“Between the optimist and the pessimist the difference is droll; the optimist sees the doughnut… the pessimist the hole.” – Oscar Wilde
Years and years ago, in what seems like a galaxy far, far away, Adam and I worked freelance for many magazines. Our combination of my being a food stylist and recipe developer and Adam’s impressive professional photographer’s resume was considered a very attractive “package” for many art directors. Kind of like a two-for-one deal. Or a three-for-one, if you add “prop stylist” to the pot. Now, folks, this was before digital photography. It was, I believe, called “film” in those days but I may have to Google it to be sure. The Golden Age of Photography…way before “blog” was a household word, when photographers were still being hired (and paid a serious day rate), before the economy went south, taking contract photography for the most part with it (thank goodness we’re some of the few lucky ones still working) and editors started taking cover shots with their cell phones (boo! hiss!). You know, like a million years ago.
Anyway, back in the Stone Age on one particular job, the account reps for the client wanted to be at the photo shoot. Normally, only the advertising creative team and a few assistants come. Having the account reps there is not a happiness situation. This means trouble. Big time. You know that saying, “Too many cooks in the kitchen?” Well, the same sentiment also applies to too many people at a photo shoot. For first-timers, it can be a bit overwhelming and it can be easy for them to get caught up in the excitement. So, they want to “help.” They want to participate, make suggestions. Sounds harmless enough, but believe me, besides not knowing studio protocol (yes, there’s protocol), they usually have just enough knowledge of a camera to be intensely irritating and a colossal pain in the aperture. But let’s face it, they were mostly looking to get out of the office to hang out in a cool downtown studio loft, eat the food and basically just get in the way. Happened every, single time. And, in particular, this specific time. It is now and forever, burned in infamy as The Great Doughnut Crap Shoot.
There are two important terms in food photography: The Stand-In and the Hero, referring to the plates of food. The imperfect, just-throw-something-on-a-plate Stand-In is what you put on the set to address composition and lighting. After the photographer has framed it up and the art director is satisfied with the first test shots (4-x-5 Polaroids back then!), you’re ready to shoot the final. This can take a frustratingly long time, since every one has an opinion. So, we’re all standing around, they’re hemming and hawing over silly details and we finally get the go-ahead to shoot film. Time to bring in the Hero. The perfect, every detail in place, This is it! Hero. So, I removed the Stand-In from the set and walked back into the kitchen and staging area, only to find a bored and hungry account rep feasting on what he thought was the All-You-Can-Eat breakfast buffet. My mouth agape and with, I’m sure, a look of sheer horror on my face, I dropped the plate. It fell heavily to the concrete floor and violently crashed into a million pieces. The unmistakable sound of shattering glass quickly brought everyone over and we all stood in the doorway, craning and peering in, silently disbelieving.
The young moron man, probably relatively low on the company totem pole (and most likely soon about to be!) was stooped over the last remaining piece of doughnut perfection, clutched in his greedy, little sugar-coated Charlie Browns. With a stuffed mouth, still chewing, he shrugged and coughed out a muted, “What?”
The art director, in a tone of impending rage, slowly, painfully, with clenched teeth seethed, “You just ate all the Heros!”
It had taken me hours and hours to make, then sort through all the batches before selecting the baker’s dozen of flawless doughnuts for the shoot that he inhaled in five minutes. What a doughnut hole. Seriously hope your resume’s updated, dude! Although this was a considerable budget disaster for the client, we were happy to view the situation as “the doughnut’s half full.” Because we were optimists! Everything happens for a reason! Of course, our laid-back, “It’s all good!” attitude had absolutely nothing to do with getting paid for another couple of days shooting (cha-ching!).
Time to make the doughnuts…
Here’s a fabulous way to get your fall cinnamon/ginger/clove/nutmeg groove on: Pumpkin pie-spiced doughnuts. Doughnuts? Yes, doughnuts! As in, “fried pieces of dough?” Yes, those. But, wait! These are easy, breezy to make. Honest. I haven’t steered you wrong so far, have I? The simple, cake-like dough comes to together quickly; then you let it chill out in the refrigerator for several hours before rolling and cutting. A short swim in some hot oil and a tumble in (more!) sugar…and you’d swear you were in Doughnut Heaven. Oh…and this time it’s okay if you eat them all by yourself. So, go ahead.
- For the doughnuts:
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 cup canned pure pumpkin
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 large eggs
- For the cinnamon sugar:
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Canola oil, for frying
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. Set aside. In a glass measure, add the vanilla, buttermilk and pumpkin and whisk to combine. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars and butter and mix to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the pumpkin mixture. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the flour mixture until just combined. Cover the bowl with plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours.
- Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl, whisk to combine and set aside. Make the doughnuts: Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Generously flour a work surface. Starting with about half of the dough, gently roll it out to about ½-inch thickness. Using a 2-1/2-inch doughnut cutter, stamp out the doughnuts and holes and place on the prepared baking sheets. Gather dough scraps, re-roll and cut out more doughnuts.
- Repeat with remaining dough until all the doughnuts have been formed. If the dough is very sticky, dip the round cutters into flour before cutting each doughnut. Line a platter with several layers of paper towels. In a deep skillet or pan, pour enough oil to reach the depth of 1-1/2 inches. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot and heat the oil to 375 degrees. Fry the doughnuts in batches until golden brown, turning occasionally, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to paper towels to drain off any excess oil. Cool slightly before tossing in the cinnamon sugar.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: It’s super important to chill the dough at least three hours. A deep-fat thermometer is imperative, too, to maintain the oil’s temperature. Not hot enough, the doughnuts will emerge soggy and greasy. Too hot, and they’ll brown on the outside before the inside is cooked through.
Product Purity: Cardamom is a member of the ginger family with a pungent aroma and a warm, spicy-sweet flavor. I hate to sound like a broken record, but use pure vanilla extract because imitation tastes like…well, imitation. Nielsen-Massey rules in my kitchen.
Presentation: I like to roll some of the doughnuts in confectioner’s sugar. The variety looks so inviting on a serving platter (it’s quite tasty, too!).