My mama was a good cook -- not a great cook, but a perfectly adequate one -- until she crossed into the realm of pastries, sweets and baking. And then she was phenomenal. She was known for her cakes and pies, her cookies and candies (chocolate cherry cordials, popcorn balls), and her party fare of petit fours, candied fruit, lemon tarts. But all of them....well, maybe except for the blackberry cobbler and the chess pie...pale beside the potato doughnuts. She'd start them on a Friday night, and finish them on Saturday morning, when the aroma would wake me and I'd float back to the kitchen in the wake of my nose to find a plate of hot, freshly glazed doughnut holes and a tall glass of cold milk. Heaven! She made them with a three-inch biscuit cutter than had an attachment you inserted to cut out the holes, which she'd fry separately and let them get barely crispy on the outside, with the interior lighter than air; the doughnuts were wonderful, but the holes were sublime. After Mama died, I was going through some of her things in the kitchen, and I found the grease-spotted, dog-eared index card with her doughnut recipe, handwriting faded with time. I sat in the middle of the kitchen floor and wept. And then I got up, found the biscuit cutter and the attachment, and made doughnuts. Mama left me many legacies in many ways, but when I think of her in the kitchen, this is what comes to mind. —Kayb
- Makes About 4 dozen doughnuts and holes
milk (we used the equivalent of 2 percent)
1 1/2 teaspoons
oil, for frying
boxes confectioner's sugar
- Mama's directions from the card, in their entirety, read: "Fry in 3 pounds shortening. Glaze with 1 1/2 boxes powdered sugar." Mama was not much on directions. I've worked out somewhat more detailed instructions, via trial and error.
- Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water (hot from the tap does nicely) and set aside.
- Whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt.
- In another container, whisk together milk, eggs, vegetable oil (reserving a couple of tablespoons), lemon flavoring and mashed potatos. When combined, stir in yeast and water.
- Add flour a cup at a time, stirring until it's well incorporated. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 5 minutes or so, until smooth and elastic. Place in oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next morning, remove dough from fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Roll dough to about 1 inch thick, and cut out doughnuts.
- In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat a neutral oil (or melted shortening, or a combination of the two) over medium high heat. Oil should be at least four inches deep. Test-fry a scrap of dough when you think it's hot enough; dough should sizzle madly and float within 30 seconds.
- Drop doughnuts gently, one by one, into oil. Don't crowd them. Flip when they are golden on one side and fry until the other side is golden. Drain on a rack placed over a baking sheet to catch the drips, and move to a towel-lined baking sheet once they cool slightly.
- Make the glaze with powdered sugar and enough milk to make it thin enough to cling to the doughnuts in a thin coating -- about a crepe batter consistency -- in a deep, narrow bowl.
- When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, but still nice and warm, dip into glaze and lay onto plates to cool and let glaze harden. I find a piece of wire from a coat hanger, washed well and bent appropriately, works best to douse them and transfer to the plate. It helps, at this stage, to have one person frying and one person glazing.
- When you're through, and exhausted, as you will be, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee (Mama would say black, but I'm a wuss and must have cream), and grab about four doughnuts and head for the back porch to cool off and enjoy.