I’ve got a more serious topic of conversation for today, one seemingly appropriate for Fat Tuesday.
Donuts. There’s a joke that if a person from Massachusetts senses there is not a Dunkin’ Donuts within a 3-mile radius, he’ll start to break out in cold sweats. Speaking from experience, this may actually be based in fact. My hometown of 17,000 has not one, not two, but two-and-a-half DD’s. There’s the smaller walk-in one, the one with the drive-thru, and the Hess station with a DD grab-n-go. Good luck getting down Federal St. any time before 8 AM, as the drive-thru line overflows into the road and blocks traffic for 2-3 hours every morning. The town without a doubt runs on Dunkin’.
The closest Starbucks is a 40-minute drive, and Krispie Kreme is more of a mythical idea than an actuality. Any meeting, gathering, sporting event, concert, etc. I ever attended growing up, someone would bring either a box of “munchkins” (donut holes) or a full-sized donut assortment. When my cousin got married, she had her cake, and also four-dozen donuts from Dunkin.’
My dad and I had a morning routine when I was growing up. Medium coffee extra-light one Equal for him, small Dunkaccino (in a medium cup) for me, then we would always split something. Some days it was a bagel, in the fall it was a pumpkin muffin (anxiously awaited all year), but our standard was… a plain old-fashioned donut stick. Were we the only customers in the whole town to order that? Probably. But there is nothing like a donut in it’s natural, unadorned state.
Now, this DD
habit routine of ours became a lot less regular as I got older, and ehem, a little more health conscious. While I would pick up a cup of coffee from time to time, I don’t think I ever ordered food from there past the age of 15. Their coffee is watery and terrible, by the way, but nobody seems to notice or care.
Then two summers ago, I did the all-American cross-country road trip. Everything was going smoothly as I traveled down the East Coast to Virginia to see some relatives. I was filled with excitement as I saw more and more signs along the highway for WaWa, and got to stop in to a few Wegman’s. But as I left Virginia for Ohio and down through Appalachia, I began to feel subtly ill-at-ease. It hit me: there was no Dunkin’ Donuts anywhere.
I’m not just writing this in an attempt to be funny. As I drove through the midwest and down to Texas and the southwest, I was really unsettled by the massive stretches of land where nothing could be seen for miles. In New England, it’s just one township after another. Off every highway exit is something different. It’s quite amazing actually, how New England remains rural and beautiful, while still having so many urban conveniences.
I became highly aware that I could blow a tire, get swept off by a tornado, or really need to pee, and the miles and miles of flatland would offer me no respite. Two things I learned on the trip (amoung countless others): middle America is not for me, and it’s the Northeast, not America that runs on Dunkin.’
The nearest DD to where I’m now living is apparently 1 1/2 hours away, in Modesto. It’s strange how now that I’m in California, I miss seeing that pink and orange sign every day, and I regularly get cravings for munchkins. Considering it was almost ten years before moving west that I last ate a munchkin, this really makes no sense. But as the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a donut. They’re one of those foods that just make people’s faces light up when they see them. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. Now back East, I’d challenge you to find a bad donut. Everyone has a place that makes their favorite, but thanks to DD, it’s pretty difficult to eat a subpar donut. Not so much, out here, at least in my experience. There are a few Krispy Kreme’s sprinkled here and there, then a bunch of independent shops that generally look like gas station convenience stores, yet are somehow masquerading as “donut bakeries” in strip malls. I’m not one to judge a donut by it’s appearance, but the two times I’ve ventured into one of these establishments, what I ate could hardly be considered a donut. Dry, flavorless, deep-fried nonsense on which I will not waste my time.
Then I found Doughnut Dolly. Not but a mile from my apartment, there you will find what is perhaps the best filled donut on this side of heaven. I’ve never met Dolly, and I’m not even certain she’s real, but nonetheless I envision her wearing a crown, flipping balls of dough in golden oil with a pair of jewel-encrusted tongs.
As much as I bow to the filled-donut queen, she does not make cake donuts. Maybe I’ll start writing her about this.
Daily. Alas, this fall passed without a single apple cider donut, and I’ve yet to come anywhere near finding a plain old-fashioned stick that can hold a candle to those back home.
Obviously, I’ve tried making my own. But to me, a great donut is one that doesn’t taste like it’s been in a deep fryer. Even though it has, I don’t need to know where it’s been. My homemade fried donuts have always come out tasting a lot like the oil they were just swimming in. Not good.
As for baked donuts, I used to make gluten-free & naturally sweetened ones all the time. They’re great, but they’re not donuts. They’re just wholesome ring-shaped muffins. Then yesterday morning, I woke up around 6, got out of bed, and thought to myself “red velvet donuts.” And I had these out of the oven by 7.
This can’t be normal, but if baking Red Velvet Cake Donuts on a whim at 6:30 in the morning before work is essential to my happiness, then so be it. I didn’t hear anyone who ate one of these complaining.
These donuts were one of those magic recipes that just “worked.” I gave a quick thought to how I make red velvet cupcakes, then altered some ratios on the fly to create a slightly denser texture. I wanted soft centers and crispy edges, with that characteristic red velvet flavor that’s delicious and enigmatic enough to make you forget about the artificial red dye that will probably stain your stomach lining.
I was happy with the first batch, but wanted to try one last thing before sharing the recipe. To my second I added a teaspoon of canola oil. Seriously, just that single teaspoon made a tremendous difference in the donuts. It somehow enhanced the flavor, made the edges a bit crisper, and created a softer center. Perfection.
Does it stop there? No. Buttermilk glaze. Red velvet cake is traditionally paired with cream cheese frosting, but I ran out of cream cheese and didn’t want anything to compete with the donuts themselves. So I whisked together a glaze using buttermilk and a good amount of vanilla. I didn’t think it was possible to use the words “glaze” and “not too sweet” in a single sentence, but that’s the exact description for this buttermilk glaze; it’s tangy, and not too sweet. I suggest dipping the donuts twice. The glaze will set, a bit of the flavor seeping into the donut, while creating that satisfying outer crust any self-respecting glazed donut should have.
I’ve written way, way too much about donuts at this point, so I’ll wrap it up. I warned you, donuts are a serious topic to East coasters. And what is Fat Tuesday without a donut?! I know the day is all about excess and indulgence, but these Red Velvet Cake donuts are totally on the lighter side, as far as donuts go. I always laugh when people advertise their baked donut recipes as “healthy.” These are not health food. They have white flour and sugar, but they are low-fat. I did a rough calculation out of curiosity, and each donut with glaze weighs in at around 175 calories and 5 grams of fat.
Calories are of little concern to me, as they are hardly a representation of nutrition, but I don’t waste my time and tastebuds on bad donuts, fried, baked, healthy, or otherwise.
Take it from a bonafide East Coast, Dunkin’- runner and baked good snob, these Red Velvet Cake Donuts with Buttermilk Glaze are worthy of any occasion. Dress with pink and red sprinkles for Valentine’s Day, green and red sprinkles for Christmas, eat them for Fat Tuesday, or enjoy one on any old day. They are sure to bring a red-lipped smile to your face.
Red Velvet Cake Donuts
Yields 10 donuts
Deeply-hued donuts flavored with cocoa and vanilla, baked in the oven then dipped in a sweet and tangy buttermilk glaze.
- 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbs. (10g) cocoa powder
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3 Tbs. (41g) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tsp. canola oil
- 1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
- 1 Tbs. (13g) brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 Tbs. red food coloring
- 1 3/4 cups (210g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 2 Tbs. (27g) unsalted butter, melted
- 3-4 Tbs. buttermilk
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Dash of salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F . Spray a donut pan with cooking spray. Given this recipe makes 10 donuts and most pan only have 6 cavities, you’ll likely have to bake these in two batches.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the butter, oil, and sugars. Add the egg and vanilla, and continue to whisk until slightly foamy. Stir in the buttermilk and food coloring until the mixture is vibrant.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet a little at a time, mixing gently with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Try not to over mix it.
Fill the donut cups about 3/4 of the way full, no higher. If your pan only makes six donuts, reserve the remaining batter on the counter. Alternatively, you can spray a mini muffin pan and make donut “holes” instead!
Bake for 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan and transferring to a cooling rack. Be careful, as I always think it’s a little tricky lifting the donuts out. If you still have batter left over, wipe out the pan, respray, and bake your last four donuts as you did the first six.
To make the glaze, place the powdered sugar in a large, shallow mixing bowl. Whisk in the butter, 3 tablespoons of buttermilk, vanilla, and a dash of salt. Continue whisking until it’s completely smooth and no lumps remain. Add an additional tablespoon of buttermilk if it’s too thick, and a bit more salt if it’s too sweet.
To glaze the donuts, dip directly into the bowl, face down. Meaning, the slightly flatter side exposed when baking. Return to the cooling rack and repeat with the remaining donuts. Top with sprinkles!
Allow the donuts to set before eating, then store in an airtight container in the fridge.