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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Growing up, Halloween was one of our favorite holidays. Not only did we get to go trick-or-treating, my parents would make donuts! Well, spudnuts, really, made with mashed potatoes in the dough. These are traditional yeast-raised, deep-fried goodies, with a simple powdered-sugar glaze. Tonight I made a double batch, 7 dozen plus a few using the smaller of my two cutters, and we ended the evening with just five left. Several bags were delivered to friends and neighbors, and adults chaperoning trick-or-treaters also got lucky.

I don't use a deep-fat fryer or a cast-iron dutch oven to fry my donuts. I use the same tool my parents used back in the 1970s: an electric frying pan. Mine is bigger than theirs was, which speeds the process some, but not too much--it's still crucial to let the oil come back up to temperature after every panful. This built-in refractory period means adding another kitchen worker doesn't speed stuff up much, if at all.
adapted from a recipe submitted to the Salem Fourth Ward cookbook, Garden of Eatin', by Pat Youngberg

2 eggs, beaten slightly
1/2 C cooled mashed potatoes
1/2 C potato water
1 C scalded milk
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C light corn syrup
1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
2 t salt
3 T yeast, dissolved in 1/4 C warm water
6 C flour, plus more for kneading and rolling

1 lb powdered sugar
1/2 C boiling water

Mix ingredients to make a soft, sticky dough. Turn dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm-ish spot (I use my oven with just the light on) for two hours (don't let it go too much longer--I couldn't get back to mine for nearly an extra hour, and the dough had overflowed the bowl onto the baking stone and floor of the oven!). Knead just a little, adding flour to make the dough less sticky and workable, then roll 1/2 inch thick. Cut with a donut cutter, and put cut donuts on cookie sheets lined with waxed paper, with just a little space between, saving and rerolling the holes and other dough scraps. Let rise until doubled, just about an hour (again, not longer--those last few donuts pictured above are misshapen because the longer they rise, the stickier they get, and the harder it is to get them off the waxed paper). A half-hour before the first ones will be ready to fry, start heating the oil in your electric frying pan, with the temperature set to halfway between 350 and 375 (this helps ensure that the temperature doesn't drop much below 350; at temperatures below 350, the donuts absorb oil and turn greasy and heavy). Measure powdered sugar in a flat-bottomed bowl, and put measuring cup with water in microwave ready to heat. Arrange cooling racks over waxed paper on table for glazed donuts.

When oil is hot and donuts have risen, start frying them. Gently place dough into oil, taking care not to overfill pan (in my extra-large frying pan, I try not to do more than about 10 at a time). Turn (I use a dinner fork) when bottom side is deep golden to fry on second side. In the mean time, heat water in microwave and whisk into powdered sugar to make a smooth glaze. It should be about the consistency of olive oil. As donuts finish cooking, lift them out of pan, let some oil drip off, then place on brown paper bags or paper towels to soak up grease. When they're all out of the oil, drop one at a time into the bowl of glaze, swirling around and then flipping (I use a bamboo skewer) to get a nice coating. Lift donut with skewer in the center hole and let some glaze drip back into bowl, then place on cooling rack. Check to make sure oil has come back up to temperature while you were glazing, and then repeat until all donuts are fried and glazed.

When you are all done and the oil is cooled down to just warm, strain it (using a coffee filter or a couple of paper towels) back into its original jug and put it in the fridge. It can be used a few more times if you have another frying project within three months (latkes, anyone?), otherwise take it to be recycled into biodiesel (here in Portland you can take it to the Metro transfer station, if you don't have a regular relationship with a biodiesel processor).

Note: Do not eat the dough while cutting out the donuts. Trust me when I say you will be sorry.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Hail, Gourmet!

I had printed off a couple of recipes from Gourmet, based, on recommendations of friends and other food bloggers, and have finally got around to making them. I hope they don't disappear from the web any time soon, but if the links stop working, let me know and I'll type them in.

First up, Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Fried Sage & Chestnuts. Based on my experience with adding sweet potatoes to traditionally all potato recipes (as in Orange Mashed Potatoes, Orange Potato Gratin, and Orange Latkes), I had an inkling it would be good. I made it almost exactly as written, except that I didn't roll the dough into tiny balls before rolling down the back of a fork (I didn't care if they weren't that uniform). Plus I didn't shave the chestnuts, because my chestnuts (which I had roasted, peeled, and frozen) didn't shave, but crumbled. Oh well! Anyway, this recipe was fantastically delicious, and snarfed up by all eaters, especially my mother-in-law.

Then I made not just one, but twoPear Butterscotch Pies. For my all-butter pastry, I used my adapted version of the Cook's Illustrated foolproof vodka pie crust. It was really, really good, and not nearly as sweet as the name might make you think. The brown sugar and pear juices combined to bake into a brown, almost custardy, goo. A la mode, this pie was darn-near divine.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Creepy Treats, anyone?

Witches' Fingers

1 C butter, softened
1 C powdered sugar
1 egg
1 t almond extract
1 t vanilla extract
green food coloring
2 3/4 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3/4 C whole blanched almonds
1 tube red decorating gel

Beat together butter and sugar, then beat in egg, extracts and food coloring. Stir in dry ingredients, then chill.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll one-inch ball of dough into a finger shape--thin with a thick knuckle. Press almond into one end for fingernail. Cut wrinkle slashes into knuckle with sharp paring knife.

Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets 20-30 minutes (longer time for insulated sheets), until just starting to color. Let cool five minutes, then lift almond and squeeze gel underneath. Let cool completely (and gel set) before moving into a tin for storage.

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