over easy

Are Homemade Doughnuts Worth the Effort and Fire Hazard?

Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.

When I was growing up, adults told me I would grow out of my sweet tooth. Like, once I hit my 20s and had to hold down a job and pay rent, some physiological change would come over me and instead of buckets of M&Ms and sour candies I would crave cilantro and fiber and philosophy. Well, they were wrong. At 26, I have the palate of a crazed fourth-grader. I love cookies and cake and drugstore candy and ice cream and if I didn’t think my organs would eventually caramelize and shut down, that’s all I would eat. And doughnuts. I love doughnuts.

The first time I ever had one I was 11 years old and visiting my grandparents. (My parents “don’t like sweets,” which is terrible and I feel sorry for them, and also means that most of my formative sugar-based experiences took place outside the home.) When my grandma came back from the store with a dozen Krispy Kremes, my eyes bugged out of my skull and my tongue unfurled from my mouth like a carpet and steam blew out of my ears. And then I ate one. It was transcendent.

In the years since, doughnuts have become more and more elaborate — ring-shaped dough canvases on which artisans build their colorful, indulgent creations. Often there’s bacon. That’s great, and I appreciate the thought and creativity that goes into making these, but in my humble, sugar-addled opinion, there is nothing better than the classic, fluffy, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth glazed doughnut that you can eat without immediately having to take a three-hour nap.

So I decided to make my own. I was skeptical that anything I made in my cramped kitchen could compare to the sugary carby goodness of a plain old Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut, but I found this New York Times recipe by Mark Bittman that looked easy enough to throw together, and cheap. If they were successful, I thought, I could make doughnuts all the time, for work, parties, wakes, third dates, whatever. Everyone loves doughnuts, right?

As with any recipe where you make your own dough, you need to set aside plenty of time for waiting around. I would recommend making your doughnuts on a lazy Sunday afternoon, for instance, when you can do a step, then drift away to clean or stare hungover at Netflix while the dough rises.

The first step in Bittman’s recipe is to combine yeast with warm milk (about 90 degrees) and wait about five minutes until it’s “foamy,” but I wasn’t sure how foamy he meant, so after 15 minutes I moved along even though the milk looked decidedly un-frothed. You then mix the yeasty-milk with two eggs, a melted, cooled stick of butter, salt, and sugar. When that’s all combined, you mix in just over two cups of flour, and then when that’s all combined, you mix in two more.

Bittman notes that if you’re using an electric mixer, like I was, “the dough will probably become too thick to beat.” That’s correct. After I added the second batch of flour, the dough climbed menacingly up around my mixer like the black goo that turns Topher Grace into that evil version of Spider-Man in Spider-Man 3. Before it was able to consume my soul, I poured it out onto my dining table, where I had taped down some parchment paper and spread out a layer of flour. Then I kneaded until it was smooth, which didn’t take very long, and put it in a large, oiled bowl, covered, and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.

When the dough had doubled in size, I pulled it back onto my floured dining table, and rolled it out until it was about ½-inch thick, using an unopened bottle of red wine someone left at our apartment once. It worked perfectly. To cut out the doughnuts, I used plastic tumblers my roommates and I once purchased for our housewarming party, and that are about three inches across. They also worked perfectly. To cut out the holes in the middle of the doughnuts, I used the top of a discarded Dr. Pepper bottle, which did not work perfectly because it was too short, but did get the job done. All this is to say, making these doughnuts doesn’t require any fancy equipment, or even basic cooking equipment that most people have acquired by the time they’re in their mid-20s but that I haven’t gotten around to buying yet.

Once the dough rings were all laid out on some floured baking sheets, I covered them with tea towels and let them rise for 45 minutes. While I waited, I poured two quarts of oil in a large pot, and heated it to 375-degrees. As I checked the temperature with a thermometer, I felt apprehensive — one clumsy misstep and I could scald myself, or worse, my dog, with hot oil. Also my apartment’s hypersensitive fire alarm can be set off by the heat of a strong sneeze, so I knew I had to work quickly.

Sure enough, once I started sliding the dough rings into the oil using a slotted spatula, I immediately got hot oil on several fingers, which was extremely painful, but appears to have done no lasting damage. Bittman recommends frying the doughnuts on each side for around 45 seconds to a minute. See what looks and smells right to you, but I would suggest closer to 45 seconds, because when I tried to wait longer, my alarm went off, disrupting my whole process.

Frying. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

After the alarm went silent and the doughnuts had cooled, I dipped them in glaze (two cups of powdered sugar, one-quarter cup of milk, one teaspoon vanilla) and let the glaze set for a while. Finally, I ate one, and while it didn’t rearrange my DNA the way that first Krispy Kreme doughnut did, it was amazing. The fresh, warm dough was light, cakey and buttery, and the sugary glaze dissolved on my tongue. My roommate ate three of them.

By the next day, however, they had gone kind of stale, and while they were still good, they were the kind of doughnuts you’d shove in your mouth when you’re in a hurry and just need to eat something, not the kind you’d sit down and appreciate. A couple of days later, I walked to the Dunkin’ Donuts down the street from my office and bought two doughnuts, one glazed, and one with chocolate frosting and sprinkles, for $1.35 each. They were softer, sweeter, fluffier, and more buttery than anything I could possibly create — paragons of human ingenuity.

Making your own doughnuts is fine, easy enough, and cheap. But if you just want to eat a great doughnut that already exists, go buy one for $1.

My report card
Preparation: B+
Taste: B
How they compare to a Krispy Kreme: F

My Overall Performance: B-

Are Homemade Doughnuts Worth the Effort and Fire Hazard?