As I often say in cooking demos and classes, spices aren’t just for Christmas, they’re for baking and cooking with all year. Cardamom and sweet enriched dough go together like porridge and jam, like salt and caramel, like French toast and maple syrup, damnit. Separately they’re delicious but combine the two and you wonder why you ever kept them apart.
It defeats me why cardamom isn’t used more in yeast baking here in the UK. In Norway we always add a generous spoonful of the stuff to our classic bolledeig, or bun dough, and without that heady scent of cardamom I find buns are really bland and flat tasting. What’s the point of going to all the effort to bake something, say a cake, and then not adding good vanilla extract? Start thinking that way about cardamom and enriched doughs and you’ll soon see what I mean.
The recipe for these voluptuous cardamom doughnuts is always the most sought-after whenever we host our EatScandi brunches in north London. Truth be told these pillowy beauties are adapted from an excellent recipe in The Fabulous Baker Brothers first book, which I recipe tested a few winters ago. I’d always shied away from making doughnuts as previous attempts resulted in perfectly decent tasting buns but they weren’t as soft and fluffy as I would have liked. And given that my first experience of doughnuts as a child living in Munich was of the magnificent German krapfen, filled with astringent plum jam, it’s safe to say I wasn’t going to be settling for any old recipe off the interweb.
These are without hesitation the very best doughnuts I’ve tasted and our guests concur. The dough takes a little time to prepare so save this foray into the kitchen for the weekend, or for a day off work when you don’t fancy tackling household chores/need to vent some steam/want to seduce someone. Seriously, no one falls in love with a cook who feeds them kale. Give them homemade doughnuts and you will be immortalised in their minds as a true kitchen god/goddess.
* Normally we increase the quantities in this recipe by 50% to make enough for our brunches. This batch makes around 16 doughnuts.
1) Stage One:
- 120ml lukewarm water
- 15g fresh yeast (7g dried)
- 120g refined spelt flour
2) Stage Two:
- 15g fresh yeast (7g dried)
- 125ml lukewarm milk
- 10g vanilla salt (Halen Mon make the best one)
- 250g refined spelt flour
- 250g strong white flour
- 80g golden caster sugar
- 1.5 tsp freshly ground green cardamom
- 6 medium egg yolks
3) Stage Three:
- 75g good butter, softened and cut into small pieces
- 1 litre plain vegetable oil for deep frying
- 1 medium bowl full of caster sugar mixed with 1 heaping teaspoon (or more) of freshly ground cardamom
In a medium-large bowl stir together the water, yeast and flour from Stage One. Mix with a wooden spoon or a spatula until you have a thick, gloopy paste. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Keep an eye on it as the mixture really starts bubbling up if the room is quite warm. The idea of this first stage is to get the dough going before adding the sugar in Stage Two, as a lot of sugar in the dough can knock out the yeast.
Beat in the yeast listed in the Stage Two ingredients above into Stage One. Finely crush the vanilla salt and allow to dissolve for a minute or two in the lukewarm milk. Add this and all the remaining ingredients in Stage Two to the mixture in the bowl and knead for 10 minutes until you have a soft dough. It’s best to do this by hand as the dough is quite a tough little monster at this stage but fear not, your bingo wings will be banished and if need be just turn on some very loud music, shake your toosh and do a little dance while you pummel that dough into submission.
Once the dough bounces back when you poke it and looks quite smooth, start adding the pieces of softened butter, one at a time. Make sure you work in the butter slowly so that it incorporates into the dough. If you’re impatient at this stage the butter will just end up sitting on the surface of the dough like some greasy slick of, well, butter. Keep persisting and give this stage a good 5-10 minutes. Just keep thinking about those bingo wings disappearing.
Once all the butter is mixed in pop the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Set aside for 30 minutes to rest before you divide the dough into equal-sized balls.
Gently tip the dough onto a clean surface and using a sharp knife or dough scraper portion the dough into 16 even-sized balls. Clutching each ball in your hand and rolling it around inside a claw like grip on the kitchen surface means you can get a pert bun shape.
Place the balls on a tray, allowing space for each one to expand so they don’t cluster together (if they do it’s much harder to maintain the ball shape when you lift them into the fryer). Cover the doughnut balls with a damp tea towel in a warm-ish place and allow to double in size. They’ll need about 30-45 minutes depending on how warm the room is and how active the yeast is. Check that they’re ready by inserting your pinkie finger into the underneath of the ball and if the indentation doesn’t spring back the dough is fully proved and ready to go.
Heat a deep fat fryer to 160 C degrees, or heat the oil in a large saucepan using a temperature probe/thermometer to keep an eye on the heat. Only fill the pan 1/3 of the way up with oil to allow space for the doughnuts and to minimise the risk of hot fat spitting in every direction. Keep an oven glove, a lid and a long slotted spoon or spider draining spoon nearby for when you’re ready to fry the doughnuts. Prepare an assembly line with one plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb excess fat when you remove the hot doughnuts from the pan and a shallow, wide bowl with the cardamom sugar ready for tossing the doughnuts when they’re cooked.
Depending on the size of the pan lower 4-5 doughnuts into the hot oil at a time, setting a timer for 2-3 minutes and gently flipping the doughnuts over, repeating with a further 2-3 minutes cooking before removing from the pan. They should look golden-caramel. Too dark and they’ll taste across, too pale and they’ll be undercooked. Practice makes perfect, so don’t despair if the first couple of doughnuts aren’t quite right, you’ll get there.
Drain the excess oil from the doughnuts on the kitchen paper, allow to cool for a moment before tossing in cardamom sugar and serving warm. You can fill them with jam, I like a thick, tart raspberry jam or plum jam heavy on the fruit, less so on the sugar. Or leave them plain as we do.
That’s it, you’ve now made doughnuts, pat yourself on the back and scoff away!
* Seasonal variations: we made a gingerbread sugar for these doughnuts around Christmas time which was immensely popular. Just substitute the cardamom with a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, clove, some cardamom, along with a little black pepper for a true Scandi pepperkake effect. Vanilla sugar is also excellent and you can do interesting citrus variations using lemon and/or orange/clementine zest too.