Rain and Rhubarb: Spring Doughnuts with Double Rhubarb White Chocolate Cream

Yesterday, as the rain pattered on my windowpanes and two little toddler feet pattered on my hardwood floors, I made some doughnuts.

I say it like it’s no big deal, and it really isn’t.  If doughnuts intimidate you, I think it’s time to swallow back your fear of vats of extremely hot oil and just let these beauties into your life.  The vanilla-scented sugar crystals melting on your tongue while rhubarb cream dribbles down your chin will reward you for your efforts.

Double Rhubarb White Chocolate filled doughnuts | www.purplehousecafe.com

Let me show you how easy gourmet doughnuttery can be.  You’ll thank me:  because these doughnuts paired with a pink sparkly wine on a rainy day will bring a smile to your face, and because gourmet doughnuts are totally the next big thing.

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But first!

I had visited my my local Farmer’s Market – the Halifax Seaport Market – on Saturday because a) I usually do and b) there’s a contest, you see.  The Halifax Food Bloggers are participating in a contest this month to create an original recipe using primarily ingredients sourced from the Seaport Market (the only exceptions being things like flour, yeast, oil, and some seasonings).  I went in search of inspiration, with some pre-conceived notions in my head about maybe some ground lamb for Greek-inspired nachos, my little recipe generator, whom I affectionately anthropomorphize as a mouse on a wheel (can you anthropomorphize something as a mouse?) toiling away, fantasizing about new flavour combinations, often (and my hubby will attest) in the middle of the night, or during important conversations.  And in the shower.

But I digress.

I left the market with a basket not full of ground lamb but of the first rhubarb of the spring from Noggins Corner Farm; a bottle of Ironworks Distillery Rhubarb Esprit liqueur; barley flour, raw sugar and vanilla beans from The Grainery Food Co-op, white chocolate from Gourmandises Avenue Chocolaterie; and eggs and goat milk from Ran-Cher Acres.  And, of course, a bottle of Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7 sparkling wine to go with.  Because who says doughnuts need to go with coffee?

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Double rhubarb white chocolate cream filled doughnuts, fried ever so briefly to give them a little bite and deep golden colour, and then tossed in vanilla bean-scented sugar.  From ingredients that you can find at the local farmer’s market – which means that they taste even better because they support local business.

Are you sufficiently motivated to make doughnuts with me now?

These little babies require about a total of an hour of hands-on time.  I managed it while entertaining a 16 month old and washing a gargantuan pile of dishes.  You can do it too!  Because they’re yeasted doughnuts, mostly they require you waiting around for them to rise.  The pastry cream is a little high maintenance, but oh-so-worth-it.  Just pour yourself a glass of that sparkling, pull a stool up to the stove and get lost in the stirring.  It’s like kitchen meditation, and I highly recommend it.

Here’s what you need:

For the doughnuts –

  • 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. warm water
  • 1 3/4 cups barley flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
  • 1 cup whole milk at room temperature (I used goat milk)
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ~6 cups vegetable oil for frying

For the pastry cream –

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 raw sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup whole milk (I used goat milk)
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chunks
  • 2 tbsp. butter

For the rhubarb – 

  • ~3 stalks of rhubarb (approximately 1-1.5 cups)
  • Water
  • 1/4 cup sugar (more if you dislike rhubarb’s tartness)
  • 2 tbsp. rhubarb liquor

For the vanilla sugar –

  • 1 1/3 cup raw sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

Here’s what you do:

For the doughnuts – 

I think it makes sense to start the doughnuts first – that way you can make the stewed rhubarb and pastry cream while they rise.  But, by all means, you can make the rhubarb and pastry cream the night before.

Add the yeast to the warm water in a large bowl and allow the yeast to proof (to foam up) for about five minutes.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients, forming a shaggy dough.  Use your hands to fully incorporate the ingredients  – don’t knead, just make sure you end up with a uniform ball of dough.  It will be a little sticky.  You can add a bit more flour if it’s too sticky to handle.

Dust the dough with some flour, cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1.5-2 hours.  Now’s a good time to get busy with the pastry cream and the rhubarb.

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured countertop and roll into a 1/2″ thick disc using a floured rolling pin.  Using a glass or a cookie cutter, cut circles ~3″ in diameter.  Note:  if you re-roll the scrap dough to make more doughnuts, these will turn out a little “tougher.”  And uglier.  But still tasty.  Go for it!

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Place the circles on a flour-dusted cookie sheet, cover with a dish towel and set aside to rise again for 30 minutes.

*See below for frying instructions, and how to bring it all together!

For the rhubarb – 

Roughly chop the rhubarb and throw it into a sauce pan with the sugar.  Add enough water to not quite cover the rhubarb.  Place the mixture over medium heat and allow to simmer until the rhubarb has disintegrated and much of the liquid is cooked off.  Stir in the rhubarb liquor and allow to cool and before adding to the pastry cream.

For the pastry cream – 

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, stirring them for a few seconds until they are well combined and slightly lighter in colour.  Whisk in the flour and salt.  Now whisk the milk in, ensuring that you incorporate it in small increments to avoid creating lumps.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir nearly continuously until the cream begins to thicken.  When bubbles start to steam up in the cream and it achieves the consistency of pudding, remove from the heat and stir in the white chocolate and butter until they melt.  Transfer the cream to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic wrap is in contact with the cream.  Place in the refrigerator to cool completely – about 2 hours.

For the vanilla sugar – 

Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into a large bowl containing the sugar.  Use your fingers to combine the sugar and the vanilla beans.

Putting the whole thing together – 

Pour 2-2 1/2 inches (~6 cups) of vegetable oil into a large pot and heat on high until it reaches 350F.  Don’t have a deep fry or candy thermometer?  Yeah, I hear ya.  If not, just place the handle of a wooden spoon or chopstick into the oil.  When that causes the oil to bubble steadily, it’s at the right temperature (note:  if it boils really vigorously or even splashes, it’s too hot!).

Using a slotted spoon, fry the doughnuts two at a time (to avoid sticking), 1 minute on each side or until deep brown.  When they finish frying, give them a quick dunk in the oil and transfer quickly to the bowl of sugar.  Toss to coat in sugar and transfer to a paper towel to cool.  Return oil to 350F between each pair of doughnuts.

Double Rhubarb Cream-filled Doughnuts | www.purplehousecafe.com

Using the handle of a spoon, poke a little hole in the side of each doughnut.  Be careful how you handle them – you don’t want to knock all the sugar off.

Gently stir your cooled pastry cream and cooled rhubarb mix together.  Taste it.  Good eh?  Now try to restrain yourself as you dump the rhubarb cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip.  Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the hole you’ve made in the doughnut and fill with cream.

Stop laughing.

Double Rhubarb Cream-Filled Doughnuts | www.purplehousecafe.com

Pour yourself a teacup full of sparkling pink wine and enjoy!  Or, you know, share with some friends.

Conquering my Kitchen Bucket List: Raspberry White Chocolate Croquembouche

A little while ago I talked about having a Food Bucket List.  I’ve been conquering items on it on at a time, like these chocolate mint macarons.

Do you have a Food Bucket List?  Maybe for cooking, maybe for eating?

I’ve got various and sundry things on my bucket list – mostly having to do with complicated dessert-related ventures that strike the fear of failure into my heart.  One of my bucket list items is a croquembouche.

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I used to work in a little French patisserie in New Zealand.  Beautiful, elaborate cakes went flying out the door and off to delight guests of weddings and birthday parties.  I learned about fondant and ganache and spun sugar, and ate my weight in day-old mille feuille and praline cakes.  The Austrian pastry chef, Gustav, made a gigantic croquembouche for a wedding and I remember it distinctly:  crossing my fingers as it was carried out of the bakery, hoping that the sugar would hold all the airy cream puffs in their pyramidal shape.

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When I was recently asked by Bunny. Eats. Design., a blogger from New Zealand, to participate in a blogging event that showcased bloggers learning and experimenting in the kitchen, I was all for it.  The event is called “Our Growing Edge,” and this month all of the bucket list successes submitted by bloggers far and wide are being curated by the fine folks at a blog called Keeping Up With The Holsby’s.

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Anyways, I was stoked.  My mind immediately honed in on the possibility of finally making a showy cone of cream puffs of my very own.

After a lot of thought, I decided to avoid the spun sugar (I thought I was pushing my envelope enough and, let’s face it, when not crusted over a ramekin of creme brulee, caramelized sugar isn’t all that much to write home about anyways).  I took a page from another favourite blog of mine, Dinner With Julie, who had recently done a chocolate drizzled croquembouche which sat on top of a cake.

I decided then that this would be a perfect opportunity to test out a cake I’d been meaning to make for a while – a blueberry white chocolate coffee cake I had found in Musicians, Memories and Morsels, a cookbook I gave away on here a couple months ago.  I could do a half batch that would just be enough for the base of my croquembouche, and make it with raspberries instead of blueberries.

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Musicians, Memories and Morsels

My imagination alight and my plan in place, I hit up the kitchen.

Here’s what you need:

For the choux (the pastry part of the cream puffs) –

1 1/2 cups water

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup  butter

4 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 cups flour

6 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Milk to glaze

For the pastry cream –

2 cups milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

6 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

For the cake base –

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup all-purpose white flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt

1/3 cup white chocolate chips

3/4 cups frozen or fresh raspberries

For the croquembouche –

Raspberries

White chocolate molding candy

Here’s what you do:

For the choux –

Preheat your oven to 375F.  Put the water, salt, butter and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and dump all the flour in, stirring until it begins to come together as a cohesive dough.  Return the pot to the heat for a minute or two, continuing to stir, to allow it to dry out a little more.

Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the eggs, the equivalent of one at a time.  Stir until each addition of egg is incorporated before adding more.  The goal is to have a heavy, glossy dough that will fall off your spoon – you may not need to add all the eggs to achieve this.  Once you have, beat in the vanilla, and spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.

Pipe the dough onto parchment-covered baking sheets, forming little balls (or Hershey’s kiss-like shapes) about 1 inch wide and about 2 inches apart.  Brush the tops of the balls with milk.  Bake until puffed up, dry, and golden – about 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

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For the pastry cream –

Place the milk in a saucepan with the split vanilla bean and bring just to a boil.  Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to infuse for 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, beat the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is a pale yellow colour.  Gradually beat in the flour.  Whisk in the vanilla milk in a steady stream.  Bring the whole mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens.  Set aside to cool with a layer of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.

For the cake –

Grease an 8″ round cake pan and line it with wax paper.  Preheat your oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time and then add in the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar, alternating with the yogurt to make three additions of dry ingredients and two of the yogurt.  Stir in the white chocolate and raspberries.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until golden, and until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

To finish the croquembouche –

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate molding candy.  Dip the bottom of each cream puff into the chocolate and arrange in a pyramid on top of the cake.  (I would suggest waiting until the chocolate firms before adding each layer, for fear of structural disasters).  Once your pyramid is complete, poke some raspberries in at random all over the structure, and then dip the tines of a fork into the remaining white chocolate and drizzle the chocolate back and forth over the cake (this is the best part!).

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I’m so excited to have completed my goal!  Now, to dig into it after Easter dinner and see how it tastes!  I know this looks like a really complicated recipe, but you could totally just buy the cream puffs and make a slab cake and go to town with some melted chocolate.  Unless, of course, now this cake has made it on to your bucket list as well!

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Croquembouche recipe adapted from Laura Calder’s Croquembouche.

Cake recipe adapted from Musicians, Memories, and Morsels.

Vanilla Bean Sugar Coated Chocolate Cream Filled Doughnuts. Yes.

Vanilla Bean Sugar Coated Chocolate Cream Filled Doughnuts.  Yes.

Okay, enough with the kale and edamame.  Let’s get serious about doughnuts here.

These doughnuts are the perfect winter afternoon project. They take a few hours and involve things like extremely hot oil, fancy-pants vanilla beans and eggs that need to be heated to thick but not scrambled.  But you can do it.  If I can do it, you definitely can.  I was notorious, in chemistry class, for following all the directions for an experiment to the letter and still screwing it up, but I managed to make these tasty little confections with resounding success.  They are perfect chased with a cup of strong coffee and shared with friends.

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Heres what you need:

For the doughnuts

2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast

2 tbsp. warm water

3 ¼-3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out dough

1 cup milk, room temperature

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

3 large egg yolks

3 tbsp. sugar

1 ½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. cinnamon

For the vanilla sugar

1 1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

2 pinches salt

For the chocolate pastry cream

4 egg yolks

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

3 tbsp. cocoa powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup whole milk

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

~ 6 cups of vegetable oil for deep frying (or 3-4” in the pan/pot you intend to use)

NOTE:  you will also need a candy or deep frying thermometer and an icing bag fitted with a medium round tip

To make the doughnuts and vanilla sugar

This is my kitchen preparing for the task.

This is my kitchen preparing for the task.

Stir the yeast and warm water together in a bowl until dissolved, and let the yeast stand (or “proof”) for five minutes until it looks foamy.

Set up your stand mixer with a dough hook and mix together the yeast mixture, the flour, milk, butter, egg yolks, sugar, salt and cinnamon.  Beat at low speed until a soft dough forms.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for another 3 minutes.  The dough will be soft and sticky – if it’s too sticky to handle, add up to a ½ cup more flour.  Then, scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl to ensure all the dough is incorporated, dust the dough lightly with flour and cover with plastic wrap and then a tea towel.  Let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk.  (Now is a good time to make your chocolate pastry cream and vanilla sugar).

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Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and use a floured rolling pin to roll it out until it is about a ½ inch thick.  Use a 3” cookie cutter (I just use a glass) to cut as many doughnuts out as you can.  (note:  if you decide to re-roll and use the scraps, the doughnuts made from these pieces will be tougher.  And funny looking.   Save them for yourself!).  Place the doughnuts on a lightly floured baking sheet and let them rise until they’re slightly puffy – about 30 minutes.

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Embracing the funny-looking-ness of re-rolled doughnuts in the name of less waste!

While the doughnuts rise, make the vanilla sugar by combining the sugar, vanilla bean scrapings and salt in a bowl and using your fingers to incorporate the vanilla into the sugar.

Heat 3-4” of oil in a heavy pot until it registers 350 F on a candy or deep frying thermometer.  Fry the doughnuts, two at a time, turning over with a slotted spoon when they’re puffed and golden brown on each side (usually this takes ~1 minute per side).  Before removing the doughnuts, quickly submerge them in oil and then transfer immediately to the vanilla sugar mixture.  Toss in sugar and set aside on a paper towel to cool.  (NOTE:  ensure that the oil in the frying pan returns to 350 F before you put the next batch of doughnuts in).

To make the chocolate pastry cream

In a medium pan, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt.

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Slowly whisk in the milk.  Place the pan over medium heat and stir, almost constantly, so that the milk doesn’t burn and the eggs don’t scramble.  Just before the mixture comes to a boil, it will begin to thicken quite a bit.  At this time, remove it from the heat and continue whisking it until it’s smooth and about the consistency of pudding.  Add the chocolate chunks, butter and vanilla extract and stir until they are melted in.

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Transfer the hot cream to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap so the plastic touches the surface of the cream.  Chill for ~2 hours.

To fill the doughnuts with pastry cream

Handle the doughnuts carefully, as they will already be covered in sugar.  With the end of a slender-handled spoon (or similar instrument), create a hole in the side of each doughnut.  Fill a small icing bag fitted with a medium round tip with the chocolate cream and twist the bag to seal, ensuring that there are no air bubbles (this will require you to squeeze some pastry cream out to ensure a consistent flow.  This is best done directly onto one’s index finger so as to simultaneously test the quality and flavour of the cream ;o).  Insert the tip into the hole in each doughnut and squeeze pastry cream into the doughnut until it feels full (if you fill it too much, chocolate will ooze out a little bit.  Worse things have happened).

Note:  It’s best to serve these doughnuts on the same day you make them – on the second day the vanilla sugar will dissolve into the doughnut.  They’ll still taste good, but they’ll look a little less lovely.

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Recipe from Joy the Baker