Andrew’s 4-part adventure will be posted over the course of this week. Read all of his Wheatstalk coverage here.
On day 2 of my Wheatstalk adventure I had my first full-day class, “Artisan Fried,” which involved all manner of fried bread products: Berliners, crullers, beignets, and chrusciki. I love doughnuts as much as anyone, but I’m not particularly keen on making them myself—I’d rather leave the vats of hot grease for someone else to stand over—so this class had been low on my list of preferences when I sent in my registration packet. Still, I was intrigued by the idea of getting to play with recipes that I’d never been exposed to before, and as I walked into the classroom that morning, I found myself looking forward to it eagerly (it didn’t hurt that I was hungry, too).
The class was taught by Jory Downer, owner of Bennison’s Bakery, in Evanston, Ill., just north of Chicago. Bennison’s is one of those old-school, cakes-and-doughnuts, glass-case shops, but Downer is no hack—his team took top honors in the 2005 Coupe du Monde baking competition in Paris, where he was in charge of viennoiserie. (Jeff Yankellow, my baker’s math instructor from the afternoon before, was a fellow teammate of Downer’s, winning in the Artisan Bread category.)
Jory began the day demonstrating the dough-mixing procedure for each product, and then we followed suit ourselves, working in pairs.
My partner for the day was Matt James, co-owner of Standard Baking Company in Portland, Maine, one of my favorite bakeries in New England.
First up were Berliners, AKA “jelly doughnuts”—yeast-leavened fried buns filled with fruit jelly, pastry cream, or chocolate. (We used the same dough to make French twists.) The rich dough contained eggs, egg yolks, shortening, milk powder, sugar, and a combination of bread and pastry flour. It was leavened with fresh yeast as well as a preferment (pâte fermentée) for additional depth of flavor. Once mixed and fully developed, we then let it proof for a half hour at room temperature.
The second dough we mixed was for beignets, rectangles of dough fried until they puff and then tossed with powdered sugar. Beignets are of French origin but are best known in the US as a New Orleans staple, where thay are served alongside bitter, dark roasted coffee with chicory. (They are available year-round in places like Cafe du Monde, but they are most popular during Mardi Gras.) The dough for beignets was similar to that of the berliners, though with a higher ratio of eggs, and butter instead of shortening. It contained yeast, but no preferment, along with baking powder, to help the fritters puff up dramatically in the hot oil.
The last of the leavened items we made was one with which I was completely unfamiliar: chrusciki (pronounced “croose-chicky”). Similar to beignets, these fritters (also known as “angel wings”) are a popular snack in Poland and in ex-pat Polish communities—the north side of Chicago houses the largest in the U.S.—in the days leading up to Lent. (It’s funny but not surprising how anticipation of leaner days encourages the consumption of greasy treats such as these.)
Crusciki dough contains no yeast and relies solely on baking powder as a leavener. It’s fairly rich, with filled with butter and egg yolks. It also contains an ingredient I’d never seen before: baker’s cheese. This dairy product—unknown outside of the Midwest—is like a fine-grained, thick ricotta, but with an acidic, cream cheese tang, and is made from milk that’s been coagulated with both acid and rennet. (According to Milwaukeeans, it’s the only appropriate cheese to use in a cheesecake.)
The final dough we made was a pâte à choux dough for making French crullers. It’s made by creating a paste of hot milk, butter, and flour, into which you add beaten eggs. It gets its “puff” not from leaveners, but from the steam that is produced when it is heated. (Pâte à choux is a dough that I’m intimately familiar with, having made it daily for weeks on end when developing my Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Paris-Brest cake last year.)
Once all the doughs were mixed and rested or proofed, we got down to shaping each of these pastries. The doughnut dough yielded the widest variety of products and variations.
The traditional Berliner or bismarck round buns were shaped by forming balls and then letting them proof between two proofing boards, to retain flat tops and bottoms.
Ditto for “long johns,” which were first shaped into simple logs before proofing.
Jory then demonstrated how to shape French twists by rolling tension into the dough, and then letting it magically unravel into a twist when the two ends were brought together.
Once shaped, they were then pressed flat to keep the twist from unraveling and proofed on greased screens that could be dropped directly into the fryer. (The other shapes were transferred to the same sort of screens post-proofing.)
To shape circular, hole-in-the-center doughnuts, Jory rolled out the dough with a heavy pin, docked it to prevent uneven puffing, and then cut them out using a ring cutter.
Beignets puff more than rise, so they were shaped by rolling the dough thinly into a rectangle with a pin, docking it, and then cutting it into large rectangles, which only get a short 15-minute rest before heading off to the fryer.
Crusciki aren’t meant to puff up nearly as much as beignets, so to keep them thin, they were rolled to a thickness of 2 millimeters using a dough sheeter. (Which—I learned—is loads of fun to operate, but a little intimidating too, since the dough moves through it at lightning speed and can easily slide right off the belt and onto the floor if you hesitate at all.)
Once rolled out, the dough was cut into long rectangles and given a slit down the center. To form their “angel wing” shape, one end of the rectangle gets slipped under and through the loop, forming parallel sets of twists along its length.
As for the French crullers, those were piped out onto butcher’s paper that had been dipped into fryer fat. They were piped using a star-tipped pastry bag, in double-layer rings, just as with Paris-Brest cake—except that in this case they’d be fried rather than baked.
With all of our various pastries shaped, rolled, cut, proofed, and piped at last, it was off to the fryers. Most everything was fried using wire screens which could be lowered gently into the hot grease with a pair of wooden handles.
Once in the fat, we used a pair of what looked like oversized chopsticks to flip the items as soon as they browned on one side.
The crullers were too delicate to drop individually into the fryer, which was the reason for the greased butcher paper. Jory demonstrated how to very carefully drop the entire sheet of crullers into the fat, face down. As soon as the grease on the paper began to melt, he then simply peeled it off, leaving the crullers behind to continue frying.
Once everything had been fried and cooled, all that remained was to decorate them. The beignets and crusciki received just a generous dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
Most of the crullers were dipped in the classic sugar glaze, though Jorie did make some Paris-Brest-like doughnuts by filling them with chocolate-chip pastry cream, with a dusting of powdered sugar and a maraschino cherry on top.
It was the doughnuts that produced the most variety of products:
French twists were coated with granulated sugar.
As were the berliners, once they were filled with strawberry jelly.
The round yeasted doughnuts were also coated in glaze.
The “long johns” were dipped in chocolate glaze, or covered in maple glaze and topped with a slice of crispy bacon.
Bismarcks were filled with pastry cream and then dipped in chocolate to make the classic Boston Creme doughnut.
All told, the class made something on the order of 500 or 600 different items. We students ate our fill, and then the remainder were put onto trays and set out for other Wheatstalk attendees to enjoy.