blood oranges
(Or, if you like a little bitterness: two blood oranges, and one large pink grapefruit)
200g golden caster sugar
Four eggs, preferably the kind with very yellow yolks.
You will need: a whisk; a Pyrex bowl; a saucepan; a fine grater; a lemon juicer; a big bowl; a syringe; a warm place; strong hands or a stand mixer. I refer you again to the incident: obviously I chose the stand mixer.
Measure out your milk into a little saucepan- perhaps a little milkpan, in blue enamel. I have always wanted a blue enamel milk pan. Heat it slowly until it’s warm, just warm: baby’s bath temperature, blood temperature. While it’s warming, weigh and measure your other dough ingredients: your flour into one bowl, and your butter and sugar into another. Grate the nutmeg (taking a big deep inhale of the sweet bitter woodiness of it); pinch your sea salt. Both go into the flour bowl. Find your egg. Measure out your yeast into your mixer/ing bowl.
I read lately a rather good piece on trusting dough, trusting yeast, by a blogger I like: she, too, cooks for feelings. Go read her piece. Her archives, even. I’ll wait.
This is the marvellous thing about yeast: you have to trust it. The little tiny yeastlets (technical term) know what they are doing. And so do you. Look at you, making doughnuts! Look at you!
So. Pour three tablespoons of the warm milk into the mixer/ing bowl, on top of the yeast. Leave it for five minutes. Trust the yeast! In that five minutes, stir together the butter, sugar, and the remainder of the milk- and when the five minutes are up, add your butter-sugar-milk to the yeast-milk, and add in the flour-nutmeg-salt. Add the egg. Stir with a fork, “just until the flour is incorporated”, says that blogger up above. If you’re kneading by hand, you probably want to stir further, to bring it into a kneadable dough; if with the stand mixer, just enough that you won’t shower flour over every surface. Use the dough hook, or your strong hands (I am envious), and bring the dough together into a smooth, pliable, supple ball. You may need to add a bit more milk, or a bit more flour: like the blogger says, “you want the dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl”. It shouldn’t be sticky, really, just sturdy and firm and flexible.
When you’ve got that, bingo. Butter your bowl a bit, and set it somewhere warm to rise for an hour or so. I make a make-shift airing cupboard: an old shoe-rack by a space-heater, with a tea-towel over the bowl, and then a towel over the bowl and heater, and then a blanket under the whole. It is my favourite place in the whole house.
I am a devotee of airing cupboard life, like Decca Mitford without the rewriting-history-to-be-funnier parts. Although- of course- I suspect my sisters would disagree. Such is life. Such is sisters. I suggest you spend the next hour reading The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters under the table with your dough. Skip making the curd. Skip that. Read instead. I have bought three copies of this book now- one for me, one for my sister (next one down), and one for Caroline. It’s that kind of book. Read under the table; breathe in sweet nutmeggy yeasty dough; rejoice in this quiet and trusting domesticity.
(Oh, alright. Zest and juice the oranges; put together with the butter and the sugar in a heatproof bowl set over boiling water. The bowl must not touch the water. Not sure why not. Whisk occasionally until everything is melted, and coming together, and add in the (lightly forked) three eggs, and one lightly whisked egg yolk. Stir regularly, until it feels “heavy” on the whisk: it will do this, I promise, It occasionally takes a bit longer than you think, but I promise, it will be ok. This keeps well- as in, a couple of weeks- in sterilised jars, but to tell you the honest truth, I mostly leave it in the glass bowl I made it in and bake it or eat it in the next few days. Fridge it. Let it cool and thicken further before you use it.)
Anyway, when the dough has doubled in size, bring it out. Punch it down. Roll it out to about 1/2 an inch thick, and stamp out little circles. The blogger makes ring doughnuts, but I hate ring doughnuts, so I did not. I made little fat thick circles and stamped them out with a whiskey glass. Set them to rise once more, on a buttered baking sheet, this time for about forty five minutes. Pre-heat your oven to 180 celsius (no, really do it). Read a bit more of your book. Do some washing up. You know the drill. I had a bath and wrote this recipe. These were my experiments, in the picture below, and the ones that worked best were the ones I stamped out thickly (on the end closest to these words).
Bake in that hot oven for seven minutes- they should be golden and risen, and they don’t look much like doughnuts. That’s ok. In those seven-eight minutes, you’re going to melt some butter, and set up a little station of sugar (mix in the cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt, if you like- it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes). Whip the doughnuts out of the oven: dunk them into the butter, and then into the sugar. Set them on a board. Fill your syringe with curd (this does work, I swear! See proof below.)
And then, um, inject your doughnuts. I know!
(If you don’t have a syringe, or want a thicker filling- cut a little slit in the side of the doughnut, and spoon in jam, or whatever. It works so well! It really does. It’s a bit less like a doughnut, in that the element of surprise is not there, but it tastes like a doughnut, and it is good!)
Serve immediately, and rejoice, rejoice, doughnuts! I do love doughnuts. And friends, and books, and airing cupboards, and free contraception. And raspberry jam. And blood oranges.
(These don’t keep so well, although I did eat some slightly stale ones the next day when I was having a panic attack, and they also went down very, very nicely, so.)