Lilac Sugar Donuts


Hey guys, I know you're probably sick of hearing me say this (and I promise I'll stop soon), but Hummingbird High is a finalist for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog Award in Saveur Magazine's 2015 Blog Awards! There's only a few days left to vote, and I would really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for my blog.


To vote for Hummingbird High, head on over to Saveur Blog Awards!


And now on to these donuts!

Whoever invents a camera that can capture smells will be a billionaire one day. Think of how different our world would be if our iPhones and laptops emitted smell. Because as much as I love taking photos of food, I sometimes think that the photos do a disservice to the dish at hand. Sure, it looks tasty, but that's just one component, right? Because what about the way the food smells? To me, there is nothing more comforting than walking into a house and finding it filled with the smell of something baking in the oven or cooking in the stovetop. For me, smells are more powerful than these photos could ever be — they can make me lose or gain an appetite immediately, or transport me back to a different time or place.

These donuts, for instance, were inspired by a smell. Specifically, the smell of my backyard in in the early spring at night time, after the rain. I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but humor me for one second here. My neighbors to the east have a beautiful garden — come spring, the trees that divide our property burst into bloom, flowering lilac flowers that fill the air with their sweet, floral scent that intensifies as the sun sets. Erlend and I leave the back window open, hoping that the fragrance will waft inside the house, but it never does. It's almost like the flowers know how special they are, how much delight they add to our lives, and are saying: Bitch, please. We're not gonna be around that much longer — stop wasting your time inside doing whatever the hell you're doing and come appreciate me.

I say that jokingly, but Portland is changing every year, especially with new folks moving in every year and old properties like my house and the ones that surround it being torn down every day. There's a good chance that those ancient lilac trees will be gone within the next 20 years, and that magical smell of blooming flowers intermingling with the wet, mossy wood from my deck will be lost and gone forever. And I know that, several years down the road, when I no longer live in this house or even in this city, the smell of lilacs will always remind me of this house.


Which brings us to this recipe. This is my ambitious attempt to preserve some of that magic in a baked good. The donuts are adapted from my default donut recipe, which is made with the brioche dough from The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, a cookbook that enables bakers to beautiful, delicious bread with hardly any work. Fresh from the fryer, I then tossed each donut in a generous bowl filled with homemade lilac sugar made with flowers from the neighbors' garden. The lilac scent in the sugar was subtle and almost ephemeral — it was almost lost in the brioche donuts' chewy, buttery goodness — but anything more intense would have been too perfumey.


Some baker's notes:
  • The lilac sugar is made by infusing granulated sugar with freshly bloomed lilac petals. If lilacs are no longer available in your area, you can replace the flower with fresh rose petals or lavender instead. The more fragrant the flower, the better! You can make the lilac sugar up to one week in advance — in fact, it's better if you do since the flowers will impart a stronger flavor the longer they're together. If using flowers from the garden or florist, make sure that they are organic and do not contain any harmful or inedible pesticides.

  • Remember that yeast is a living thing, so be nice to it. Don't activate it by using boiling hot water — if the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Instead, be sure to use water that's pleasant for a warm bath; you should be able to stick your finger in it and not scald yourself. I find that using water from the tap when it's just starting to get warm is the perfect temperature for activating dough. I've also included the specific temperature in the recipe.

  • The recipe requires you to roll out the chilled brioche dough before stamping out donuts. The dough may need to rest for about 10 minutes before you can roll it out easily. To get a bit more stretch in the dough, knead the dough for around 30 seconds by taking the ball of dough and folding it over on itself several times on a floured surface. It's the only kneading you'll need to do for this recipe.

  • You don't need a deep fryer to make donuts. I actually have a deep fryer, but prefer to use a cast iron skillet to fry donuts since I feel like it's safer and easier to clean. Make sure your pot is deep enough to hold at least 2 inches of oil, with at least 2 inches of clearance from the top of the pot. You also don't really need a candy thermometer, but it makes your life a lot easier if you've got one — it's the secret to pretty donuts, I promise.


Lilac Sugar Donuts

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Ingredients

Special Equipment:

For the Lilac Sugar:
(makes around 1 cup)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • fresh lilac flower petals, the more the better (I used around 1/3 cup)

For the Brioche Donut Dough:
(makes around 12 donuts)
  • 3/4 cups lukewarm water (around 100 (F) or below)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • vegetable oil, for frying (around 3 cups) 

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Recipe

For the Lilac Sugar:
  1. In a medium bowl, use your hands to toss together 1 cup granulated sugar and fresh lilac flower petals. Use your fingers to gently rub the petals and sugar together to help release oils from the flowers. Transfer to a mason or glass jar, seal, and shake vigorously. Store in a cool, dark place for at least one night (but preferably 3 nights total), giving the jar a shake every now and then.

For the Brioche Dough:
  1. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 3/4 cups lukewarm water, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, 4 whisked large eggs, 1/4 cup honey and 3/4 cups melted unsalted butter.

  2. Sprinkle 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour over the wet ingredients, before turning the mixer on to its lowest speed and mixing in the flour until just combined. You may notice lumps in the dough, but don't worry — these will disappear in the finished product.

  3. Cover the bowl loosely with a flour cloth or a plastic wrap (it's important to let this dough breathe a little, so your cover doesn't have to be airtight) and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 2 hours, before covering tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerating.

  4. The dough can be used as soon as it's thoroughly chilled, at least 3 hours — it's a little hard to work with when it hasn't chilled properly, so be sure to chill it for as long as it needs to get it to firm up. You can refrigerate the dough for 5 days; after 5 days, divide the dough into 1-pound portions in an airtight container and transfer it to the freezer. The dough will keep for up to 2 weeks in the freezer. When using frozen dough, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using, before allowing the usual rest and rise times.

 To Make the Lilac Sugar Donuts:
  1. Pour the infused lilac sugar into a wide, shallow medium bowl. Set aside. 

  2. When you're ready to fry the donuts, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and use kitchen scissors to cut off a 1-pound portion. The portion should be around the size of a grapefruit. Dust the portion with more flour and quickly shaping it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a little bit as you go.

  3. Roll the dough into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Using a 3-inch donut cutter, stamp out 3-inch diameter rounds with 1-inch diameter holes. Allow the dough to rest on a lightly floured surface for 15 minutes.

  4. Meanwhile, fill your deep-fryer or cast iron skillet with at least 3 inches of oil. Bring the oil to 360 (F) to 370 (F), as determined by the candy thermometer.

  5. Carefully drop your stamped donuts into the hot oil, two or three at a time depending on the size of your cast iron skillet. Be sure to leave plenty of room for the donuts to float to the surface. Do not overcrowd, or they will not rise nicely. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until light golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon, draining the donuts of grease on a wire rack lined with a paper towel. 

  6. Allow each donut to cool for a minute, then, while each donut is still hot, transfer them one by one into the bowl of lilac sugar and toss until completely coated. Allow the donuts to rest for a few more minutes before serving/eating. Be sure to eat while warm since they are best on the day they are made!
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77 comments

  1. These are just beautiful. The colour of the lilac flowers is so pretty as well. I love how versatile doughnuts can be...trashy or classy and these are definitely classy doughnuts.

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  2. I can completely relate to smell and the power it can have over us. When I was living in Kenya I spent my entire weekends in the Karura forest. Each trip I couldn't get to the eucalyptus forest fast enough. The smell was intoxicating. When I smell anything even vaguely reminiscent of that smell, my heart starts to race. As for the lilac, growing up my neighbor had a lilac tree and the smell was amazing. I'm loving that you managed to meld these memories into these beautiful doughnuts.

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  3. This post is just too good <3 First off, your photos are absolutely stunning (as ever) but also the way you describe the smell has taken me right back to my childhood home and the scents drifting though the garden from all the flowers in bloom at this time of year. Just perfect. Plus dougnhuts are pretty much the best food ever.

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  4. I am great believer in the smell of food too. If there is no smell there is no taste; what a waste of delights like bread, curry and THESE donuts! How wonderful is adding flower to flavour breads? I seriously need to try lilacs, the way you describe the smell creates a scene of tranquility in me. Also High five for brioche donuts! nothing is better than butter bread frying :)

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  5. That reminds me of Willy Wonka when he invents the tv where you can grab the candy! I hope that comes true so I can grab these donuts!!! Stunning presentation. (as always). I love them.

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  6. words fail me to express my amazement! Such a stunning photography!)

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  7. We've heard of lavender everything... but lilac? This is new and we are so intrigued!

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  8. So lovely! My parents have three very large lilac bushes in their backyard. Growing up the house would always be filled with giant vases of the stunning flower during the Spring. At times, the scent would waft onto the front porch. I am now feeling nostalgic and compelled to go pick myself up a bouquet of flowers!

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  9. Gorgeous photos. Gorgeous words. Gorgeous donuts! I haven't seen fresh lilac in Florida, but rose donuts sound incredible, too.

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  10. These doughnuts are so simply beautiful, and you captured them in such a gorgeous way, as per usual! I've never eaten anything flavoured with lilac, though I have been intrigued by many floral flavourings, lately!

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  11. ohmygosh, they're so FLUFFY!!!! i need one stat! plus, so lovely that there's just the hint of lilac
    ps - cheesy smells are the best smells ;)

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  12. Smelling this would certainly make my day. What a flavour!! These sound so yummy.

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  13. These doughnuts are insanely gorgeous, Michelle! Lilacs are a favorite flower of mine (well, I guess that's kinda obvious), and I LOVE that recipe for brioche dough.
    I'm not sure if I'd want my camera to capture smells though... I'd be hungry all the time. hahah.
    Beautiful photos, by the way. xoxo!!

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  14. The photos are stunning, and your writing is beautiful and deep. I get scared with change, but I've been learning each day to go with it. I love your purpose behind these donuts, it makes them sound even more delicious to me (which is saying something because the photos themselves make them look amazing to begin with)!
    Hope you are enjoying the beautiful springtime friend!

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  15. Thank you, Sophie! I definitely made a recipe for some trashy donuts a few months ago (these breakfast cereal ones: http://www.hummingbirdhigh.com/2014/11/breakfast-cereal-cake-donuts.html); I figured it was time to class it up!

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  16. Oof, I wouldn't even know where to begin pricing my prints out! I'm flattered you brought it up though — I never really seriously considered that there'd be a demand for it. Blushing over here ;-)

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  17. These sound incredible. I wish we had lilacs in our garden. Perhaps I will plant some. I agree with you on the impact smells have. it is the most powerful form of memory and I can only imagine how wonderful these smell.

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  18. i can literally smell these babes through the computer! lilacs are one of my fave flowers, that scent and hue is just so beautiful! love this all, michelle!

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  19. Wow, an entire forest made out of eucalyptus? That sounds so wonderful.

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  20. Thanks so much, Kathryn! Your childhood garden sounds lovely. Also, yep, donuts really are the best :-)

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  21. Man, fresh bread baking is one of my favorite smells. Also, BBQ. Lol.

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  22. YES! I also really like the scene where you can lick the wallpaper, but I'm also a little bit grossed out by it. lol.

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  23. Thanks Brooke! It seems like there are a ton of lilac trees in Portland; I'm really considering planting some more in my garden so I stop mooching from the neighbors ;-)

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  24. Haha, I'm not sure if you can find dried lilac as easily as you can dried lavender, but it's definitely worth it if you do! They are so fragrant!

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  25. Thanks Kelsi! It's definitely harder to find lilac based goods, but it's totally worth it.

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  26. omg, YES on the cheesy smells. I made a cheesy cauliflower dish for dinner the other day, and it was just so epic.

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  27. Thanks Katrina!!! Congrats on running the Boston Marathon btw! That's fierce.

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  28. Haha, you make a good point about the smell-camera!

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  29. Thanks so much, Erica! Hope you're enjoying spring too!

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  30. Yeah — to me, smells are more powerful than even pictures. I can smell something and just instantly remember everything else, whereas when I look at a photo I just remember what it captured. Wonder if that's normal, lol.

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  31. literally gasped when I saw these pictures. they make me want alll the fluffy doughnuts, and I can't get over those gorgeous lilacs. loving your posts lately - I think you need to post more often!

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  32. wasl ooking for a different recipe for a friend's birthday and found your rose recipe. recently my girls and I have been on a "rose" kick trying rose milk at an indian restaurant…so this was perfect. one of my daughter's loved the cupcakes so much, she wants me to make them for her birthday next month. our frosting was runny but i realized i didn't beat it enough. i even added some rose syrup in both the batter and frosting. delightful! hope you win the saveur blog. i voted for you!

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  33. Hi Michelle,
    I just wanted to let you know that I am very excited for your nomination on Saveur, and think you are most deserving. As someone who reads your blog almost daily (anxiously awaiting the next recipe!)-- but never posting-- I can imagine it must be rewarding to see your work being recognized. I love how your blog has evolved over the past couple of years, and the photography/recipes just get better. So just wanted to say you most definitely have my vote, and thanks for your honesty in words and delicious food

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  34. haha, working on it! it's just been so crazy trying to balance the blog with the rest of my life lately! if i could bake and blog more, i totally would!

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  35. Hi Jane,


    Thanks so much for your sweet note! Honestly, I'm touched — it's comments like yours that keep this blog afloat and running. I really appreciate your support, and thank you for keeping up with me all these years!

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  36. Katy | Her Cup of JoyApril 23, 2015 at 8:45 AM

    These look so beautiful! So fluffy and delicious :)

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  37. Can you imagine blogs smelling over the internet or over Pinterest. It would be funny but tasty! I love what you've done with these donuts, the light and gentle flavor of the lilacs must be amazing. Bread in 5 is one amazing book, do you have their latest book? I want to get it.

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  38. Ugh, I think it would be a bit overwhelming and kinda gross if you could smell everything on Pinterest! Especially if there was like, a nacho pin right next to something like these donuts, lol.


    I have the New Artisan Bread in 5 — is there another one out?

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  39. renee (will frolic for food)April 23, 2015 at 11:59 AM

    well these are INSANELY gorgeous! you're inspiring me to use my lilacs! those doughnuts look like fluffy dreams.

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  40. OMG I can't believe it that you made lilac sugar donuts, that's is just an amazing and impressive idea. So creative. Lilac is my favorite flower, I have so many memories, nice memories related to it, and having it be part of such a fun dessert just makes my heart happy! Love it!

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  41. Ha! Well if it's something you're interested in, I really like Society6 because it's so easy to upload my stuff and then they do all of the work for me, and you get to set your own profit margin for prints. However, I'm not exactly sure about the quality of their prints for photos as opposed to graphic art. Also, I kinda doubt that you're going to be uploading every single photo you take to the site, so I'm not sure if it's worth it or not for you. But your photos are gorgeous! (And I love how you hung them in your own kitchen.) So I was just wondering ... no pressure!

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  42. jane @ littlesugarsnapsApril 24, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    I keep seeing beautiful recipes for doughnuts and keep meaning to try them. I've been a little put off since I've never deep-fried anything in my life. Since you suggest an alternative, I'm thinking of trying your recipe and making myself (and the rest of my family) very happy. Yours do look fab.

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  43. Jessie Snyder | Faring WellApril 24, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    Ah I totally got caught out and about in some spring rain yesterday and know that smell all too well. Plus lilac sugar? I need to experience that! These are lovely, lady <3

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  44. thanks katalina! so glad you love the donuts!

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  45. Hahah, well, definitely the camera would have some cons. I was saying in the comments below that, if Pinterest could smell, it would be so overwhelming coz' all the smells would just mix together and it'd be really intense, lol.

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  46. Don't be intimidated! You definitely don't need a deepfryer to create beautiful donuts. The only words of advice I really have is to make sure your oil is at the temperatures I provided above — anything more will brown them too much, anything less will undercook the dough. The only qualm I have about the whole thing is you use a ton of oil while frying and it's kind of a waste, so I don't do it very often.

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  47. Thanks Jessie! You're too sweet; hope you're enjoying your trip to California! (wait, I'm not sure if you're there yet, but you get the gist :-) )

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  48. Donuts are my WEAKNESS. And I have the very same experience with lilacs. My mom has a huge plant in her front yard in the country. The smells... Awesome recipe and photography!

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  49. I gave up donuts for Lent, and it was the saddest 40 days of my life. I SO want to make these, but I will eat them all!! Decisions, decisions...

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  50. I am new to your blog, but this looks fantastic. I'm always looking for interesting desserts to make for family parties. Do you think it might be possible to make this in a 9x13 pan with 2 layers? Or something along those lines? I think I want to make this for my husband's family's 4th of July lake party, and it would be easier to serve that way, rather than a tall layer cake.


    Also, congrats on the nomination! Now I am going to spend hours going through all your recipes!

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  51. Hi there,


    I think the batter will only fill one 9x13-inch pan — I would also halve the frosting amount sinceyou won't need as much for a rectangle cake.

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  52. michelle! this cake... oh it's a beauty. love the elements and the flavour blast. chocolate pearls (how weird is the word pearls!) is a super cute decorative element too. CONGRATS on the saveur blog awards! yes yes!!! love seeing my pals getting some sweet recognition. the light in your photos is so gorge and you capture it so well with your beautiful (and uniquely flavoured!) sweets. XOXO

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  53. These donuts girrrrrl. Oh my gosh. They're gorgeous. I love how you photographed them with real lilac and everything. <3 And yes, you are so right; whoever invents that kind of camera will be a billionaire. I don't doubt it will happen one day, what with crazy technology like it is. Ha.

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  54. I don't even know how I missed these but I'm so glad I found them because HOMG THEY'RE SO FLUFFY!! I need the scratch and sniff version of these photos because those lilacs are totally teasing me right now.

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  55. These are SO beautiful! I love lilac and donuts!

    There are some really beautiful gardens in my neighborhood and I love walking by them, scoping out, and literally stopping to smell the roses (and lilacs and whatever other fragrant flora is around). We live in one of those much maligned "skinny-houses" mentioned in that PM article, I mean, I get it. While it was not our dream Portland home, we're making the best of it by planting and landscaping the bare-bones yard and trying to turn it into something special even if it is small and narrow--my long winded point is that we planted a lilac in our yard right after we moved in and it's been blooming and it smells AMAZING. It never occurred to me to use any blossoms in a sugar. So clever and I mean, donuts are always a win!

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  56. oh.my.goodness. cannot wait to try these babies!! seriously though, i'm drooling

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  57. Love this cake :) Ever since you posted this, I'd been waiting for an event to make it and finally have a BBQ this weekend! I have 6-inch pans, but was thinking of making a 9-inch cake instead, since there will be a lot of people at the BBQ. Would you recommend doubling the recipe to fit the 9-inch? I'm guessing there might be extra batter then, so maybe I'll make a few cupcakes too - what do you think?

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  58. Yes! Doubling the recipe would probably make a 3 layer, 9-inch cake. Let me know how it turns out!

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  59. Thank you :) Yes, I'll let you know!

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  60. Eating flowers? Yes! I'm been baking with rose water a lot recently...but just imagine...eating rose! ;)

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  61. Hi Michelle - I made the cake for the BBQ and it turned out wonderfully! Everyone loved it. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe - I'll definitely be making it again!


    Oh and doubling the recipe was perfect for a 3 layer, 9-inch cake :)

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  62. Hi Michelle! I am planning on making this but in 8 inch cake pans - do you think I should use 2 or 3 pans? Or do you think it would matter?

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  63. How tall are your 8-inch pans? I'm thinking that this recipe would probably make either two tall 8-inch layers, or three really small ones. Just make sure your pans are at least 3-inches tall!

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  64. Thank you! The pans are about 2 inches high, so I'll go with three of them. I'll report back :)

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  65. This is awsome, and it seems great!

    Buy Bird food online

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  66. I made this for my sister-in-law's birthday. The buttermilk banana cake is so good. I didn't have the chocolate pearls so I just used chocolate chips inside. The put milk chocolate chips on top. I did think the frosting was a little salty for my taste, but a good idea adding the cookie butter.

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  67. Gorgeous cake! By any chance, have you seen those Valrhona pearls for sale anywhere in San Francisco?

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  68. I thought I saw some at the Whole Foods in Potrero Hill the other day, but I could just be making that up. They had a pretty extensive chocolate collection that I was impressed with, though!

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  69. Thank you so much! I'm going to find an excuse to make this cake.

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