I rarely eat deep fried foods, and I’m not fond of anything overly sweet. Most North American doughnuts that you find these days look to me like cloying snacks of glaze and sprinkles with sugary fillings that simply don’t appeal to me. I’m not lying when I say I’ve never bought a doughnut here, ever!
The only kind of doughnuts I like are the yeast variety (not cake), coated in just granulated sugar. I’ve been told that I can find them here, but from what I’ve seen, they seem to be somewhat of a rarity. Growing up, we had a family friend who used to make old-fashioned sugared ring doughnuts. We would get them fresh and they were just the best! Years later, I was delightfully surprised when I came across a street vendor in Athens selling these same doughnuts!
A few years ago, when I was in Europe, I discovered pączki in Poland and berliner pfannkuchen (or just simply, berliner) in Germany. They were filled with jam, but weren’t too sweet. Like the sugared yeast doughnuts, they were so soft and fluffy, and totally addictive! I became hooked and vowed to try making them when I got home.
Lately, it seems that brioche doughnuts have become quite popular. I’ve learned that paczki, berliners, Italian bomboloni, (and I know there are many other similar versions from different countries) are all made from an enriched dough that’s very similar to brioche, with eggs/egg yolks, butter and milk. To be honest though, I don’t know the difference between all these varieties (other than the fillings that are traditionally used in each country), or if there really is a difference in the proportions of each ingredient that goes into making the bread. I guess they’re all essentially made from a brioche dough, so that’s why I’m just calling these brioche doughnuts!
I first tried making these doughnuts from a brioche loaf recipe that I have, but the resulting dough was too oily for the purpose of frying, and my doughnuts turned out too greasy. I made some adjustments to the recipe, and my second time was a success! They were so delicious – just slightly sweet and so airy and pillowy soft on the inside!
Leaving the dough overnight in the fridge after the first proofing is optional. But if you plan ahead and have the time, I would highly recommend not skipping this step, which helps to develop the gluten and gives optimal flavour, not to mention chilling makes it much easier to handle and shape the soft dough.
I initially wanted to make a vanilla crème pâtissière (pastry cream) filling. But since I had a lemon and some leftover fresh thyme, I decided to infuse the milk with lemon peel and thyme. It sounds like a bit of an odd filling for doughnuts, but trust me, it’s amazing! I also tried filling a few doughnuts with nutella, however, I found it too sweet. For me, pastry cream is perfect, and gives the doughnuts just the right amount of sweetness. You can, of course, use any filling(s) of your choice. For fillings that require preparation, such as pastry cream, I do suggest you make them a day ahead. Set aside a couple of days and plan something like this:
Day 1 evening:
1. Prepare the brioche dough, proof it, then place in the refrigerator to rest overnight for 8 to 10 hours.
2. While the dough is proofing, prepare any fillings that need preparation.
Day 2 morning:
1. Finish making the brioche dough and fry the doughnuts.
2. Fill the doughnuts
I divided up the dough into 50 gram portions, which makes about 20 large doughnuts. However, you can make them smaller too, if you prefer.
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BRIOCHE DOUGHNUTS (Yield: 20 to 25)
500 grams bread flour + extra for dusting
16 grams fresh yeast
125 ml whole milk
4 large eggs
45 grams sugar
6 grams (1 teaspoon) salt
120 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
3 litres neutral oil for frying
sugar to coat the doughnuts
Lemon Thyme Pastry Cream:
500 ml milk
100 grams sugar
40 grams corn starch
2 large egg yolks
peel of one large lemon
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme
To make the doughnuts:
1. First, cut up 20 to 25 small square pieces of parchment paper, about 4″x 4″ (10 x 10 cm).
2. Place 500 grams bread flour, yeast, milk, eggs, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed to combine the ingredients, then increase to medium speed and knead for 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is less sticky, forms into a ball and comes away from the sides of the bowl.
3. Turn to low speed and spoon in the softened butter, a little at a time, and continue to knead in between each addition.
4. Once all the butter is incorporated, increase mixer to medium speed and knead for 4-5 minutes, until dough is glossy and smooth.
5. Remove bowl from mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
6. Punch down the dough, form into a ball, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight (8 to 10 hours). If you choose not to refrigerate the dough, go on to the next step.
7. Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface and use a bench scraper to divide up the dough into individual portions of about 50 grams each.
8. Roll each piece of dough into a smooth, tight, round ball, place on a square of parchment paper, and place on a tray or baking sheet. Continue doing this with all the pieces of dough. Make sure to leave enough room between each for them to double in size.
9. Use plastic wrap to loosely cover the balls of dough. Leave to rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
10. When the dough has almost doubled in size, pour at least 3″ of oil into a deep heavy-bottomed pan and heat up over medium-high heat. While the oil is heating up, pour a generous amount of sugar into a large shallow bowl and set aside. Set up wire racks lined with paper towels.
11. When the oil has reached 350F, take a dough ball, and while holding onto the parchment paper, carefully flip it over into the oil and gently peel off the parchment paper. Depending on the size of your pot, place about 3 pieces at once. Leave enough room and don’t crowd the pan. Fry for about 2 minutes, then turn over and fry the other side for another 2 minutes or until golden brown. Use a stainless steel strainer to remove the doughnuts onto the paper towel-lined wire rack. [If any air bubbles form, just use a chopstick or skewer to poke it; you may also need to use the strainer to gently press down on the doughnuts to keep the lower half submerged in the oil while cooking.]
12. Allow the doughnuts to cool for a few minutes, but while still warm, toss them in the bowl of sugar to thoroughly coat them, then place them back on the wire rack to finish cooling. Make sure they are cooled before filling.
To make the pastry cream:
1. Pour about 3/4 of the milk into a pot, add in lemon peel and thyme.
2. In a medium bowl, combine cornstarch and sugar. Then add egg yolk and the remaining milk. Whisk until well blended. Set aside.
3. Heat milk over low heat for a few minutes, to allow the lemon and thyme to infuse. Then increase to medium-high heat. When it simmers, remove the lemon peel and thyme. Pour half the milk into the bowl of cornstarch/sugar/egg yolk/milk mixture, while whisking constantly. Whisk well, then pour the mixture back into the pot. Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat. Continue whisking vigorously. The mixture will quickly start thickening. Once it thickens, continue whisking until the mixture bubbles.
4. Remove from heat, pour into a heat-proof bowl. Using the whisk attachment of a hand or stand mixer, whisk on high speed until it cools to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is in contact with the pastry cream to prevent a skin forming. Set aside.
[If you are using pastry cream that has been previously prepared and refrigerated, take it out of the fridge about an hour before filling the doughnuts. Then give it a good stir to get rid of any lumps before using.]
Filling the doughnuts:
1. Use a chopstick to poke a hole into the side of the doughnut. Insert the chopstick deep into the doughnut (but be careful not to poke through to the other side) and wiggle it around inside to create a cavity for the filling.
2. Fill a piping bag fitted with a filling tip (I used Wilton #230) with the pastry cream. Place the tip of the piping bag inside the doughnut and start piping. As the doughnut fills up, gradually pull out the piping tip.
Pipe until a little of the pastry cream comes out of the hole.
Note: These doughnuts are best eaten right away, or within a couple hours of assembling them. Because they are filled with pastry cream, any leftovers should be refrigerated. Pastry cream does not freeze well, so once filled, the doughnuts shouldn’t be frozen. However, if unfilled, sugar-coated doughnuts freeze well. When ready to eat, just place the frozen doughnuts on a rack over a baking sheet, and bake at 200F (93C) for about 10 minutes or until heated through. Remove from the oven, let them cool, then fill them. They will taste just like freshly-made doughnuts!