Remembering Christmas (2/2)

Posted by Ted on Dec 13, 2009 in Food & Drinks, Memories

There are a few tastes that remind me of childhood. Two of them happen to be donuts.

The first was Morton’s frozen cinnamon donuts. I lived on these when I was a kid. They came in a brown box, and they were OMG good. Small, they could be eaten in a single bite, but I usually took two. Pop a few of them in the toaster oven for a few minutes, and they were cakey and soft on the inside, crispy and coated in cinnamon sugar on the outside. They haven’t been around in a long time, but there are those like me who remember them fondly. The closest that I’ve found have been the occasional apple cider donut from a New England farmstand in autumn, but really, these were like crack. Even more so than Krispy Kreme.

The second donuts of childhood were my grandma’s chocolate donuts. There was just something about them that was special. They didn’t taste like any other chocolate donut that I’ve ever had. When I was a kid, I remember watching her make them, eager to make sure that they were good enough for everyone else. They were often in the Christmas box along with cookies and pound cake. To be true, I never had eyes for anything but the donuts. It wouldn’t matter what else was in the box, even if it were a toy that I’d had on my wishlist compiled from the Sears catalog.

I’m sure they were made with love, but it wouldn’t be until my aunt gave me the recipe that I realized they were made with potato flakes and buttermilk. How odd! That would certainly explain the unique flavor. Even after my grandma passed away, my aunt would still send them to me at Christmas. Not having had them for a number of years now, I’ve meant to make them, but living a healthier life now I’ve shied away from their deep fat fried temptation.

Feeling inspired and unemployed, I decided this was the year to do try my hand at them, and share the calories with my family at Christmas. I bought a candy thermometer and a quart of canola oil, and tried to recreate my childhood. The recipe card that I have has ingredients, but not directions, so I looked to the net. What I found interesting was that very quickly I found similar recipes involving mashed potatoes or buttermilk. Opting to stay true to grandma, I followed the card;
Ingredients

* 1/4 cup shortening (butter)
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1 cup potato flakes (Add 1/2 cup boiling water to reconstitute)
* Pinch of salt
* 1 Egg
* 1/2 cup buttermilk
* 1 1/2 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 2 squares melted chocolate
* Vanilla (I used a teaspoon)

Preparation

* Beat the sugar and eggs together until creamy.
* Melt the butter and chocolate together in a small saucepan or double-boiler over low heat. Then beat into the sugar and egg mixture.
* Add the vanilla, buttermilk, and potatoes into the sugar mixture.
* Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir into the liquid mixture.
* Chill the dough for an hour to make it easier to handle.
* Roll out half the dough on a lightly floured board to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into doughnuts. Allow the cut doughnuts to dry for 10 minutes.
* Heat 2 inches of oil to 370 degrees F (185 degrees C) in a large skillet or pot. The dough should be at room temperature before frying.
* Transfer the doughnuts to the skillet, one every 15 seconds. Fry each doughnut about 2 minutes per side. Remove the doughnuts and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough.
* Roll the doughnuts in powdered sugar after they have cooled.

After the first test batch, I was eager to see how close they were to the ideal seen through the chocolate-colored glasses of my childhood. Sadly, they were not as amazing as I knew that they could be. I could detect a hint of the distinctive taste that I loved, but they were not the same. Assuming the recipe to be correct, the difference must be in the ingredients. Maybe she used shortening instead of butter. Potato flakes probably have no discernable difference, but I can imagine that there is variation in buttermilk flavor. Maybe they need more salt.

Clearly, more research needs to be done.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. He is also managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, where he curates a Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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