The Orchard store opened for the season last Saturday. There have been a lot of changes over the winter with Doug and Miranda updating and trying new things. One thing that hasn’t changed is the donut recipe.
Yesterday as I sampled my first donut of the season I thought back to 1980 when Max had the brilliant idea (he was great for ideas) of making donuts to sell. Donuts were one of my grandmother’s specialties and I remembered them fondly. When our children were growing up I had occasionally made them myself.
Making them to sell sounded like a good idea . We bought packaged donut mix from a commercial food distributer, used cider as the liquid and called them cider donuts. I bought a plunger affair from a restaurant supply house. It operated manually, dropping batter into hot oil in ring shapes.
Since this was something untried we bought a small commerical fryolator. It held nine donuts at a time. We set up a donut station in a corner of the barn, near the fireplace (that room was the entire store in those days) and proceeded to fry donuts. One by one I pushed the soft dough through the plunger. Each donut took three minutes to cook, 90 seconds on one side and then another 90 seconds on the other side. I used the handle of a wooden spoon to turn them.
To my dismay, the donuts were an instant hit. Soon people were waiting patiently in line for hot donuts. I dreaded the people who wanted a half dozen, or worse, a dozen donuts. We needed a better system.
In visits to orchards in Michigan we had seen automatic donut makers. We had also tasted rich, dark, spicy donuts. They made ours seem pale and tasteless. I had always hated the idea of using a mix. Mixes were simply flour, sugar, baking powder and some kind of shortening with a lot of chemicals to make them shelf stable. I could do that myself without the chemicals.
I got out my Joy of Cooking and the recipe that I had always used. It called for flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, shortening and milk. The batter had to be soft enough to make a cakelike donut but firm enough to roll out and cut with a donut cutter. I started the task of adapting it to the taste that we were looking for.
Substituting cider for the milk was just the beginning. Molasses added flavor and color. It also helped make the batter softer. Spices were the other key to the kind of donut we wanted. I increased them dramatically. Once the flavor was right, the ingredients had to be adjusted for quantity. It wasn’t just a matter of quadrupling ingredients, the consistency had to be right for the plunger and for the cooking time.
The donut machine frys them in a specific amount of time. If the consistency is not right the donuts will be over cooked or under cooked. A lot of too crisp or raw in the center donuts went into the trash before we got the recipe right.
It occurs to me as I write this that in the past thirty years we have sold millions of donuts. I could never have guessed, when I turned nine donuts at a time in a little fryolator that it would lead to these amazing numbers.