Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Hanukkah Donuts (Updated)

Tonight (Sunday, December 21st) is the first night of Hanukkah. Traditional foods to serve during this Feast of Dedication are dishes cooked in oil. Now you know that for a southern gal, my first thought goes to fried chicken. But to keep things a little more traditional, let me tell you how I make a quick and easy fried donut.

You need three things to make these--oil, biscuit dough, and powdered sugar.

The first thing on the list is oil--I use canola oil if I have it, or whatever light vegetable cooking oil I have on hand. I've used olive oil, corn oil, or just a generic "vegetable oil" blend.

The second thing you need is powdered or confectioners sugar to roll the finished donut in. No glaze or frosting unless you just want to make some.

And last but not least, any refrigerated or frozen (thawed before cooking, please!) biscuit dough you have. I use what I call "canned biscuits"--the refrigerated biscuits that come in a tube--you can usually buy them with four tubes shrink wrapped together.

My mom and my aunt used to make these for us kids in an electric skillet. You could use a fryer if you have one. I don't, so I usually do these in a regular frying pan. I have to confess--sometimes I use my dutch-oven sized soup pot, because the taller sides keep the grease from popping everywhere. I hardly every fry anything, not because it's bad for you, but because I hate to clean the stove afterward!

Put about an inch of oil in your cooking vessel of choice. Heat the oil to a medium high heat. Sorry this is not more scientific. I do this the old fashioned way--I use a tester donut. Or two. (The gal who fries the donuts gets to eat the testers.) I fry these until they're lightly browned on the bottom, then flip them and fry until they're brown on the other side. Let them drain on some paper towels, then roll in powdered sugar. If they get brown on the outside but are still doughy on the inside, your oil is too hot. Reduce your heat just a little and try again. Just be sure to remember that adding several cold blobs of dough at a time will bring the temperature of your oil down a little more than just adding one, so a panful may take a little longer than just one or two at a time.

Updated to add: I made these Friday night using a fryer I borrowed from my mom--I cooked them at 170C/338F for two minutes on each side, and they came out perfect--done on the inside, but not too brown on the outside.

I usually try to get a little assembly line going. Open the biscuits and separate them; fry the donuts; drain and slightly cool; then roll in powdered sugar. If you try to do too many things at once--roll one batch while the next is frying, for instance--you'll probably end up with overcooked on the outside/undercooked on the inside blobs of dough. It's too easy to get the oil too hot. Don't ask me how I know this. It's better to fry a batch or two, then roll a batch or two. If you have someone to help you, so much the better.


If you want to get a little fancier, you can make a glaze. I did make chocolate covered donuts once by microwaving a small bowl of leftover chocolate frosting, then dipping the donuts in the hot frosting. When it cools, it firms back up and looks pretty.

Since a donut is basically just sweetened fried bread, you can use any kind of bread/roll/biscuit dough you want to use. Yeast rolls, biscuits; fresh, frozen, or refrigerated.

Point of interest--did you know that most home cooks used to make donuts as a twist, not round? That's how you knew they were done on one side--the cooked dough puffed up, and the twisted shape allowed the donut to roll itself over. All you had to do was fish them out when both sides were brown.

I hope you enjoy this simple treat, at Hanukkah or anytime.

Good cooking, and good eating!

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