Citrus & Thyme Potato Doughnuts (Spudnuts)
Summer mornings deep in Texas provide a charming cacophony of lively sounds, hinting at the abundance of life hiding in the foliage. Before busy neighbors rise, as the sun just begins to scrape the ground, the morning belongs to critters. Crickets, cicadas and katydids whine behind the soft murmur of rustling leaves and shifting branches. Sparrows chirp. Bluejays yell and scream. A lone hawk somewhere in the sky calls out as if to warn his prey. And the mockingbird imitates them all.
Early summer storms, now long gone, leave behind intimidatingly tall grass and a never ending sea of beautiful weeds – the stuff we call Texas wildflowers. Worn dirt paths lay hidden beneath overgrown greenery. Finding the trusted routes become almost as fun as foraging the unkempt, untouched landscape hiding behind our backyards.
No longer are the small dirt roads lined with wild dewberries, strawberries and blackberries – the heat too much for them. Now rogue citrus bushes and trees call out with a siren’s allure; their yellow and orange fruit beg to be taken home. I stumble on a centuries old cemetery on one of these old fruit-lined paths – I’ve it seen before but somehow keep forgetting about. My mind wanders. Could those citrus trees have belonged to the german immigrants that settled and farmed this swath of land early in the nineteenth century – a time when Houston was only a brand-new hamlet. Or perhaps they were left by the Atakapan tribes that walked these prairies and creek beds before them – perhaps a novel idea considering the meaning behind the name Atakapan: people eaters.
I chuckle to myself. How I came to think about long-dead cannibals as I foraged for fruit to make some sweet concoction escapes me. I shrug it off, realizing epistemophilia has pulled me off into some daydream again. I am thankful no one is awake yet to find me lost in my own curiosity in the middle of this field. My eyes dart back to the landscape looking for anything delicious for me to snatch up. My legs carry me forward, often confusing tickling grasses for dangerous bugs.
My pockets now full with citrus – I never can remember to bring a basket with me – I retreat home. The sun has risen higher in the sky and I no longer have the morning to myself. I am greeted by neighbors on their morning jogs, walks, bike rides or meanders as I head in the opposite direction. I’ve already seen what they trek to find.
The delicate sounds of singing insects, calling birds and wind-moved trees and bushes barely make a noise next to the clattering feet, distant cars, roaring lawn mowers, laughing kids and the obnoxious starting gun of a horn coming from a nearby swim meet. More and more people flood the paths encircling the small vestige of greenery on the outskirts of this massive southern city I call home. Nature makes its retreat in the face of the ferocious human front.
A pair of bikes whiz past me and I almost lose my balance; I hear a distant, “sorry!” fade off as the bikes whir away. More and more smiles from strangers. Close to home I see traffic building up as families head off to some weekend activity. Kids start running from yard to yard. Rogue retiree neighbors tend to their fastidiously constructed gardens.
I duck and jump over spitting sprinklers – almost home. Just one more street to cross. I forget to look left again and am nearly run down by a truck. It’s my neighbor. She chuckles when she sees it is just me; this isn’t the first time my clumsiness has put us in this situation. At my door I turn around and admire the busyness coming to life. I can never decide which I like more: the serene, idyllic moments spent lost alone or the comforting, inspiring moments spent lost amongst a whirlwind of strangers, neighbors and friends.
You’d be hard pressed to find a city that doesn’t have a few dozen famous old doughnut shops or a one-horse town that doesn’t have one. Doughnuts, quick and easy for the modern-day consumer, are a delicate, time consuming process just like any yeast dough. It’s this marriage of two contrasting ideals that has me loving doughnuts so much. For me they’re well worth waking up early, if only to surprise family and friends with their favorite quick and easy weekend treat.
Using potatoes in dough is not a new revelation. In fact, potatoes, and the starchy liquid they were cooked in, were used long before yeast to leaven breads and baked goods. While it may seem quite novel to use potatoes in baking now, they do serve a couple of purposes.
Spudnuts: Potatoes are high in starch and products baked with mashed potatoes (or potato flour or some variation of potatoes) are lower in gluten. This tends to create a moist, tender dough. It can also create a brick of a dough if you use too much potato and not enough flour. Potato doughnuts tend to be doughier than their potato-less cousins and have a nice chew to them. It is for this reason that many doughnut shops use potatoes in their recipe – whether you know it or not.
Citrus & Thyme Potato Doughnuts: While the potatoes won’t add too much of that heavy potato flavor (depending on the variety you use of course), it will add a little earthiness and substance to the flavor of the doughnuts. This makes it a great base for other flavors. In this recipe, the thyme and citrus zest add delicate sweet and floral notes that pair very well with the potato and yeast. With the sweet, bright lemon vanilla glaze, these doughnuts are perfect in my mind.
As for the variety of potato, I used a middle of the road potato – not too starchy but not very low in starch -, the gold potato. Baking potatoes, which are higher in starch, will contribute a slightly moister, denser crumb. Boiling potatoes, low in starch, will affect the crumb less, giving it a chewier, bread-like crumb.
- 8 ounces peeled gold potatoes
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk (5 fl oz)
- ¼ ounce thyme sprigs (about 10-15 sprigs)
- ½ tablespoon yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1½ ounces honey
- 15 to 16 ounces flour
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 ounces butter, melted
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 quarts canola or vegetable oil (for frying)
- 2 cups lemon vanilla glaze (recipe below)
- Cut the peeled potatoes into evenly sized pieces. Boil the potatoes in water for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain all the liquid and mash the potatoes until completely smooth. Set aside.
- Place the milk and the ¼ ounce whole thyme sprigs in a small pot. Heat just to the scalding point (about 200°F). Remove from the heat and allow the milk to cool to 115°F. Remove the sprigs from the milk.
- Once the milk is at 115°F, pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if you plan to knead the dough by hand). Add the yeast and stir until the yeast is completely dissolved.
- Add the sugar, honey, 15 ounces flour, mashed potatoes, chopped thyme leaves, lemon zest, orange zest and melted butter. Mix (on low speed) until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest 20 minutes.
- Add the salt to the dough. Knead for 5 to 7 minutes (on low or medium low speed) until the dough is elastic - if you stretch the dough, it should remain intact and become thin enough to be translucent before tearing. The dough will be slightly sticky.
- If the dough seems too sticky, you can add a little more flour but avoid adding too much - sticky dough is a good thing.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Roll the dough around in the bowl to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a towel and leave it in a warm place (ideally 85-90°F) to rise. Let the dough double in volume. This should take about 1 to 1.5 hours.
- Once the dough is doubled in volume, punch down the dough (remove the air) and knead it with your hands for a few seconds. Let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about ½" thick. Using the two cookie cutters (or a doughnut cutter) cut out one dozen doughnuts - separating the centers from the rings to make doughnut holes. This may require combining scrap dough and rolling it out a second time to get all 12. Cut extra doughnut holes with any remaining dough that wont yield more full doughnuts.
- Place the doughnuts and doughnut holes on a baking sheet to rise. Cover the dough and let rise until the dough expands to about 1.5 times the volume. This should take 30 minutes to 1 hour -
- avoid letting the doughnuts double in volume this time as they will continue to rise (albeit incredibly quickly) in the oil.
- While the dough is rising, heat the 2 quarts of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot to 350°F. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil is at the right temperature.
- Oil that is too hot will cause the doughnuts to brown too quickly and can leave the inside raw. Oil that is too cool will require long cooking times and this can cause the doughnuts to absorb excess oil.
- Cook the doughnuts in the oil in small batches about 2 or 3 minutes on each side, or until lightly golden brown on each side -
- don't overcrowd the pot and leave room for them to expand.
- Remove the cooked doughnuts once both sides are cooked. Place the doughnuts on newspaper or paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Once the doughnuts are cool enough to touch, but still warm, dip one or both sides in the glaze . Set the glazed doughnuts on a cooling rack to cool completely and to allow the excess glaze can drip off.
- 8½ ounces powdered sugar
- ¼ cup whole milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth.