vanilla-cream filled doughnuts

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My writing was like a grown up child suddenly taking up residence in all sorts of strange places and sending back photos.Leslie Jamison

I’m sorry, I’m distracted. Correction, I’ve been distracted, occupied by the sort of paralysis that happens when you sent your book out into the world. Right now, my novel is in the hands of four different people around the country and they’re reading it, not reading it, picking it up or placing the manuscript gently down. Honestly, this is the part about writing I hate–taking the small, private thing you’ve harvested and setting it free. I imagine this is what a mother would feel when she nudges her child on to a school bus for the first time and watches the doors close behind her child. The thing that I once held so close has been temporarily taken from me and I worry (worry!) that people won’t be able to see what I’m trying to do, or simply, they won’t like it.

And yes, it’s so easy to say that I shouldn’t care what others think, however, this is precisely why an artist creates. The only way I can make sense of the world is through writing about it, and as a result of that process there’s a hope that others will feel something, anything, as a result of it. The hope is that they can hear the way my heart beat when I wrote about hurt, and they would somehow understand why I had to linger in that hurt. Set up shop, played house in it. I worry that the structure of my novel will turn hurt into a maze, forcing readers to work to find my beating heart in an age where people don’t want to put in the work when it comes to art. Some want art to explain and tell rather than probe and ask.

I guess I’m also worried because this book represents some of the most confessional writing I’ve ever committed to paper–more so than my first book. It’s easy to use fiction as a curtain, and as a result I was able to imbue a great deal of myself across a few of my characters; I was able to be vulnerable on the page when I have a hard time being vulnerable off it. A great deal of me is in this story–perhaps in ways you might not so easily identify–but not all of it. Perhaps the worry is the very frightening question the book poses, really, will you follow me into the dark? Are you brave enough to go there? Will you take the time to linger there? And I brave enough to have you occupy this space with me? From this solitary act comes an invitation, of which the author prays the reader accepts.

I know this all sounds a bit looney, but this is what it’s like for me right now. For four years in my head and one year in front of a computer or stray pieces of manuscript, this book was MINE. ONLY MINE. Now, in its rawest state, it’s less mine, and I just have to breathe and deal with that.

THANK GOD FOR VANILLA CREAM DOUGHNUTS, especially on those Friday nights when the novel is the ONLY thing I can think about. Will they get it? Will they like it? Will they understand how and why I built this world? Will the world and words linger? Will they hold up over the passage of time? Was me being this vulnerable in fiction truly worth the risk at all {emphatic yes}?

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour
For the doughnuts
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 2/3 ounce (18 grams) fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup (160 grams) milk, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (490 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (270 grams) sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs
7 tbsp (3/4 stick/100 grams) butter, at room temperature, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying

For the vanilla cream filling
6 tablespoons (90 grams) heavy cream
Pastry Cream, chilled

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast and milk. Stir together briefly, then let sit for about 1 minute to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, 1/3 cup (70 grams) of the sugar, the salt, and the eggs and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, or until the dough comes together. Then, still on low speed, mix for another 2 to 3 minutes to develop the dough further. Now, begin to add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to mix for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is soft and cohesive.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 15 hours.

Lightly flour a baking sheet. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch square about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2- to 4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 9 doughnuts. Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot to proof for 2 to 3 hours, or until they are about doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy.

When ready to fry, line a tray or baking sheet large enough to hold the doughnuts with paper towels. Pour oil to a depth of about 3 inches into a large, heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until hot. To test the oil, throw in a pinch of flour. If it sizzles on contact, the oil is ready. (It should be 350 degrees if you are using a thermometer.) Working in batches, place the doughnuts in the hot oil, being careful not to crowd them. Fry on the first side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown. Then gently flip them and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown on the second side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the prepared tray and let cool for a few minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Place the remaining 1 cup (200 grams) sugar in a small bowl. One at a time, toss the warm doughnuts in the sugar to coat evenly. As each doughnut is coated, return it to the tray to cool completely. This will take 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the vanilla cream filling: While the doughnuts are cooking, whip the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold it into the pastry cream . You should have about 3 cups.

When doughnuts are completely cooled, poke a hole in the side of each doughnut, spacing it equidistant between the top and bottom. Fit a pastry bag with a small round tip and fill the bag with the filling. Squirt about 1/3 cup filling into each doughnut. Serve immediately.

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pumpkin coffee cake donuts

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It’s not yet the holidays, but my life feels abundant with goodness. My consulting contract has been extended through the first quarter of 2014, which affords me the luxury of taking off the month of December to celebrate in the monsoon that will be Fiji (note to self: while booking flights through grief, check to see if you’re traveling through rain season), work on my novel, food magazine, and spend the rest of the month catching up with friends.

I’ll be in full regeneration mode before I take off for Fiji next week, which means that the oven is already fired up and I’m raring to share an onslaught of yummy eats. When I discovered these donuts, I knew I had to bake them this morning, and I’ve no regrets. Clearly you need to have these for Thanksgiving breakfast. CLEARLY.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Channeling Contessa, slightly modified
For the donuts
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup safflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the streusel:
2 tbsp cane sugar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 325°F. Coat donut pan with non-stick cooking spray — I prefer coconut spray, or, alternatively, you can use a cloth and lightly oil the pan with safflower, vegetable or grapeseed oil. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt until all the ingredients cohere and are combined. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the pumpkin, brown sugar, egg, oil and vanilla until smooth. Add wet mixture to flour mixture, and whisk until combined. Be careful not to overmix, but you want to ensure all the flour has been incorporated into the wet mixture. Briefly set aside.

On to the streusel! Mix together all dry ingredients for the streusel. Pour over the butter, which should be slightly cooled, and mix your hands to create clumps the size of fat walnuts.

Add the batter into a large Ziploc bag. Cut off the corner and squeeze batter into prepared donut pan about 2/3 full. Sprinkle the tops of the donuts generously with the streusel. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until donuts spring back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan on rack 5 minutes, then carefully turn out directly onto rack to cool.

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the gathering kind: getting surgical {part 3}

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She didn’t finish her sentence because Isabel was running through the cypress trees so fast and with such force the trees were shaking for minutes afterwards. Laura watched the momentary chaos of the trees. It was as if they had been pushed off balance and did not quite know how to find their former shape. — Swimming Home, Deborah Levy

This year we will be surgical. I tell you there’s no other way. Our greatest tool is the scalpel and we’ll need to it excise the unnecessary appendages because we live in a world of barnacles. People who will cleave to you in shallow waters, wrap themselves around you so tight that it becomes difficult to breathe. And by the time you open your eyes and do the maths, they’ve multiplied; they’ve got you boxed in and there’s no way out. The barnacles are tricky, sessile, set on feeding on anything in motion. Determined to drain every bit of you out of you. So there’s you trying to make a life for yourself and there’s them, trying to leech it away. Survival is now predicated on discipline — how we notice the drift, the cleave, the attachment and how we’re able to cut it off and push it away. Because if you don’t you will become lost in the forest that is them, and you’ll never find your former shape.

You may think this bit is about coming apart — antithetical to gathering! — but I promise you there’s more in play. Make no mistake, we live in a kingdom of animals and it’s Darwinian.

Lately I’ve been preaching this conceit of the barnacle and the scalpel to everyone who will listen. Especially those who, like myself, fall prey to unnecessary attachments. People consider us the court jester, prone to performances the peanut-crunching crowd always love (we’re such a sight to see!), or perhaps we’re the kind, compassionate creative who has something — a life, a mind, a heart — of which the barnacles secretly covet. And we book our calendars full of lunches and dinners. We participate in their endless interrogations, listen intently to their latest drama (which is always on the level of the Greek), and dole out advice like dolls. They come away in a fever while we lean against buildings for support. How is it so possible to feel so weak after a single meal? How is it possible that all you now want to do is curl under your covers and sleep?

If your friendships are such that you are consistently and relentlessly carving out pieces of yourself to give to others, then break out the scalpel because this barnacle|host relationship will end up killing you. Imagine yourself weighted down by attachments, unable to flee through the trees, unable to recognize the shape that is yourself because you’re always seeing the others. This clutter, this noise, this feverish motley lot prevent you from gathering with the ones who truly deserve your affection. {Haven’t you found yourself canceling plans with the ones you love because you’re exhausted from so many unnecessary engagements?}

I’m not a “popular” person; I’ve never been part of the “in crowd” {do we even use these terms anymore?}, and I never want to be. I used to be invited to dozens of parties and my calendar was always booked out for weeks, but now I have longer meals with the ones I love and the invitations are more about quality than quantity. From a mean girl where my every exhale was akin to walking on proverbial eggshells, to the married friend for whom my single status was her constant project, to the friend who was always telling the great story that was her life, a life where no one could get a word in edgewise in the midst of a two-hour dinner, to the other friend who grew frightened whenever I was quiet and measured, and only seemed to calm when I was my most boisterous “on” self — these are but a few of the extremities I excised.

As the years press on I find myself endlessly excising. Whittling down to my beloveds — those whose relationships are reciprocal in energy, where both of us leave inspired, refreshed and focused. Granted, this isn’t a call to cut the cord when friendships get difficult by any means — this is more of an examination of how much you’re bloodletting and how much you’re giving of yourself at the expense of yourself. Examining all that is superfluous to refine and carve and hone to all who are essential.

I thought of all this, actually composed this post in my head as I was taking a much-needed respite at Bottega Falai. Yesterday it was cold in the city and I was entirely too early for a date, which is another sort of gathering, I suppose, and I slipped into this small cafe cum retail concept and watched Italian men with their sons, teaching them manners. I watched tourists slip in and fawn over the crepe cakes and pastries and I listened intently to two friends engaging in that barnacle|host exchange. The host’s eyes glazed over and part of me wanted to lean in and tell her about scalpels, but it wasn’t the time and it wasn’t my place so I just listened and composed and thought about sharing this with the ones I love.

Prosciutto sandwich
Crepe cakes
Crepe cakes
bomboloni (donut)
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sweet eats: nadege patisserie: toronto, canada

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Folks who know me well know that my passion for the CROISSANT is unshakeable. It almost rivals my hatred of the MUSHROOM, the MITTEN and the CLOWN. When I was in Paris I indulged in multiple croissants a day, and as Edith Piaf so sagely sang: I have no regrets. So I was a little troubled that I’d yet to find a truly delicious croissant in Toronto until I stumbled upon Nadege Patisserie, a place where your senses are tickled by excellence.

This lovely shop is host to all sorts of visual delights. From liqueur-infused vibrantly-hued macarons to kugelhopf (donuts made with lemon zest — a fusion of German and French flavor) to fine, homemade chocolates and my beloved croissant, you will indulge in every sweet treat you can get your hands on. And believe me when I say I devoured a few in one sitting.

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brunch here now: morandi, new york city

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There was a time when I wouldn’t set foot in Morandi on principle. I had a spat with a hostess, who I found incredibly rude, and I stormed out vowing never to return. However, months later I saw an episode of Unique Sweets that put my heart on pause. Bruschetta with homemade ricotta, honey and nuts. Brioche slathered in chocolate dotted with rich hazelnuts. And the bomboloni! Miniature pillows of puffed, sugary perfection. Since I sometimes tend to hold irrational grudges I decided to return on principle that there should be NO BOMBOLONI IGNORED.

And it was an utter delight. Dining al fresco in the west village is a pure, unadulterated privilege of living in New York. You have prime viewing of passersby while savoring a hot coffee and a flaky pastry. After spin class, I settled with a book and a menu that made it difficult to order just one item. So I proceeded to order four, much to the consternation of the polite waiter.

From the charred homemade focaccia — a bed for roasted black kale, squash, apples and salty cheese — to the tender eggs and raisin bruschetta, you won’t miss at Morandi. Brunch is a true standout, replete with expedient service, fresh ingredients and a thoughtful combination of flavors. Inspired by my focaccia, I went home and fixed a kale salad that was out of bounds, people. OUT OF BOUNDS.

So if you’re aching for a perfect brunch spot in the heart of the West Village, I wholly recommend Morandi.

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chow down now: a miniature sweets tour, nyc

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Lately it feels as if I’m stuck in the betweens: a sort of limbo where you can see the road traveled ahead, you can even catch a glimpse of the future version of yourself living your life exactly as you wished it to be — but here you are, in a house with no keys and no car. Only the solace that, at some point, you’ll make it to the other side.

Sometimes this comfort is fleeting, especially when you live in the here and the now, where every word is a pin-prick, every sound a shudder. Where you believe that people exist solely to make your life difficult. The last few weeks have been challenging — both physically and professionally (I’ll say no more than that) — and all I want to do is surround myself with beauty and quiet.

For me, food is like church in its ability to soothe and comfort. There is a satisfaction in making something with your hands, food that is personal in its intent to give pleasure to the one who consumes it. Often I talk about bakers as artisans in the kitchen — people who exercise gastronomic feats that is ethereal in form.

So when I woke feeling a little blue, I decided to indulge in the artistry of others rather than making something of my own. For six hours I traveled the city and Brooklyn and sampled hot cookies, feathery-light donuts, heavenly whipped ice cream, all the while compiling a goodie basket for a friend who is in need of sweet cheer.

I kicked off my sweet tour at Doughnut Plant in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This nondescript downtown staple showcases fresh yeast and cake doughnuts made with seasonal flavors and ingredients. From the traditional jelly and glaze to the outrageously divine creme brulee, coconut creme, and blueberry, you will fall in love at first bite. I tend to deviate toward yeast doughnuts because they’re more aerated and fluffier than the heavier (but smaller) cake version. However, doughnut connoisseurs will not be disappointed with this spot where lines routinely roll out the door.
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If you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit of a sweet snob. I think Magnolia Bakery is vastly overrated, and many shops serve up flavorless cookies or saccharine sweet belly-bombing cakes. I live by the axiom that if my amateur kitchen can churn out a better muffin than those housed in your storefront, then your shop isn’t worth patroning. It seems as if EVERYONE.COM has been singing the praises of Levain Bakery’s six-ounce cookies, however, I yawned.

UNTIL their treats were featured on The Cooking Channel‘s Unique Sweets. Believe me when I say that I LIVE FOR THIS SHOW. I BUY EVERYTHING FEATURED ON THIS SHOW. I BELIEVE IN THIS SHOW. The show feature was enough to send me uptown to sample their famous cookies, and OH MY SWEET LORD THEY WERE DELICIOUS. The enormous cookies are scone-like in shape and texture, but they are undeniably flavorful — so much so that I could practically taste the vanilla extract in the oatmeal raisin cookies. AND THE RAISINS WERE SOFT AND TENDER!!!

I nearly wept a poodle.

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My sage online buddy, @mike_white, directed me in the direction of Dough, a small doughnut joint in Bed-Sty, Brooklyn. I first attempted to snag a doughnut at the Brooklyn Flea, but the place was packed to the gills and they were wiped out of doughnuts. Invasion of the Doughnut Snatchers and the like.

After a ten-minute walk I encountered the BEST DOUGHNUTS OF MY LIFE. The shop is tiny and the wait Odyssean, but it’s worth it. From passionfruit glaze and mocha chips to blood orange glaze and creme filling to toasted coconuts, the shop is a literal feast for the eyes. I don’t care that my walk home was forty-five minutes. I don’t care that I was crammed in a little shop. I don’t care that doughnuts are 1.5 million calories.

THESE DOUGHNUTS GAVE ME A REASON TO LIVE.

And what started out as a day worth shredding soon morphed into an adventure. On my way home I picked up hyacinths and tulips, and carried my bounty, home.

I hope my friend doesn’t freak out when she sees three pounds of sugar, butter and glaze.

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delicious delights: farmstand buttermilk doughnuts

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Believe me when I say that you will need to lock and deadbolt these doughnuts in the basement after you’ve sampled one. Simply put, hot fried dough swathed in cinnamon sugar is perhaps the epitome of bliss. You will need to exercise an extraordinary amount of restraint (as I did while photographing these gems) because the DOUGHNUT HOLE can be a slippery slope. Once you inhale one you have no idea where the 17 others went — all the while you haven’t even tried a DOUGHNUT. Downward spiral, my friends.

But a woman digresses.

It’s becoming clear to me that this year has been all about firsts — bootcamp workouts, eliminating toxic, catty people from my circle, and a calm I haven’t felt in years. Ever since I purchased the Baked Explorations cookbook, I’d flip past the doughnut recipe because it was never something I considered making.

Until today.

Doughnuts are a cinch to make. These were richer, smoother and less sugary than the ones in the ubiquitous shops (buttermilk). Making perfect doughnuts relies on room temperature ingredients, hot oil and a non-crowded pan. Once you’ve got the basics in order, it’s nutella-dipping-living, baby!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis + Renato Poliafito
For the Doughnuts
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
3/4 cup organic buttermilk
1/4 cup organic sour cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly browned and cooled
Vegetable oil for frying

For the Chocolate Dip (I didn’t try the chocolate)
4 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60-70%), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sprinkles to decorate (optional)

For the Vanilla Glaze (I didn’t try the vanilla)
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla paste or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sprinkles to decorate (optional)

For the Cinnamon Sugar
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tbsp cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Line one baking sheet with parchment paper and another baking sheet with two layers of paper towels.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and sour cream until combined. Add the melted, cooled butter and whisk again.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the liquid ingredients into the well. With a rubber spatula, slowly fold the flour into the liquid center until the mixture forms a sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and pat it out until it is about 1/2 inch thick.

Use two round cutters (3 1/4″ and 1 1/2″ for large doughnuts; 2 1/2″ and 1″ for smaller doughnuts). Dip the large cutter in flour and press out the rounds. Dip the smaller cutter in the flour and cut out the center of each dough round. Arrange both doughnuts and doughnut holes on the parchment-lined baking sheet, pat the dough scraps back together, and use them to make as many more doughnuts and doughnut holes as possible. Chill the dough while you heat the oil.

Pour enough oil into a deep skillet to make a layer approximately 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches deep. Slowly heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is 365 to 370 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer, it takes approximately 5-7 minutes. I tested the heat with a doughnut hole. If the oil sizzles around the dough and the dough bobs in the oil, you’re golden.

While you are waiting for the oil to reach temperature, make the assorted toppings.

Chocolate Dip: Place the chopped chocolate in a medium wide-mouthed bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it is just about to boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and wait 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter. Keep the mixture warm.

Vanilla Glaze: In a medium wide-mouthed bowl, whisk together the sugar, the milk, and the vanilla paste.

Cinnamon Sugar: In a medium wide-mouthed bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon.

Fry the Doughnuts: Once the oil reaches temperature, gently lift the large doughnuts off the baking sheet and place them in the hot oil. Do not crowd the skillet-make no more than 3 doughnuts at a time. Once they have browned on one side (this takes 2-3 minutes), turn them over with tongs or a slotted spoon (don’t overbrown) and continue to cook for another minute or just until browned (they can overcook or burn rather quickly). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the paper towel lined baking sheet and continue to fry the rest of the dough until finished. The doughnut holes will cook faster and can be made in two or three batches after the doughnuts are done.

Assemble the Doughnuts: Once you have finished frying, work quickly to dip the doughnuts in the chocolate or vanilla glaze, or the cinnamon sugar. If you like, decorate the chocolate or vanilla doughnuts with sprinkles. Serve immediately.

Baker’s Notes: When you fry doughnuts make sure you maintain the correct oil temperature throughout the process. Generally speaking, doughnuts taste best served immediately after they’ve emerged from the fryer ( and taken a quick dip in sugar or chocolate or vanilla. However if they don’t disappear quickly when served take day old doughnuts and chop them into big coarse crumbs, toast them lightly, and add them to vanilla ice cream as a mix in (if you are making it from scratch) or a topping (if you are serving store bought). Doughnuts also work wonders (very rich wonders) when used as the base of a bread pudding.

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