Ask Peter: Fried dough balls
We are very jealous of your doughnut truck in London and are hoping you’ll bring one here. But in the meantime, can you explain what the difference is between the lovely fat, old-school cream filled buns we call doughnuts here (and in the UK), those lighter, fluffier rings Americans call donuts and the long Spanish churros?
Ahhh, our gorgeous black Citroen doughnut truck. Dorothy, as she is named, is a real beauty, and like so many of the food trucks here in the UK — and the same can be said for NZ — it’s a real joy to see her parked up alongside others serving food that is fresh and tasty, made that morning, and that you know will all be sold on the day.
When the Crosstown Team began looking into doughnuts we realised there are "fried dough balls’' in most European cuisines, as well as the obvious American cake doughnuts. In the Netherlands they have smallish round oliebollen and these, perhaps strangely, were part of my childhood. I had Dutch schoolfriends and towards the end of the year Mrs Visser would make these "oil balls’' which we’d have at school before it broke up for the summer holidays or on New Year’s if I was visiting. They seemed very foreign and glamorous, and as I’d previously only really had NZ-style finger doughnuts and ring doughnuts I was surprised to know there so many shapes to be had.
I’ve since eaten many an oliebollen in Amsterdam at New Year and at winter fairs, often flavoured with dried currants and lemon peel and the odd one with a generous dose of cinnamon, allspice and cloves. They are basically an enriched bread dough made with eggs and yeast and sometimes some baking powder.
Spain has given us churros. These are basically deepfried long fritters piped into hot oil from a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle. The mixture is similar to the choux pastry you’d use for eclairs, but it is egg-free. Butter (occasionally oil) is brought to the boil with water, a little salt and sugar, and then flour is beaten into it until it forms a glossy, not too sticky dough/batter. If you were making eclairs, at this point you’d also beat some egg into the batter. Unlike the oliebollen, no yeast or baking powder is used in this dough, it’s the beating in of the flour that incorporates air, which causes the mixture to swell when it’s deep-fried.
American ring doughnuts are made differently again. These are often referred to as cake doughnuts and they are raised using baking powder, much like a cake batter, rather than the yeast used in other varieties. The cake mixture is made and cooked immediately — unlike yeastraised doughnuts which require the dough to prove. A cake doughnut will be just as it says on the label — cakey with a tightish crumb, easy to ‘snap’ apart unlike a yeast doughnut which will tear more like a bread roll.
Then of course there is the newest doughnut craze to sweep the culinary world — the controversial cronuts/ doissants, or whatever else you like to call them. I’m quite a fan, though many of my cheffy friends think they’re appalling: these are a big eat so they’re best shared. They are a hybrid between a doughnut (so deep-fried, not baked) and a croissant (a dough made similar to puff pastry by layering butter between a dough and rolling it to give you many layers, which when cooked swells up and gives flaky layers).
All of these, along with the Greek loukoumas, Tuscan bomboloni, Polish paczki, and Peruvian picarone to name just a few other variations, are basically a dough that is deep-fried, causing the outside to go slightly crisp and golden. All are coated with sugar or sweet syrup in one way or another, and all are hard to resist.
However, ours are slightly different in that we combine sourdough and bakers’ yeast — the sourdough we have been using at The Providores in London since 2001. We deep-fry them and stuff them and make them so delicious that we are now selling them at Selfridges, which means it’s even easier to get your hands on them in London.
As for New Zealand — we’ll all just have to wait and see!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.
Here's a decadent little collection of sweet doughy delights.