When I was a little girl I thought that I was quite clever. I had a well thought out plan and as well as a four year old could possibly do, I began a very important conversation with, “Let’s talk about donuts”. There are glazed donuts, donuts with sprinkles, chocolate donuts, long johns and donut holes. If the conversation went the way I hoped it would, not long into it I was often asked, “Should we get a donut today?” Particularly if we talked about donuts in the car that exact conversation was bound to end this way, and that I knew.
I don’t know what I loved so much then and what I love so much about donuts now, but what I do know is that feeling I had from the beginning of the conversation to the last bite. Perhaps it was the smell when I walked into that hot bakery, the rainbow of sprinkles staring at me, the oh so many options to choose from or even that thin piece of wax paper that served as a eating accompaniment. Whatever it was, nothing beat leaving the quaint storefront with a little white bag - black marker written price on the outside, making it mine– and I couldn’t wait to get back in the car with the magical pillow of pure sugar. With a texture and taste every baker dreams of, this delicious dough never failed to delight.
What’s funny about this memory is that the taste is the last thing that comes to mind. I work at an innovation firm, where I have very similar conversations to the ones I had when I was little. We talk about things like donuts, we eat donuts, and then we try to create new donuts that will capture and maintain what is important about what they are now while changing them in ways to make them something they could be, something better.
When designing food you would think the most important part is the combination of ingredients that makes up the product, but that is not always the case. Sure, it should certainly be delicious, and there are restrictions when creating, but delicious is something that can debated. Something though, that when innovating, that can’t be debated is how you feel. And so, we begin not with the food but with the people. With the memories, their pains, their joys, and when we can bottle that up we are ready to make. It’s a process, and it’s a fun one. I like to remember what is important to you when you think of that final product. If you want donuts for breakfast on a weekday, something that replaces cereal, that is easy to make, with no oil mess, but still brings you the joy a store bought donut does it's doable. I begin to make until I match that idea, fulfilling the criteria that creates that experience. And that’s how you get a product. We talk about it, we draw it, and then we try and make it.
So hold up! This isn’t rocket science, that I am aware. I am making the next cookie, not a medical device. But I do believe it is important. Is that cold beer at a tailgate better now in aluminum? Is the crunch in a kettle chip a game changer? And does cayenne on popcorn give you the kick you need while falling asleep in a movie theater? Food is a part of us, and despite its relative importance in relation to walking on the moon or printing a clearer MRI scan, we engage with it every day and it can make or break a mood. If you want to make mini-donuts, baked in a donut pan at home that could quite possibly rival some of my childhood memories, just try! It’s easier than you would think. I started with my dry ingredients and worked on adding the right liquid proportions until I achieved the right dough consistency. Once you know the texture you’re looking for, it becomes an exciting experiment. You work backwards and sooner than you think you can create a recipe from scratch. The smell, the sugar, the light and fluffy fairy-tale taste, I think it was all of that, making bakeries a mini-vacation and reason for conversation. Whatever brings you there, capture it, make it, eat it, and appreciate it.
These bite-size hot cross bun donut holes and pumpkin crowd pleasers are easy to execute, similar to my child-like donut conversation, and taste as good as those at your local bakery. Just a handful of ingredients and a few minutes to make, be careful, you may be talking about donuts everyday.
Hot Cross Bun Donut Holes
5 tbl butter
420 g cake flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
10 g instant dry yeast
200 ml warm water
Directions: In bowl combine the butter, flour, salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the yeast and mix. Beat the egg and warm water together and add to the dough. Mix to form a soft dough then knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Cut into 24 pieces and roll into balls. Heat a large pot of oil (or use deep fryer) fry the doughnuts, in batches until golden and puffed. Remove from oil and immediately dust in castor sugar. Adapted from The Kate Tin.
1 cake mix
1 (15 oz) can of pumpkin puree
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Directions: Good ol' Betty Crocker knows how to make donuts! Or if you want to make that cake mix from scratch...
2 cups all purpose flour
1 ¾ cup sugar
1 tbl baking powder
½ cup non fat powdered milk
¼ tsp salt
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
2.5 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Directions: Combine dry ingredients. Add pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice. Mix. Fill piping bag. Grease a mini donut pan and pipe batter into each donut ring. Bake at 350 degrees for 4 minutes. Drop out onto a parchment paper lined sheet tray and dust with sugar.
Chocolate Baked Donuts
Use my good friend Betty's recipe and add a dash of whiskey!