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03/08/2011

~ Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts ~

PICT0079 Happy Doughnut Day, Fasnacht Day, Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday everyone... all of this being said, and let me be clear, it is NOT National Doughnut Day (which is the first Friday of June each year and that will be another post)!  This is one of those fun days to have a food blog because who does not like doughnuts!  It was the Pennsylvania Dutch people (who immigrated from the Rhine regions of Germany to the territory in and around Lancaster, PA) who started the tradition of eating doughnuts (or fasnachts as they call them) on the day prior to the start of Lent. I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, where there is a very large PA Dutch community, so I am quite familiar with this holiday, and, in that area I will tell you it was always called Fasnacht Day!

This is a holiday that was invented to clear pantries of butter, fat, lard and sugar, which were/are traditionally "given up" or fasted from during Lent.  Fasnachts themselves are not round like doughnuts.  The ones I am familiar with are triangular in shape, which represents the Holy Trinity.  It is said that if you eat a fasnacht on Fasnacht Day, you will live to eat another one next year.  It is also said that if you bury a piece of a fasnacht in the ground, you will have a plentiful harvest.  I wonder what would happen if I put one in my jewelry box!?!  It is a fact, however, that the last person out of bed on Fasnacht Day is only allowed to eat one fasnacht and is called a "lazy fasnacht"!

The doughnut recipe I am sharing with you today, while not a triangular fasnacht, uses an almost identical dough and identical cooking process.  It is indeed Pennsylvania Dutch and it is the kind I grew up eating.  It is not a yeast or raised dough and truthfully, next to a great cream-filled yeast-dough doughnut, these are and always have been my favorite.  It is a batter-type dough, similar to a quick bread, that takes less than five minutes to mix together.  What is particularly nice about this humble recipe is you can mix the dough, which needs to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, the night before.  So, all you have to do on Doughnut Day itself is get up, roll them out and fry them in a skillet of oil (just like our grandmothers did)!

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3  large eggs, at room temperature

1  cup sugar

1  cup sour cream

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1 1/2  teaspoons, firmly-packed baking soda

3 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, 1 cup additional bench flour for rolling and cutting doughnuts

1  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4  teaspoon salt

1 1/2-2  quarts vegetable oil, for frying doughnuts

2-4  tablespoons confectioners' sugar, for dusting doughnuts

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~ Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, about 10-15 seconds.  

Continue to whisk vigorously for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or until the eggs are frothy.

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~ Step 2.  In a small mixing bowl, using a spoon, thoroughly stir together the sour cream, vanilla extract and baking soda.

Add the sour cream mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth and even in color.

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~ Step 3.  In a medium mixing bowl, using a fork, blend the flour, ground nutmeg and salt.

Using a large spoon, gradually stir and incorporate all of the flour into the sour cream/egg mixture.

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~ Step 4.  A wet, sticky dough will have formed.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

This is great because you can mix your doughnuts the night before and fry them fresh tomorrow morning!

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~ Step 5.  In a 6-quart stockpot, preferably wide-bottomed, add 2 1/2-3" of vegetable oil.  Do not fill the pot more than 1/2 full with oil.

Over medium low heat, slowly bring the oil to 365-370 degrees.  I like to use a candy thermometer to monitor the heat.  This will take about 15 minutes.

While the oil is heating:

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~ Step 6.  Place the ball of dough on a work surface that has been floured with about 4 tablespoons of bench flour, then, generously sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of additional flour over the dough.

Roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/2".  FYI:  This dough is very soft and easy to roll.

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 ~ Step 7.  Using a 2 1/2" round doughnut cutter, go across the top of the dough, stamping out the doughnuts and the doughnut holes.

You want to work as quickly as you can, but you also want to make sure you make a firm cut, so that each doughnut can be easily separated from its doughnut hole.

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~ Step 8.  Sprinkle a large kitchen towel with about 2 tablespoons of bench flour.  Using a spatula, transfer the doughnuts from the work surface to the towel, separating the holes from doughnuts as you work.

Cover the doughnuts with a second towel and allow them to rest, about 10-15 minutes.

PICT0045 ~ Step 9.  Using the same spatula, transfer the doughnuts, in batches of four, to the hot oil, sliding the doughnuts off the spatula into the oil.  Fry until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second, turning only once.

Continue this process until all of the doughnuts are fried, then proceed to fry the doughnut holes in batches of 6-8.

~ Step 10.  Using a large slotted spoon, spatula or Asian spider, transfer each batch of doughnuts from the hot oil to a cooling rack that has been placed on top of 2 layers of paper towels.  The paper towels will catch any drips of oil.  When the doughnuts have cooled to room temperature, dust the tops with confectioner's sugar:

PICT0048 Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts:  Recipe yields 16-18 doughnuts and 16-18 doughnut holes.

Special Equipment List:  3 mixing bowls; whisk; spoon; fork; large spoon; plastic wrap; 6-quart stockpot, preferably wide-bottomed; candy thermometer (optional but recommended); cutting board; rolling pin; 2 1/2" round doughnut cutter; 2 large kitchen towels, preferably flour sack; cooling rack; paper towels; fine mesh strainer (for dusting doughnuts with sugar)

Cook's Note:  Doughnuts keep well, uncovered, for up to 24 hours, so don't be afraid to make them a day in advance of serving them.  Arrange them in a pretty basket next to the coffee pot and let your family and friends help themselves!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

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