Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Doughnuts..The Hole Story

I've been contemplating doughnuts lately. Which is really odd, because I don't eat doughnuts, period. Never. Seriously, I never touch them. When I was a child, my grandparents would bring Dunkin' Donuts whenever they came to visit us for the weekend. The adults were really into it, everyone had their particular favorite. My mother was a cruller fan, my grandmother always chose Buttercrunch. Buttercrunch was a great name for this doughnut. Big, round and glistening with a glaze full of crunchy little nibs, I couldn't wait to get my hands on one. The first time I bit it into one of those sugary orbs, I tasted sweet, tender, doughy delightfulness. But not five minutes, later I was gripped by a hideous bout of heartburn. Sugary treats were not a common occurrence in our house and to give up such a rare pleasure was heartbreaking, nonetheless I quickly gave up on doughnuts.
So I grew up in a mostly doughnutless world, or donut less world..I do not do the donut. With one glaring exception. I would eat Mrs. Wing's doughnut holes. Mrs. Wing, who lived down the road from my family's house, made apple cider doughnut holes every year for Halloween. Maybe it was the cuteness of their petite size, or the tangy taste of the cider mingling with cinnamon sugar, the crumbly yet somehow compact cakiness. This was a most marvelous trick or treat for little mischief makers.
However she made them, there was no pang of pain deep in my chest cavity. Just the wonderful flavor of cake and apple and frangrant spices. I don't know if I would actually prepare them, but I wish I had her recipe. I'm sure she would have written it down on one of those wonderful old fashioned recipe cards, with the blue lines in the center and the script type at the top that would say “Recipe from the kitchen of__________”. I wonder if she would have written Mrs. Wing or if she would have written her first name too, in that spidery cursive type so typical of little old ladies.
I hadn't thought much about doughnuts for years, until I recently interviewed John Plasko, Sr. who owns Plasko's Farm in Trumbull. CT. For 93 years the Plasko family has been farming, and they continue to be the oldest working farm in Trumbull.
John is a charmer who really knows how to work a crowd. And in October, their busiest month,there is always a crowd. Moms, dads, and teachers chaperone busloads of kids who flock to the farm to go through the corn maze,buy pumpkins, race around on the lawn and prop themselves up on the fence to make friends with the four miniature Sicilian donkeys.
It just so happens that Plasko's Farm has a general store filled with all kinds of goodies you'd expect to find in an old fashioned general store, including their famous apple cider doughnuts. John thinks they are the best he's ever had, and Ct Magazine has voted them among the 5 best in the state.
John treated me to 2 boxes of his famous doughnuts. Wouldn't you know that when I ripped open the first box and tried a bite, memories of Mrs. Wing and many, many Halloweens ago came flooding back.
That intoxicating rich scent of cinnamon mixed with sugar, the fabulous texture, it was all there.
So now it seems that doughnuts are everywhere I am. The New Haven Advocate featured an article on the best local doughnuts in their recent “Autumntimes Issue”. I was merely looking for restaurant and live music info. At work my boss brought in a bulging box of doughnuts from Neils in Wallingford, CT. It's almost disturbing the way I can't get doughnuts off my mind. Something I never eat. Ever. Period. Seriously.
But there they are in the supermarket, neatly packaged, a display of eight perfectly lovely doughnuts glowing with glaze. I'm not only noticing, I'm craving.......god forbid..DOUGHNUTS!!
I know doughnuts are a pretty serious treat. They average a couple of hundred calories each, depending on flavor. According to livestrong.com, one cider doughnut has 201 calories, 6 grams of fat, 2 of those being saturated, 31 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium....etc.etc., you get the picture. Or rather, I'm getting the picture. I never had to think this way about doughnuts before, because I was never tempted. Now I want to sample every type, yeast, raised, cake style, cream filled, jelly stuffed.
A food professional must be constantly doing research, yes? Please say yes.
I am a huge advocate of enjoying life and occasional treats make us happy, contentented, and fulfilled. If we didn't indulge from time to time, I think we could quite possibly go mad with desire and subject ourselves to the public humiliation of being caught red handed in the candy or chip aisle, ripping open plastic with our teeth and cramming an entire bag of cheez doodles in our mouths. Moderation is the key to mindfulfulness.
I started researching doughnuts and reading about their history. Some say the Dutch are responsible for bringing them to America. I discovered that fried dough is eaten everywhere in the world and foreign doughnuts have exotic, lovely names such as Beignets in France, Bismark in Germany, Churro in Spain and Mexico, Poori in India, Baursaki in Kazakhstan, and Zeppole in Italy. That's just to name a very few.
I wondered if there were any slightly more healthful ways of preparing doughnuts and found a recipe in the October 2010 issue of Health magazine for Baked Buttermilk Doughnuts. It requires buying a special pan, a Wilton Doughnut Pan, to be exact. Prep time is 8 minutes, bake time is 8 minutes. A simple cake like batter looks easy enough and several appealing variations are shown including lemon glazed, chocolate hazelnut and, best of all, cinnamon sugar. The recipe offers decent reductions in calories, fat and sodium, insignificant cholesterol differences.
I may decide to give it a try....then again, I think a once a year Halloween visit to any famous apple cider donut maker is a worthwhile and delicious tradition, and will quell the wild cravings of any conscious cook.

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