How far would you travel for a doughnut?
For instance, have you any interest in riding your motorcycle 150 miles roundtrip to Randy's in LA — in the rain? What about hopping in a friend's VW van for an overnight run to Saint Louis, so as to hit The Donut Shop just as its doors open at 4:30 a.m.? Road trip not your style? Fine, there's always the option of cashing in some frequent flyer miles and hopping an Alaska Airlines flight to Portland and to Voodoo Doughnut for a Bacon Maple Bar — then catching the next available flight back home.
I will admit to being acquainted with the (let's face it, guys) lunatics who chose to do such things, but do not count myself among their ilk. For one thing, I don't like doughnuts enough to go so far out of my way to eat them. And about the only doughnut I have any interest in is a plain one — but only if a plain cruller isn't available instead.
There is one exception to my no-drive, no-fly policy. And, yes, it involves another of my dearest family members. You got a problem with that?
I recently was summoned to the Doughnut Queen's home (in Queens, no less; ten minutes from JFK if you're thinking of cashing in miles). She and her trusted assistant Dominic were about to conjure a batch of, well, do I really need to say? And I was offered an opportunity to observe.
This cannot possibly sound like a big deal to any of you. How could it? But were you a member of my family, you would have an altogether different view. You see, of all the clan members (present and past) who have attempted to mimic "Aunt Laura's Doughnuts," not one has reported a satisfactory result. I mean it, not a single one. And I do not hail from a family of hapless kitchen dwellers.
None of us can understand this, least of all the queen herself. "It's flour, it's sugar, it's eggs and it's milk," she has told us all a thousand times. "I don't know what else to tell you." (The royals in my family are prone to using more colorful language than this, Laura especially. I have decided, in this instance, to edit my dear auntie's flowery, albeit immensely descriptive speech. You understand. I only hope she does.)
Anyhow, if my aunt doesn't know what the big mystery is all about with these doughnuts, then what makes you think that I would? I have never made a doughnut in my entire life. And do not plan on ever making one, what with the carnage I have witnessed involving loved ones who have crumbled to tears by their failure to produce a proper bit of, geez, fried dough?
Besides, I don't need to know how to make the damned things. If I want a batch of perfect plain doughnuts I know just where to find them. And so that's what I did.
This is a big old mess of Crisco, scooped from a brand new can of the stuff that was about the size of my head. I asked Laura what she was planning to do with so much shortening, but can't possibly repeat what she told me. Anyway, the shortening is in a frying pan. The heat is on low so that the Crisco can melt while my aunt prepares the dough.
The recipe's below, but it all starts with mixing eggs and sugar together.
Then adding milk and some of the melted Crisco.
Next you mix in some flour and baking powder so that a moist dough forms.
The dough gets turned out onto a floured work surface, kneaded a little, then is cut into four pieces.
You roll out each piece of dough, so that it's about an inch thick, then start cutting the doughnuts.
Fry them up until nicely browned on both sides. (The cruller Laura made for me, by mixing together some of the doughnut holes. Thanks, aunt.)
Remove to a colander and allow to cool a little.
Top with confectioners sugar and there you go.
After the demo was completed we sat around the dining room table and visited over a fresh pot of coffee and the newly minted doughnuts. I asked Laura if she had an actual recipe and was quickly provided these index cards. Then, when I asked how long she had been making her doughnuts, Laura looked at Dominic, her devoted husband of sixty-six years, and said, without hesitation, what to members of my family will always be magic words: "Since 753."
That would be 753 Liberty Avenue, in the East New York section of Brooklyn, the place, along with the adjoining 751, where we all grew up. Together. (We're talking Old World here, people. Two buildings, six apartments, each headed by a child of my maternal grandparents.)
I pressed further still and asked where my aunt had gotten her doughnut recipe, only to hear the dreaded words, "I have no idea."
Then Dominic wondered aloud whether it might have come from "those A&P books," and to test his theory disappeared to another room for around 30 seconds.
When he returned the mystery had been solved. For around 45 years Laura has been making doughnuts from a recipe that appeared in Volume 4 of the "Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery." The 12-volume set was published in 1966, and my aunt, like a lot of women of her day, bought the books, one by one, at the A&P supermarket (on Fulton Street, in this case) for about $2 apiece.
I cannot tell you how amused my aunt was to learn the origin of her doughnuts.
But I'm not gonna repeat the word she used.
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
5 Tbsp melted shortening
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg, lemon rind or cinnamon (optional; my aunt doesn't use any of these)
Shortening for frying
In a bowl, beat the eggs, then mix in the sugar.
Stir in the milk and melted shortening, then mix in the flour and baking powder until a moist dough forms.
Empty out onto a floured work surface and knead the dough a minute or two.
Cut the dough into four separate pieces, then roll each to 1/4-inch thickness, then cut the donut shapes.
Heat shortening in a frying pan. There should be enough so that the doughnuts can float.
Test by frying one of the "doughnut holes" before frying the doughnuts.
Fry doughnuts until golden on side in shortening, then flip and fry other side.
Remove to colander or surface lined with paper towels, allow to cool, then sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.