The Outlaw Doughnuts of the Resistance

Eva Murray. Wednesday, Apr-08-09

I know that nearly every magazine and newspaper in Maine, and practically every food writer in this area, has tackled the subject of homemade doughnuts. About the same time that I wrote "The Doughnut Rebellion" in Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors a while back, there were doughnut articles in half a dozen publications, including Maine Food & Lifestyle. One might assume that anybody who had even the slightest interest in learning anything whatsoever about to make them, why they have holes, what they're called in Portugal, and why it matters so much in Rockport ... would have done so already.

So, why more writing on doughnuts now?

The State of Maine is giving consideration to a ban of trans-fats, for our own good of course. Perhaps I need not make fun of well-intentioned rulemaking, but those who know me wouldn't be surprised to find me making light of any effort to add any mores rules to the already extensive list. My sense of how the law ought to work boils down to something like this:

First, do no harm.

Leave no trace.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

If you don't live here, you can't fish here.

Anyway, I care about the current fat fight for what might seem an odd reason. My sense of professional timing has been abominable for most of my life. I learned to build wooden lobster traps just as they were going out of favor. I endeavored to work seriously as a freelance columnist just as newspapers began to starve. I'm setting up a blacksmith shop just as people, when they hear me say the words "coal fire," wrinkle up their noses with disgust as if I'd just said "dead rat in the road." In a couple of months I'll be opening up my seasonal bakery. In July and August doughnuts, whoopie pies, and blueberry pies are, if you'll pardon this one, my "bread and butter."

As a baker, I do not consider it my role to be the health police. I prepare and sell old-fashioned, American-comfort-food style baked goods, with a large helping of nostalgia and the assumption that nobody should be living off this stuff. The normal crust for my blueberry pies is made with shortening. Maybe that is a chemically-altered non-food product, and as a rule, I would agree that we shouldn't eat such stuff, but I don't agree with a directive handed down from above. Most of my summertime customers seem to want the goodies they ate as children. These foods are a special treat, not regular fare.

Traditional pie crust needs either lard or shortening. Extra-virgin olive oil simply will not do.

Whoopie pies have become so trendy that we'll be covering them in gold leaf and suggesting an accompanying wine before long. Doughnuts, of course, are fried in lard. That will be next, just you watch. Decent lard is already somewhat difficult to get, unless one is forward-thinking enough to keep pigs.

I like that take-off on the old gun-rights bumper sticker, "When they outlaw doughnuts, only outlaws will have doughnuts." I wish I could say I'd made this up, but it's been around and around. I think I can safely say that, with that particular sentiment in mind, there will always be doughnuts on Matinicus. I'm giving serious thought to naming my operation "The Outlaw Doughnut Company."

I encourage you to fry doughnuts (and bake pies) as an act of non-violent civil disobedience. Eat more oatmeal, go out and work off your calories instead of just sitting behind that desk, have an apple for lunch or a yogurt smoothie if you are so inclined, but spare the foods of our ancestors from this well-meaning, culturally benighted interference. Better labeling (especially in fast-food restaurants) is an admirable idea; banning the iconic whoopie pie, doughnut, and pie crust is draconian (particularly if we're still allowed to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, chicken so bacteria-ridden we have to bleach the cutting board, and that most shameless of laboratory-born consumables, diet soda). In my next post, my old standby recipe. Fry them with a defiant spirit.

Old-fashioned Spice Doughnuts:

Doughnuts have had a lot of press lately, both good and bad. Homemade doughnuts are as much a piece of our local lifestyle as lobster meat in a hot dog roll. A real homemade doughnut (or donut, I'm not fussy,) bears absolutely no resemblance to the cold, trucked-in, over-sugared pastries so often decried in the press as the worst example of America's poor diet. I submit that we who fry doughnuts should resist this defamation and"¦ fry even more doughnuts. They are a respectable piece of New England culture, for some people an uncommon treat which can evoke warm memories (or create new ones,) and a fine snack for the hardworking woodcutter, lobsterman or potato digger. Let's not allow
the frying of doughnuts to become a lost art. On Matinicus, I make these for all sorts of community gatherings, especially elections.

This particular recipe originated in South Thomaston, on the Waterman Beach Road. Supposedly, Marion gave the recipe to Mabel (my grandmother) who gave it to Eleanore (my mom) who gave it to me. Of course our doughnuts all come out differently.

This is a very simple recipe, but it's more about technique than ingredients, so just read through my lengthy instructions the first time"¦you won't need them after that! Yields about 18 doughnuts. This recipe can be doubled and tripled. You can make half, but why would you? The exact amount of flour will have to be adjusted, so go slowly when adding the dry ingredients.

Spice Doughnuts
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar or molasses
4 cups flour (approximately) plus more for dusting the table and the dough
4 heaping teaspoons (OK, probably 5 teaspoons) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large bowl, beat the eggs a little with a fork, add the milk and water (proportions are not that important, and any kind of milk will work) and sugar. You can also use 1 cup of molasses instead, for very old-fashioned molasses doughnuts (you'll need just a bit more flour). Mix to combine. You'll notice that there is no fat or oil in the ingredients list. You won't need it. You can also tell your friends that this is a "fat-free recipe" (if you dare!) Measure the dry ingredients into a sifter or mesh strainer, or into a separate bowl taking care to whisk away any lumps. Add this to the liquid mixture and stir to combine (you do not need an electric mixer; in fact, it might make it harder for you to gauge the proper amount of flour). You'll probably want to use a wooden spoon; it'll take some work to thoroughly combine everything.

The dough should be a little stickier than bread dough"¦you do not want this kneadable, but it should not be really wet and gooey either. You may need a little more or less flour, or a little more milk. Getting the correct texture is the tricky part, and a couple of batches may be in order, just for practice! Do not over-beat or add too much flour, or the doughnuts will not be tender.

Heat your frying grease (lard, unless you don't eat that stuff,) to 375 degrees. I use a cast-iron Dutch oven, which hold 4 or 5 pounds of lard. For safety, use a heavy pot that will not "knock over." Make sure no handles are sticking out where they could get bumped.

making_donut.jpg border=0

Flour your work surface generously and scrape all the dough out onto the floured surface. Do not knead. Pat dough gently down to approximately ½-inch thick (you do not need a rolling pin) making the top flat and the edges of the dough the same thickness as the middle. Dust the dough with more flour. Cut out doughnuts, cutting as close together as possible, and getting as many as you can out of this first "rolling."

Gather up the scraps, including minimal extra flour, combine without over-working the dough if you can, and flatten out again. These second-rolling doughnuts may be a bit harder than the first batch. Don't bother doing it a third time unless you can use the result for bread pudding or something like that. Instead, fry up the holes and scraps without trying to make the classic doughnut shape; they'll be better pastry.

Pick up each doughnut gently, shake off the excess flour while supporting it in your fingers, and stretch it a little bit to expand the center hole. Place it into the hot fat carefully"¦if you drop it from any height, you're likely to get a painful little splash burn. With practice, you'll learn just how close you can get to the hot fat. You can probably do 3-5 at a time in your pan. Have a slotted spoon, wooden chopstick or long wooden spoon (handle end) at hand.

When the doughnuts rise and crack, flip them over with the chopstick or spoon. Cook only once on each side. After a minute, peek at the underside; you'll quickly get an idea of how long they take to fry. When browned on both sides, lift out carefully, and place onto a wire rack, paper-towel-covered plate, or some other grease-absorbing or grease-dripping system. After a minute, you can pile them into a bowl.

You may have to play with your burner, turning it up and down to keep the fat temperature even. The fat does not have to be precisely 375°, but if it's too hot it will smoke, and may burn the doughnuts or overcook the outsides so you can't tell if they've had a chance to cook through. If the fat is too cool, the doughnuts will absorb more grease. With experience, you'll learn to gauge the approximate temperature just by putting a small piece of dough into the fat.

If you wish to coat your doughnuts with sugar, cinnamon-sugar, etc you can do so while still warm. Frosting should wait until they have cooled. These are good just plain. Doughnuts can be frozen for later and re-warmed in the oven. Stale plain doughnuts make good dog treats (just ask Rossi!)

Fat may be used several times; eventually, it will have too much burnt-up flour in it, and the appearance of the doughnuts will be affected. When done frying doughnuts, put a lid on the pan, slowly push it to a back burner of the stove, and let it cool. Do not let small children or dogs get under your feet while frying, know where your fire extinguisher is, keep other people out of the way, and make
sure you use a wide, heavy pan.

Like anything else so rebellious, frying doughnuts can be a teensy bit dangerous.

Eva Murray first came to Matinicus as the teacher in the island's one-room school. She is a freelance writer, an EMT, runs a small seasonal bakery from her home during the summer, is married to the island's electrician and has raised two children on Matinicus.