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Homemade jelly doughnuts, sweet enough to satisfy a worried soul

In telling its history, the doughnut likes to drop names. It slyly mentions that Washington Irving, in 1809, first printed the word “doughnut” in reference to “balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat.” Though the doughnut recognizes distant cousins in the andagi of Japan, the buñuelo of Mexico, and the gulab jamon of East India, its roots are strictly Old World. Surely you’ve hear of the olykoeks of Holland? How about the Dutch sailor who, in stormy seas, skewered his koek on a spoke of the ship’s wheel for safekeeping, thus creating the doughnut hole?

Making homemade jelly doughnuts — seen here in steps from rolling and cutting the dough to filling it with jam to deep-frying it to eating it — is almost too easy. Once you’ve made them, the difficulty is resisting the urge to eat fried dough every day. (Photos by Scott Ambruster)

Still, the poor doughnut gets little credit as a pastry. Croissant and éclair have a place in cafés that serve latté in bowls, while doughnut is the foodstuff of off-duty cops and Homer Simpson. A slim cut and a few cloves of garlic will make french fries gourmet, but the doughnut has never been able to pull off such airs; sprinkles only make it look all the more clownish, kin to the sweet cupcake and other kindergarten treats. In the carb-hating new millennium, the joke is on doughnut; Krispy Kreme is closing stores faster than you can say kruller.

Yet everyone loves a doughnut. I have, on occasion, eaten several doughnuts in such quick succession that I could hardly remember them passing my lips. Was it a baker’s dozen or only two? Better have another.

I have friends with a similar predilection for fried dough. We bring sacks of doughnuts to our office breakrooms, to visit friends in the hospital, to church basements, but never to one another’s houses. Buttery scones and larded-up breakfast tacos — yes — but never the lowly doughnut. And, until recently, I had never eaten a homemade doughnut. Now I understand why.

On a recent Saturday, I tested recipes for sufganiot, a jelly doughnut Jewish families eat during Chanukah. When the Maccabees returned to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem after defeating the Syrian King Antiochus in 167 B.C., they found that all but one day’s worth of lamp oil had been desecrated by their enemies. Miraculously, that one vial of pure oil burned for eight days, the time it would take to purify more oil. To recall The Miracle of Oil, Jewish people eat foods cooked in oil, such as potato latkes — and jelly doughnuts.

A friend volunteered to make doughnuts with me, but he arrived late, well after the preparation had started, and I noticed that, while my guests politely asked how the doughnuts were made, their eyes glazed over at the answer. Doughnuts have enough powdered sugar and fat to daze an elephant, but that’s not it — the truth is, getting too friendly with fried dough can only be an unhealthy pasttime.

Several thousand calories later, I wish my doughnuts had emerged from the oil looking like soggy meatballs or, better yet, caught fire. Instead, they were golden brown and pleasingly plump. Served hot off the stove, jelly doughnuts are as soothing as a blanket and as light and fluffy as any high-tone pastry. Each bite is a balance of delicately sweet dough and warm raspberry jam filling that slides across the palate effortlessly. Was it a baker’s dozen or two?

The worst part is that doughnuts are ridiculously easy to make. I pass this dangerous knowledge on with only a few words of advice: Don’t let your dough rise for too long, or your koeks will be too “oly,” and oil can be reused two or three times, but it must be strained of its fried dough bits and stored in the refrigerator.

By Susan Pagani


1 c whole milk
2 T granulated sugar
1 pkg active dry yeast
2 T warm water
10 c vegetable oil
2 eggs lightly beaten
Powdered sugar

Bring milk to a simmer and stir in sugar and salt. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine milk with 2 1/2 c flour, 2 T of oil, and the egg and yeast mixtures. Spread a cup of flour on a cutting board, and pour the dough on top. Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary, until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Then, on a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thickness, and cut into 3-inch circles with a drinking glass. Stretch a dough circle out another 1/2 inch, place a scant T of jam in the center, then stretch another circle and use it to cover the jam. Pinch the edges together, and cut again, turning the glass as you cut to seal the edges. Reroll scraps to make more doughnuts. Cover doughnuts with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes.

Heat 3-4 inches of oil in a deep pot until the oil registers 375 degrees on a thermometer. Fry doughnuts 2 at a time, turning until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel or brown paper bag to drain. Serve warm, with a dusting of powdered sugar.

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