I carefully measured out all of the ingredients. I pulled out my big dough board. My deep, heavy cast-iron pan was filled with oil and I clipped a thermometer to the side. A baking sheet was lined with layers of paper toweling. I took a deep breath.
I was making doughnuts. Not just because it's fall, the perfect time to walk through crunchy leaves armed with a mug of hot cider and a warm, homemade doughnut. I had another reason. My 2-year-old grandson can't seem to get enough of sweet doughnut balls coated with sugar every time he makes a trip to the grocery store with his mom. It was the grandma within that tugged me into the kitchen to journey into a world of soft dough, a floured board, a doughnut cutter and hot fat.
I'll readily admit that I am not a doughnut-maker by nature. I grew up on my own grandma's fluffy-as-a-down-filled-pillow yeast doughnuts. Once in a while I was able to help her make my favorite treat. Every few years I make a batch of those chubby rounds. Yeast dough doesn't scare me a bit. But making cake doughnuts? Just the thought of it terrifies me.
Every year around this time, a friend of mine gathers a fun-loving group of women in her kitchen to make doughnuts, using a recipe that has been in her family for years. It's been a long time since I've been able to attend the get-together where flour flies and fat spatters, but I still remember how easy it seemed to make those doughnuts. But there I was part of an experienced team. Alone in the kitchen with a bowl of sticky batter for cake doughnuts, I start shaking.
I spotted the recipe for Applesauce Doughnuts in an old church cookbook. I must have been feeling very daring and bold as I decided to use butter rather than the shortening called for in the recipe. And I had to add some buttermilk. My expert doughnut-making friend always uses buttermilk.
It took little time to whip up the soft dough with my electric hand mixer. The dough feels a little moist when it goes from the mixing bowl onto a floured board. I used my floured fingers to pat the dough until it was about 1/2-inch thick. My old doughnut cutter worked great. But if you don't have one, just use a drinking glass to cut the rounds.
It's important to fry the doughnuts in a deep heavy pan or Dutch oven. It helps to use a deepfry/candy thermometer to keep track of the temperature of the oil.
Applesauce Doughnuts. Easy. Delicious. Cakey, slightly crispy and cinnamon-sugary. Just what a 2-year-old little boy likes in a doughnut ball. His happy look of surprise as he grasped a small bag of the cinnamon-sugared doughnut balls and whispered, "Love you" into my ear is just what moves this grandma back to the kitchen to make Applesauce Doughnuts over and over again.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Sift together the flour, salt, nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside. Mix baking soda with buttermilk and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar at medium speed of an electric mixer until blended. Add applesauce and egg. Beat to blend. Mix in buttermilk mixture. Add flour mixture to mixing bowl and beat well. Dough will be soft.
Generously flour work surface. Pat or roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness on the floured surface. Cut dough with a floured doughnut cutter.
Pour oil to depth of 2 inches in a large deep pan or Dutch oven. Heat to 350 degrees. Gently drop in 4 or 5 doughnuts at a time. Cook until golden on one side. Flip each doughnut and fry until golden. Transfer to paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Roll warm doughnuts and doughnut balls in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Makes about 14 doughnuts and 14 doughnut balls, depending on the size cutter you use.
Tips from the cook
--That's right. Just 1 tablespoon of butter is all it takes to make these doughnuts tender.
--I used unsweetened applesauce, but sweetened will work just fine.
--Hot oil can be very dangerous, so don't take your eyes off of it! When disposing of oil (if you don't plan to reuse it) let it cool completely and pour into an old can or container that can be sealed. If you have a cold garage, set the pan of oil out there to help it solidify. That makes it easier to dispose of the oil safely in the trash.
--These doughnuts are best eaten the day they are made.