Full disclosure: I'm not a doughnut person. I'm a bagel people. Salty breakfasts only. Going a step further, Hanukkah-wise, I'm not a sufganiya person. I'm a latke person. Onions, oil, salt, and applesauce are the way to celebrate.
But here's where it gets complicated. I'm a bread person. And I like a bread project. And doughnuts are bread. No, really. Hear me out. It's a glutenous brioche dough, risen, and cooked. Sure, it achieves it's final inner bake through the magic of a deep-frier, but at the end of the day, it's a bread.
So how can we elevate the literal grease ball that is the Hanukkah doughnut just a little bit? Any millennial with the Tartine cookbook could guess it: fermentation! Levain baking! But what's the point of naturally leavening our ponchki instead of using fast-acting yeast? Here is what a slow ferment is going to offer us:
1. Longer shelf-life. When you bake with levain (sourdough), you create a product that retains moisture longer than a yeasted item. This is one of the reasons why many bakers combine yeast and levain, even if they're not going for a full-natural ferment. However, this is a useless reason to naturally ferment doughnuts. Everyone knows doughnuts should be eaten immediately.
2. Flavors and aromas. Ok, now we're getting somewhere. Brioches, challahs, and sweet breads made with Levain develop a gentle aroma that complements the slightly sweet flavor of the dough in ways that yeast doesn't. But don't worry, these aren't going to be sour like a slow-developed country loaf might be.
3. Digestibility. Even if you're working with a nice organic flour, chances are you're still baking with a white modern wheat. Fermentation helps you digest. Promise.
4. Nerdy project. Doing things with sourdough is fun and a little magical. That's why I'm bothering.
All-Levain Pounchkis Recipe
(Timing suggestions and sourdough FAQ at bottom)
400g T55 (France), 550 Weizenmehl (Germany), all-purpose flour (Elsewhere)
160g warm water
200g all-white levain (refreshed about 6 hours prior)
30g neutral oil
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
In the bowl of your mixer, mix together flour, sugar, and salt. You should be using the paddle attachment at this point. In a separate bowl, whisk together your warm water and levain. With the mixer on low speed, mix the water-levain mixture and then the eggs and oil, into the dry ingredients. When fully incorporated, switch to the dough hook and kneed on low for 9 minutes. Turn up to medium speed for two more minutes.
Remove dough from the mixing bowl and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. You'll notice the dough is stretchier and less sticky than when you started mixing. This is because you've developed a nice gluten network. Ball the dough gently and put it seam-side down into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic, a plate, a damp cloth, whatever you've got. Now set it aside for 4-5 hours. Timing will vary depending on the strength of your starter and the ambient temperature.
The dough will be ready when it holds a finger print.
Now turn it out onto a well-floured work surface and roll to about 1cm thickness. Using round cookie cutters or a large water glass, cut out round circles. Remove the excess dough. Now cover the rounds with plastic or a damp cloth (just be careful about sticking), and allow to rise for 1-1.5hours.
When the rounds have almost finished their rising, start heating up your oil on the stove. You'll only need about 5 cm of oil in a pot and you should bring it up to about 170 degrees celsius. When the oil is hot, throw in your dough and watch it puff. Cook it to a rich brown on each side, lest your ponchkis not be cooked through enough.
Strain the oil with a slotted spatula or spoon as you remove them from the oil and set on old newspapers. When they've cooled a bit, sieve powdered sugar on top and pipe your favorite jam directly into the middle.
Eat them hot!
Some notes on timing and sourdough.
Sourdough baking is all about timing. I sometimes prefer it due to the long periods of rest between each step. Slower gratification but easier to schedule. In this recipe, we use a high percentage of levain to boost the speed a bit, but you can cut it down and do an even longer ferment.
For this recipe, the sourdough, or levain, that you use, should be a fairly liquid one, or 100% hydration. This means that by weight, you have equal parts flour and water. To prepare your sourdough for this recipe, take one spoonful of a mature starter (don't have one? Your friends probably do. Or go to your favorite bakery and ask for a small amount. Finally, if you're in for a long process, start your own) and mix with 100g organic flour (same that you'll be using for your bake) and 100g warm water. Use organic not just because of the ecological and health implications, but because it has more for the natural yeasts of the mature starter to feed on. This means more activity and a better rise!
If you want to eat your pounchkis in the morning:
Day before: Refresh your levain mid-afternoon. Around 2-3pm for a 10pm bedtime. Before bed, mix up your dough and set it to rest overnight. It'll rise a bit longer than the recipe suggested, but this is no crisis like it would be were you to use yeast.
Morning of: Roll out your dough, cut, rest an hour, fry, eat!
If you want to eat your pounchkis in the evening:
Night before: Refresh your levain.
Morning of: Mix your dough and leave to ferment 4-5 hours. If you feel the timing is off and you want to delay the frying a bit, throw the dough in the fridge. This will slow down the fermentation. If you do this, you'll need to let the ponchki rise a bit longer after they've been cut. Either way, when dough is ready, roll out, cut, rise, and fry!
Occasionally, I have an idea so profound I call home and announce my genius to the family. If I call my father, the answer will be, "Are you ok? Should I pick you up somewhere?" If I call my mother, the answer will be, "Of course you're a genius. I always told you you were."
There are precious few things more dear to my little boulangere's heart than a hot Parisian croissant. Flaky, temporal, bad for the heart. Enter the challah croissant. The nice Jewish boy of the croissant world. Still flaky, but this one stays soft all day with its base of very eggy challah.
400g bread flour (France T55, Germany Weizenmehl 550)
50g white sugar
5g instant yeast
25g sunflower oil
4 egg yolks
130g dry butter, cut into a rectangle, stored in your fridge
1 egg, 1 egg yolk
In the bowl of your mixer, whisk oil, egg yolks, and water. I like to start with my wet ingredients on the bottom of the mixing bowl rather than the other way around. It helps incorporate your ingredients faster.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.
Add dry ingredients to wet and set to low speed with your dough hook for 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, increase to medium speed for two minutes. You should see the dough pulling away from the sides and developing a shine. That's how you'll know your gluten network is well formed and you'll achieve the wonderfully pull-apart texture of a good challah.
When your dough is finished, form into a smooth ball, giving a little tension to the dough. Lightly oil a bowl with a pastry brush and put your dough ball in, smooth side up. Cover bowl loosely with plastic and set aside.
Take your square of dry butter and fold it into an envelope of parchment paper or strong baker's plastic sheeting. Use a rolling pin to pound out and then press the butter to evenly fill the square. Do this step quickly and avoid using your hands. You do not want your butter to heat up. Return the envelope to the refrigerator.
After your detrempe has bulk proofed, about 45 minutes, depending on the temperature in your kitchen, punch it down, reform it into a ball, put it back in its bowl, and refrigerate for a half hour. What we're doing in this step is getting our dough to the same temperature as our butter. This will help keep the distinct layers of the croissant, rather than having the butter melt into the dough and form a brioche. Also delicious, but not the effect we're going for.
Once your dough is chilled, lightly flour a surface and roll it out to the diameter of the diagonal of your butter square. Brush off excess flour and place your unwrapped butter square in the middle. The points of the butter square should just about touch the edges of the circle of dough.
Now fold in the sides of the dough, meeting them in the middle without overlapping. I like to pinch the dough where it meets. You don't want to have any exposed butter. The dough should now be a perfect square.
Using a rolling pin, press gently along both seams of your dough. This is secure the butter inside so that it doesn't slip around.
Then begin rolling out your dough lengthwise, pausing the run your hands underneath it to relax it. When the dough is rolled` out to approximately 70cm in length, fold the top half down by a quarter. Fold the bottom half up to meet this. Now fold the entirely in half. This is your first double turn.
Turning the dough 90 degrees, repeat the same rolling and folding pattern to complete a second double turn.
Wrap dough in plastic and put in your freezer for about 15-30 minutes. Monitor this carefully as dough should stiffen but not freeze.
Once dough is chilled, flour your work surface and position it fold side up. Keep your dough in this position.
Now roll your dough out to a rectangle of length 32cm and height 28cm. In a bakery, we would use a laminator and set it to a specific thickness, but for hand lamination at home, the easiest is to measure dimensions.
Trim 1cm from the edge of each side. Using a rule, mark the top (the side that had been the fold) at 8cm intervals. Along the bottom, measure out 4cm, make a mark, and then measure intervals of 8cm after that. Connect your marks to form long triangles and cut using a large knife or pizza cutter. Do not use a sawing motion with your knife. Make one straight cut and press.
Roll your triangles, making sure to leave the end of the croissant on the underside, lest it unrolls itself during baking. Set croissants on a papered baking sheet, being sure to leave space for rising. Brush off all excess flour (excess flour will result in a wrinkly texture on the shiny skin of the croissant) and then brush with egg wash. Always brush egg wash in the direction of the rolls of the croissant and avoid the edges. You don't want to seal your layers. Set your tray aside for 2 1/2 hours. That's about the time it takes to get a gel mani and do the Jane Fonda workout so might as well. Thirty minutes before your croissants finish proofing, set your oven to 155c.
Now your croissants should be nicely risen and beautiful. Brush then with a second coat of egg wash. Don't go wild with the egg wash unless you enjoy having a weird omelette clutching parasitically to your croissant.
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and perfect.
Now call your mother and tell her you're a genius. See what she says.
*A note on dry butter. This is the ideal for all laminated pastries as it melts at a higher temperature than regular butter. It can be found at specialty bakery supply stores or, if you're in Paris, local bakeries that do their own viennoiseries will sell it to you by weight. However, if this is out of your realm of possibilities, you can still laminate at home! Just be extra careful with your temperatures. Work in a cold room and return your dough to the fridge between turns. The advantage to using regular butter is the ease to find organic and responsibly farmed options.