"I want to make these!"
It was November 1995 and my aunt Annette - an altogether wonderful human being with a wry sense of humor that I'm sure she, like most of her siblings, inherited from my grandmother - had just given me a copy of Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes as a birthday present. It was a perfect gift and I leafed through the book with great eagerness and attention, immediately feeling the strange appeal of Quentin Blake's illustrations as they pulled me into the fantastical worlds that I loved so dearly.
I was quickly consumed. I hardly looked at the recipes or ingredients, convinced that these were the strange - and often utterly unappetizing - dishes that Roald Dahl's characters actually consumed. I didn't realize that the BFG's Snozzcumbers were made of plain old cucumbers and tuna salad and I spent a good time staring at the picture of The Twits' Bird Pie, with all those bird's feet sticking out, wondering whether or not there were actual birds in it. I decided that there must be and, with a slight but pleasant sense of fear and disgust, moved on. Honestly, I didn't question that belief until I resurfaced the book a couple of days ago.
Enwrapped in the fiction of these dishes, there were only a few that appealed to me as something I'd want to try. The Butterscotch Drink from James and the Giant Peach had a sense of magic to it and Bruce Bogtrotter's Chocolate Cake from Mathilda seemed nothing short of epic. Yet, at this particular moment, I was pointing at a character - and a dish - I didn't know. I was pointing at Bunce's Doughnuts.
Had I read The Fantastic Mr. Fox at the time, I probably wouldn't have pointed at the image of that small man holding a giant stick of delicious-looking doughnuts. The knowledge that Bunce, in the story, injects goose-livers into his doughnuts would've been enough to ward me off, even if the actual recipe contained nothing of the sort. As it was, however, I was blissfully ignorant and giddy with anticipation. At the age of 10, I was already quite smitten with the idea of doughnuts.
My disappointment was immense.
My mother and I had followed the instructions perfectly. We had let the dough rest - a very difficult couple of hours for me - and we had used the deep fryer, but the doughnuts came out thin, heavy and crunchy; not soft and airy. Even a very generous dusting of icing sugar couldn't salvage them.
In the 20 years that followed, I thought about making my own doughnuts several times. Each time, the memory of that failure and, even more so, of the incredible sense of disappointment that it evoked, made me decide against it. Until everything finally lined up. Until Instagram made me crave doughnuts on an almost daily basis. Until a couple of years of baking class and intense baking had given me enough confidence to make, handle and recognize a good yeasted dough (it was only after I'd made these doughnuts that I picked up Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes again and realized Bunce's Doughnuts were actually cake doughnuts, made with baking powder rather than yeast). And until my brother brought back a bunch of spices from his trip to Morocco - exactly the ones I needed for a recipe I'd been eyeing for a while.
• This recipe is greatly inspired by the Sugar Doughnuts with Cardamom Cream in Samantha Seneviratne's The New Sugar & Spice. I immediately fell in love with the idea of these doughnuts and even more so when I thought of putting cinnamon into the dough, making this the doughnut equivalent of a proper Swedish cinnamon bun. I have taken some liberties with Samantha's measurements and methods, though, adapting them to the dough and cream recipes I'm used to.
• I use instant yeast in this recipe, as this is more readily available in Belgium than active dry yeast. You can substitute more or less the same amount of active dry yeast in this recipe, but you'll have to add it to the lukewarm milk instead of the dry ingredients and wait for it to activate. The Kitchn has a short piece on the difference between the two if you want to learn more. Alternatively, you could also use fresh yeast. Like the active dry yeast, this needs to be dissolved in the milk. You'll need to adjust the amount, though. Check here for conversion rates.
• You can fry the doughnuts in a deep fryer or a heavy-bottomed pan filled with vegetable oil. Be sure to check the temperature of the oil repeatedly. If you're also making doughnut holes (which I strongly suggest you do), fry them separately from the regular doughnuts, as they won't take as long.
• It is best to prepare the Cardamom Cream a day in advance and refrigerate it overnight. This recipe makes slightly more cream than you'll need, but you are free to eat the leftovers straight from the bowl.
Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts w/ Cardamom Cream
adapted from The New Sugar & Spice, by Samantha Seneviratne
for 12-14 doughnuts
for the cardamom cream
500 ml whole milk, divided
2 tbsp cardamom pods, lightly crushed
125 gr granulated sugar
50 gr cornstarch
2 large egg yolks
100 ml heavy cream
for the doughnuts
500 gr all-purpose flour
11 gr instant yeast
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
200 ml whole milk, lukewarm (around 40˚C)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
50 gr granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
85 gr unsalted butter, at room temperature
vegetable oil, for frying
150 gr granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
for the cardamom cream
1. In a medium saucepan, combine ca. 400 ml of milk and all the cardamom pods and bring to a low simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Add remaining 100 ml of milk, followed by the egg yolks and whisk to combine. Keep ready a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.
3. When the milk has been infused, put it back on the heat and bring to the boil. Pour hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk vigorously to combine. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and, over medium heat, bring back up to the boil. Be sure to stir the mixture constantly, so as not to let it burn. Cook until boiling and thick, a couple of minutes.
4. Strain mixture through the sieve and discard any solids. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream and refrigerate until completely cool, preferably overnight.
5. Wait to finish the cardamom cream until the doughnuts are baked.
for the doughnuts
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, or using a wooden spoon or your hands, combine flour, instant yeast and cinnamon, just to disperse yeast and cinnamon throughout the flour.
2. Start the mixer on low and add the milk to the flour mixture, followed by the eggs and egg yolks, the sugar and, finally, the salt. Knead to combine, then knead for about 3 extra minutes. (If kneading by hand, dump flour onto the work surface, make a well in the center and pour milk into the well. Working from the inside out, and slowly adding the rest of the ingredients, mix everything until a dough forms and knead for about 6 extra minutes.)
3. With the mixer still on low, or kneading with your hands, add the soft butter, piece by piece. Work the butter into the dough. Once it's incorporated, knead on medium speed for an additional 10 minutes or so, until the dough is smooth, soft and elastic. In the meantime, grease the inside of a large bowl with butter or cooking spray.
4. Dump dough out onto work surface and shape into a ball. Transfer the ball to the prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for ca. 3 hours.
5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust well with flour.
6. Dump cold dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a rectangle of 1 to 1,5 cm thickness. Using a 7-8 cm round cookie cutter, cut out dough rounds and set them on the prepared baking sheets. Use a smaller cookie cutter (2-3 cm) to cut out doughnut holes from the dough scraps.
7. Loosely cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm place to proof. Depending on the temperature of the room and the dough, this could take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Keep an eye on the dough: it should look puffy and spring back slowly when pressed gently. (In our living room, with an average temperature of ca. 20˚C, it usually takes about 1,5 hours.)
8. When you're ready to fry, line a cooling rack or a couple of plates with paper towels. In a shallow bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Add 5-10 cm of oil to a medium, heavy-bottomed pot and heat the oil to 180˚C. (Alternatively, set deep fryer to 180˚C.)
9. Carefully add 2 to 3 doughnuts to the oil and fry until golden brown, a couple of minutes per side. Use a slotted spoon to remove doughnuts from the oil and transfer them to the lined cooling rack.
10. When the doughnuts are cool enough to handle (but still warm), toss them in the cinnamon sugar until thoroughly coated. Set aside to cool completely.
1. To finish the cardamom cream, remove it from the refrigerator and whisk to loosen it. Beat heavy cream to stiff peaks, then fold it into the cardamom cream. Spoon mixture into a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle.
2. Using a chopstick or the back of a wooden spoon, poke a hole into the side of each doughnut. Swirl the chopstick around a little, but be sure not to poke through the other side. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the hole and squeeze gently to fill.
3. Serve immediately. These are best the day they're made, but they'll keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator.