I was invited to a festive soiree this weekend to get some Christmas cards prepared, drink mulled wine and generally get in the seasonal mood. I wanted to bring something Christmassy to this get together, but I couldn’t think what since I loathe mince pies with a passion and find the December obsession with dried fruit in general a bit hard to handle. Walking home from a shopping trip where I had picked up a can of purée de marron because it was such a nice looking tin, I saw a small child eating a doughnut and had a flash of inspiration. What about festive doughnuts stuffed with chestnut puree and sprinkled with nutmeg and cinnamon? Having never met someone who doesn’t like doughnuts, I decided with was a marvellous idea, because even if it went wrong, I would finally find out after 25 odd years of wondering, how they get the filling into a doughnut…
Worried that I had set myself a fairly tricky task, because you never really hear of anyone making doughnuts at home, I went in search of a recipe and was pleased to see that making the dough itself was pretty easy and is more or less a slightly sweetened pizza dough. Bolstered by the simplicity of that, I felt more confident about the tribulations of deep frying and filling the doughnuts. I was slightly disappointed to find that you just poke a hole in the doughnut and use a icing bag or syringe to fill them rather than anything more technical, but it gave me the chance to pick up a sinister looking plastic syringe at the pound shop and snigger at what it looked like.
I had a good read of the recipe I planned to use and realised that although there are quite a few steps to doughnut-making, most of it involves leaving things to rise and thus means you can get on with other things at the same time. I mixed the yeast starter and left it to foam and froth while I turned my attention to whipping up a batch of Christmas lebkuchen, returning to it about 20 minutes later and whipping up a smooth, non sticky dough in seconds.
I then kneaded this lovely stretchy dough for around five minutes on the worktop. The butter in it oiled the dough just enough that it didn’t need a drop of flour to stop it sticking and it was a joy to work with, growing sleeker and more supple with each turn. It then went in a large bowl covered with a damp tea towel to expand for a hour or two. I then took about a quarter of the dough so I could have a practice run at frying, filling and rolling these little lovelies rather than wait til the last minute and put myself under pressure.
I rolled out the dough, marvelling at how incredibly springy it was and used a glass (just a little bit bigger than shot glass) to cut out circles of dough which then need ed to rest and rise again. Much as this is an extra step that seems unnecessary, it really helps the dough puff up in the hot oil so don’t skip it. About 45 minutes later, I put the sunflower oil into the Le Cresuet on full heat to get it good and hot so that the doughnuts would fry quickly without absorbing lots of oil and becoming heavy and sodden. Once a scrap of flour tortilla sizzled in it, it was time to fry my doughnuts.
I put three in a at time and was amazed by how quickly they cooked, burning the first batch to an unappealing shade of carbon in no time. The second batch browned up quickly and it took me a bit of practise with the slotted spoon to catch and turn this bobbing balls of dough so that they would cook evenly without burning. By the third batch, I felt like a doughnut frying pro, lifting gorgeous golden orbs of fried heaven out of the oil a mere minute later. I drained them on paper and set about the logistics of the filling and sugaring.
The chestnut puree was more solid and gelatinous than I imagined, so I blended it up with a healthy splash of double cream that happened to be in the fridge, adding two teaspoons of icing sugar and a grating of nutmeg, leaving it thick and creamy but pliable enough to squeeze out the small nozzle of my scary looking syringe. I discovered first time out that shoving the nozzle of the filled syringe directly in the doughnut cracked the crispy shell and allowed filling to ooze out in a most unappealing fashion, so I poked a small hole in each one with a chopstick and got the hang of filling them with the syringe, stopping before they exploded! (Although not before I had chestnut puree everywhere in the kitchen, including my hair!)
I then discovered that the icing sugar mix din’t stick to the now cool doughnuts properly and while the hint of sweetness on the ouside of them was just right, they needed more texture, so I tweaked the mix to be half icing sugar, half caster sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon. This was just right and adhered better to the doughnuts, meaning I could enjoy tasting my trial run to my heart’s content before bed!
Next morning, I repeated the various steps and set myself up with a spare plate covered in paper towels and the various bits and bobs needed close to hand and proceeded to fry the doughnuts three at a time, turning after 30 seconds, in a batch of nine. They then cooled briefly, before I filled them and rolled them in the sugar while still warm enough for it to stick. In total I made about 30 golfball sized doughnuts and with this method, it took me about 30 minutes to fry, fill and roll them all. I did turn the heat down a bit on the oil so stop it getting too hot between batches and kept a careful eye on it as hot oil isn’t something to play around with. But with a bit of care and planning, this was a quick and easy thing to whip up on a Sunday morning and they looked great. The dough yielded about 60 small doughnuts so one tin of puree should be about right to fill them all.
They also went down well at the afternoon soiree, but then who has the willpower to resist a bite sized doughnut with the unexpected filling that doughnut holes don’t usually have? Turns out no one I know! These went down well. The dough was firm and chewy while the smooth filling had the understated sweetness of chestnut and the spice of nutmeg stopping it from being cloying. The sprinkling of cinnamon added an extra feeling of festive charm and they were just delicious as a little sweet treat in between Christmas card making and chatting. They look much more impressive than you’d expect from the amount of work they took and would be a real crowd pleaser at a party around people who fear seeing yet another mince pie