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.
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.
Get the Recipe: Lilac Sugar Donuts
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
- 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))
- a mason or glass jar
- a 3-inch donut cutter, preferably with a 1-inch diameter hole (I used this Ateco donut cutter)
- a deep-fryer or a cast iron skillet (see baker’s notes above)
- a candy thermometer (I love my digital CDN one)
- a slotted spoon
- paper towels
For the Lilac Sugar
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Pour the infused lilac sugar into a wide, shallow medium bowl. Set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!