10 Days of Cookbooks | Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts

Illustration: Christine Berrie

Gobs of new cookbooks have sent Team Eat Out away from restaurants and back into the kitchen. This is the second in a ten-day series of blog posts, each of which chronicles a standout fall cookbook release. The first post, Julia Kramer on Momofuku Milk Bar, can be found [node:14946897 link=here;].

A few weeks ago I was at a backyard party in Denver, and, as at every backyard party in Denver, there was a couple there from Portland, Oregon. This couple didn't seem to quite know what I was talking about when I brought up their city's notoriously poor economy (I really know how to conversate, huh?)—they make plenty of money in Portland. And they spend that money on food. We spent thirty minutes talking about restaurants I've never been to, places like Beast and Pok Pok, until we finally got around to the subject of doughnuts. At that point, I asked what I considered to be a pretty mild question: "The doughnuts are good in Portland, right?"

It was both the apex and end of our conversation. The woman of the couple touched my arm and kind of jolted back, such was her surprise at my question. Her eyes were on fire. "G-g-good?" she stuttered. "They. Are. Amazing."

That was about all she could muster. Just bringing up the doughnuts put her in a temporary catatonic state.

Such is the passion and power of the left coast's doughnut scene, and why I sometimes experience jealousy of a part of the country where it rains 363 days a year and where, despite this couple's blissful unawareness, it is indeed impossible to get a job. Doughnuts are the deep dish of the west, and like tourists who come here and stand in line at Giordano's and [node:149309 link=Pizzeria Uno;], I, too, only know the major players: Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, and Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle. I apologize in advance to any left coasters who are reading this. I know there must be the doughnut equivalent of [node:149811 link=Great Lake;], or [node:148445 link=The Art of Pizza;], or [node:149403 link=Pequod’s;]. But I've never heard of them. And as far as I know, those less-hailed doughnut shops have not come out with cookbooks.

Top Pot, on the other hand, has [node:14938055 link=just released its cookbook;]. So I called it in, took it home and, with no small amount of bravado, said, out loud (to nobody): Fuck going to Seattle. I'm Top Pot Doughnuts now.

I had a plan. I would make doughnuts for a friend on a Saturday morning. I would make the dough ahead of time (as the book says I am allowed to do), and it would be easy. Easy. I actually thought that.

Looking back, it's hard for me to understand how this ever seemed like a good idea. Even if I could have made cutting, frying and glazing the doughnuts look breezy while I entertained a guest, my small, ventless kitchen would have still filled with the sticky smell of grease—especially since I had chosen to make the sour cream old fashioned doughnuts, which get their rugged edges by hanging out in the oil longer than other doughnuts do. (This fact about old fashioneds is just one of many doughnut tidbits I gleaned from the book, which, though slight, is still the most comprehensive resource on making doughnuts that I have come across.)

And aside from the fish-shack smells, there was the issue of glazing. The book insists that in order to be glazed properly, the doughnuts have to be hot, and the glaze has to be warm. This means that you can't make the glaze too early (or it will cool). And you can't make it too late (say, after you've fried the doughnuts), because the doughnuts will cool. So you essentially have to make to make the glaze while the first doughnuts in your batch are frying. This requires multitasking. And in my tiny kitchen, it created chaos. 

A quick list of what I had to do to, as they say, make the doughnuts: 1. Roll out the doughnut dough. 2. Heat the oil (this requires monitoring, and it can take up to 30 minutes for the oil to get to temperature—here again the book is good resource, with lots of tips for what kinds of vessels to use, etc). 3. Cut the doughnuts (I do not own a doughnut cutter; I used two biscuit cutters instead). 4. Make the glaze. 5. Fry the doughnuts. This is where things got a little crazy. I created five stations in my kitchen: Station one held the raw, cut dough; station two was the frying station (I was using a dutch oven); station three was the draining station (a cooling rack set over paper towels set over a piece of tin foil, all of which would get a little oily); station four was the glazing station (a large, shallow bowl holding the warm glaze); and station five was the drying station (another cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet, where the glazed doughnuts could cool and their glaze could set). Have I mentioned that my kitchen is about eight square feet?

Once the frying started, things had to happen very quickly. The doughnuts went from the oil to the draining station, and sat there while I put another batch of doughnuts in the oil. While the new doughnuts were frying (they needed flipping every 30-60 seconds, by the way), I had to take the still-hot doughnuts and dip them in the still-warm glaze and then move them to the drying station. Then, with my now-glazed fingers, I had to remove the new doughnuts from the oil, put a new batch of doughnuts in, and start the process all over again. There was no slowing down because to do so would have meant the glaze would have cooled. And I didn't have any more kitchen space to warm it.

Don't get me wrong, it was not unpleasant. But I was very happy I was doing it alone, because it definitely wasn't pretty. I was covered in flour and grease and sugar, and the heat from the oil was giving me a sweaty brow, and the whole aura in my kitchen was kind of factorylike. In fact, at one point, when most of the doughnuts were finished, I sent a photo of them to Julia and wrote "I am the Doughnut Vault," because, indeed, that is how my kitchen was feeling: Like a hot, ventless bunker.

Julia texted back "!!!," and I will admit, the doughnuts did look good. They looked...real. Like real sour cream old fashioneds. And freshly made, they were crispy but decadent and soft on the inside. But later in the day, when they had completely cooled, the doughnuts left behind a severe aftertaste of fat. Maybe this was their long swim in the oil, or maybe it was the shortening in the dough (butter, Top Pot says, has too much water, and will cause doughnuts to split in the hot oil—tidbit!). Whatever it was, it cut into the pleasure a bit. But then, what is a doughnut if not something that tastes good at first, yet leaves you with a little regret?

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)