Tuesday, February 26, 2013

That pâte à choux magic

Honey-glazed crullers
There are the things that you outgrow, and then there are the things you know you never will. The former, for me, include wild hair colours, teenage crushes, the (over)use of twenty-dollar words, and cookies-and-cream anything; the latter, wooly scarves, long road trips made in the right company, French philosophy, and honey crullers.
The cruller has always been my favourite doughnut. I love its delicate egginess, its impossible airiness, the crackly glaze that clings to its winding, golden ridges. It, for me, is doughnut perfection. So, naturally, I was excited to see that it was among the doughnuts featured in this month's Saveur (for those of you haven't seen it yet, it is a veritable doughnut extravaganza). Before this, it hadn't occurred to me to even try making crullers at home. How, after all, would you be able to reproduce those distinctive ridges, that airy structure, in your own kitchen? Saveur had answers. A star piping tip! Pâte à choux! Actually, now that I think about it, it seems kind of obvious. Pâte à choux is the egg-rich pastry dough out of which éclairs, gougères, and gnocchi parisienne are made. You start, typically, with water, butter, sugar, and salt over the stove and add to that flour and then eggs to pull together a pretty soft, unassuming dough. But when that dough hits heat it puffs, airy, golden, ethereal. So, really, it should have come as no surprise that crullers are made out of pâte à choux. They have that same magical quality about them.
Parchment squares Piped rings Unglazed
So I was all set to make my first crullers until I looked at the ingredients list. Vodka? Instant potato flakes? Now, I'm not one to baulk at an unusual pâte à choux, but I at least want an explanation. The head notes, however, said nothing, and I just wasn't feeling that adventurous. But I still wanted crullers, so I took this as an excuse to get a book I've wanted for some time, Lara Ferroni's Doughnuts.
Leafing through the book, I almost got sidetracked. There are so many doughnuts in it that I'd like to make. Apple-cider doughnuts made with graham flour, picarones, which are Peruvian winter-squash fritters, crème brûlée doughnuts--they all sounded fantastically good. But in the end, the thought of those swirled ridges, that pâte à choux magic, it got to me.
Deep-frying, admittedly, can be intimidating. That oil, after all, gets very, very hot. But common sense, a deep, heavy-bottomed pot, a deep-fry thermometer, and a spider skimmer are all you really need to keep things safe. And besides, making doughnuts is fun, especially with a friend in the kitchen to help out. For these crullers, one of you can pipe rings of pâte à choux onto squares of greased parchment, while the other takes care of the frying. It's pretty straightforward. Really, there isn't much at all  standing between you and a dozen fine and lofty crullers.
Half-dozen Glazed, overhead Cruller interior
And now that I've made these crullers, I'm really curious about the recipe printed in Saveur. Has anyone tried it out? Can anyone tell me what the vodka and potato flakes do?

Honey Crullers
Adapted, ever so slightly, from Lara Ferroni's Doughnuts
Note: About the piping tip. I used an Ateco no. 846, which is actually a closed-star piping tip. The equivalent open-star tip is the Ateco no. 826, but I couldn't find one of these in time. The only difference between the two, as far as I can tell, is that the closed-star tip produces more pronounced ridges in the pastry, which isn't a bad thing at all in this case. About the frying oil. I used canola oil, but I'm not sure that I would again. Though canola is a fine frying oil for some things, it isn't all that neutral, and with these doughnuts at least, its flavour was more noticeable than I'd have liked it to be. Ferroni recommends safflower oil, and I second that. About the parchment squares. If you end up with enough pâte à choux to make more than 12 crullers like I did, you might find yourself short on parchment squares. I reused a few. They were a little crinkly from the hot oil, but that didn't really pose much of a problem for piping.

1 cup water
85 g / 6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons sugar
generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
135 g / 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1-2 large egg whites, at room temperature and slightly beaten
Vegetable oil for frying
Honey glaze (see below)

Place the water, butter, sugar, and salt in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a brisk boil over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is completely incorporated. Continue to cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes to steam away as much water as possible. The more moisture you can remove, the more eggs you can add later and the lighter your pastry will be. The mixture is ready when a thin film coats the bottom of the pan.
Move the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Although you can mix the pâte à choux by hand, this can be rather arduous, so use a mixer if you have one. Stir the mixture for about 1 minute to allow it to cool. Then mix on medium speed and add the first egg. Let it mix in completely and then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, and mix in completely. Add the egg whites, a little at a time, until the paste becomes smooth and glossy and will hold a slight peak when pinched with your fingers. Be careful not to add too much egg white or your crullers will become heavy. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star piping tip.
To fry the crullers, heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot until a deep-fry thermometer registers 370 degrees F. While the oil is heating, cut out twelve 3-inch-by-3-inch squares of parchment paper and lightly grease them. Pipe a generous ring onto each square. When the oil is hot, gently place one cruller at a time in the oil, paper side up. Remove the paper with tongs. Fry on each side until golden brown, 2-3 minutes. (Undercooked crullers will collapse while cooling, so observe the first one, and if this happens, increase your frying time and check the oil temperature for the rest.) Remove with a spider skimmer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towel for at least 1 minute. Leave on a rack to cool. Once cool to the touch, the crullers can be glazed.
Alternatively, you can bake the crullers. They will have slightly firmer crusts than fried ones. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pipe the crullers onto it, at least 2 inches apart from one another. Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, open the oven door slightly and let the crullers sit in the cooling oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove, dip in glaze, and cool on a rack until the glaze has set.
Makes 10-15 doughnuts.

Tips for using a pastry bag. To fill the bag, first fit the bag with the tip and then tuck some of the bag into the wide end of the tip. This will prevent whatever you're filling the bag with from running out the tip as you fill. Second, roll down the sides of the bag a bit so that when you transfer your filling to the bag, it doesn't end up all near the wide opening where your hands will be. You'll just make a mess trying to squeeze its contents towards the tip. If you're working alone, stand the empty bag up in a tall glass to keep it steady as you fill. Regardless, a tall glass can be helpful if you need to put the bag down at any point in the middle of piping. Finally, with the bag filled, twist the wide end of the bag shut and hold it there with one hand (use your other hand to support and guide the bag by holding the bag closer to the tip). With the bag twisted and held this way, you should be able to easily force the filling through the tip.

Honey Glaze
From Lara Ferroni's Doughnuts

150 g / 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon honey
3 to 4 tablespoons milk water

Place the sugar in a medium bowl and slowly stir in the honey and milk, a little at a time, to make a smooth, pourable glaze.


  1. Doughnuts are pretty much my world* but you know, I have never had a cruller. What a TRAGEDY. I shall have to immediately rectify this sad sad state of affairs. Thanks for the inspiration.


  2. I never had a cruller either, but they remind me of churros (it's the ridges). Are they similar?
    I feel like now I have somewhat conquered my fear of pate a choux (and macarons), I should also get over my fear of deep frying. doughnuts are a great place to start.

    1. Yeah, I guess French crullers are a bit of a regional thing. They were a staple of the doughnut chain the I grew up with in Canada, though, sadly, they don't make them like they used to.

      Oddly enough, I haven't had many churros (I should fix that). But if Rick Bayless' churros at Xoco are any indication of what a churro should be (and if my memory serves me well), I would say that churros are much more cake-like than crullers. The eggs in the pâte à choux make the crullers' crumb really delicate and almost custard-like. Their interior structure really is like that of a gougère.

    2. You are right, they are more cake-like. Nothing like a gougère. It just made sense in my head that if they look like churros, they also taste like churros.
      I am actually not too fond of churros, though. I think they might be a bit too dry. Doughnuts I love, and dream of blood orange doughnuts. Maybe I need to get in the kitchen tomorriw and try my hand at doughnuts.
      Your posts truly are inspiring. You make me want to try those seemingly complicated things.

    3. Thanks, Lena! I hope you do try making doughnuts soon. Blood orange sounds like it could be really good. Were you thinking of making a blood-orange filling or glaze, or maybe even candying some peel and then adding it to their tops with a glaze?

    4. a blood orange glaze, and maybe adding some juice to the dough. I havent really looked into it, so I am not sure whether adding juice into the dough is a good idea or not. the candied peel on top sounds great, too. I'll have to make this happen soon, or I wont find blood oranges anywhere

  3. !!!!! Oh, doughnuts! These are beautiful! I need to get myself an issue of Saveur and start looking through some doughnut recipes. Good decision to go with the more classic looking recipe... who knows about the potato flakes and vodka but it's a shame they didn't give an explanation. I hope we get to see more doughnuts you make out of that new cookbook of yours -- I second Sarah in that this post was so inspiring! You've been churning some awesome stuff out of your kitchen lately.

    1. Well, I strained the fry oil through a coffee filter, so I think I can probably get at least one more fry out of it before it becomes too smelly and weird-tasting. It might have to be something like chocolate cake doughnuts, though, in which the flavour of the oil won't be so obvious. But that might have to wait a weekend or two. I've got at least one more project in the pipelines!

  4. You take on such ambitious baking projects that some of us *cough* would never attempt. Amazing. I love crullers and yours are so pretty, Katie.

  5. I love the cruller too. It's classic. Have not tried the Saveur recipe (though a friend did visit the new donut shop featured, in Union Square, and reported back: more bacon needed in the maple bacon donut). Bravo on churning out such beautiful treats. I'm a bit intimidated by donut making but I sure can appreciate a well made one.

  6. Any idea how long these will last? (I don't mean take bets on how fast I can eat them.) Can I make them a day in advance?

    1. I would plan to eat them the day you make them (and invite some friends over!). They're all right the next day, but you know, not nearly as good as the first day.

  7. Hi - saw you on NYT today; I know I'm responding late, but I have one idea that might explain the vodka... check out the Cook's Illustrated vodka pie crust method.

    So the idea might be to make a more workable dough that has less hydration once cooked (because the vodka would cook off).

    I'm guessing the potato flakes add some texture or chewiness, but that's just a guess.

    1. Ah, yes, I remember reading about that pie crust. Don't think I've ever made it, but you're probably right about the hydration. When you cook the pâte à choux over the stove, you are in part trying to eliminate moisture after all.

      I'm not sure that I'll ever get around to trying the Saveur recipe--I never seem to make doughnuts as often as I intend to--but now I am curious about how it compares to this one.