Kudos to you if you can get up on a weekend morning and bake cinnamon rolls or coffee cake, or make pancakes or waffles from scratch. But how about doughnuts? Or, more specifically, crullers?
Not sure what a cruller is? Well, there are actually two kinds: hand-twisted cakelike doughnuts and the French version with dough that’s more like a pâte à choux (cream-puff pastry). They’re light and fluffy when done right. And, like doughnuts, crullers are deep fried and then topped with powdered sugar, icing or a glaze. A very simple, straightforward pastry, right?
Well yes, unless you’re Kristianna Zabala. Zabala is the executive pastry chef and co-owner of Nomad Donuts, which last August opened a new bakery in North Park. Zabala comes to doughnuts — and pastry in general — from the perspective of the savory chef she had started out as in her career. Before joining Nomad Donuts, she was the executive pastry chef at Mr. A’s. So, fine dining to doughnuts as a career move? It was admittedly a weird transition, but when Zabala talked to the original owners and learned that they wanted something “out there” and that she could be even more creative than a restaurant would allow, she made the move.
Today, Zabala makes doughnuts — and Montreal-style bagels — from local ingredients in small batches. She often draws from her Filipino heritage to create doughnut varieties like Ube Taro Coconut. She mixes flavors in intriguing ways, like Pomegranate Rosewater or Haupia Custard (a Hawaiian coconut-based custard) Blueberry Ginger. Zabala makes vegan-friendly varieties as well. And she makes a mean French cruller. Try her Chocolate Orange or Chai Tea.
Or try the ones she taught me to make: White Chocolate Mint Glaze with Jalapeño Passion Fruit Drizzle, Brown Butter Sage with Hazelnut (one of her favorites), and Almond Cardamom with Blueberry Drizzle. Here, you can really see the influence of her savory background in the brown butter sage, for instance, and the addition of jalapeño to passion fruit. She explained that she likes to use herbs because they counter extreme sweetness.
Because crullers aren’t yeast based, you can have close to immediate gratification. There’s no waiting for dough to rise. And the choux dough is fairly forgiving. You don’t even have to make the dough by hand. I’ve always stirred my choux with a wooden spoon. It never occurred to me to use my stand mixer, but that’s exactly what Zabala pulled out to make her dough. As with all chouxs, be sure that as you’re making it, you let the boiled wet ingredients mixed with the flour cool before you add the eggs so they won’t curdle. Mixing them on low will help speed up the cooling process. Then you can add the eggs and mix until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Zabala uses a pastry bag with the number 848 large star tip to form the doughnuts so they have their distinctive ridges. Use a large container to hold the bag (with the top folded over the container) while you fill it with dough. Zabala ties off the top of the bag with rolled up plastic wrap and then squeezes out 3- to 4-inch circles onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. You’ll need to freeze them for up to an hour so they’ll hold their shape when you move them to the fryer.
Then it’s time to hit the fryer. Use palm oil heated to 350 degrees. Let the crullers fry for two minutes, then flip each one over (Zabala uses a pair of chop sticks very efficiently for this), give them another two minutes, then one last flip, where they’ll finish up in another two minutes. You can see the brown edge creeping up and a slight separation around the ridges will tell you they’re done. It’s cool to watch them dance and turn in the oil.
Once you pull them out of the fryer, they’ll need to cool. If you didn’t already make them while the crullers were in the freezer, now you can make your glazes. Fair warning — lots of powdered sugar is involved. All of the ingredients for the glazes are easy to find, but one may throw you off: vanilla paste. Zabala prefers it to vanilla extract because it is a paste of pure vanilla bean seeds. Yes, you can substitute vanilla extract, but the flavor will be less intense. You can find vanilla paste on Amazon or at Sur la Table and locally at Specialty Produce. You can also find passion fruit and blueberry purees at Specialty Produce.
You’ll gently dunk the top of the crullers into a glaze and use another pastry bag with the tip cut off to leave a small hole to drizzle the drizzle. Put them on a rack so the excess can drip off before serving.
Now if you find you have leftover glaze, don’t toss it. Zabala said you can enjoy it over ice cream, drizzled over cheesecake or cookies, fruit salad, or even some savory dishes. Think Brown Butter Sage With Hazelnut or Almond Cardamom W ith Blueberry Drizzle over pork tenderloin or even a simple baked sweet potato.
Golden is a San Diego freelance food writer and blogger.
Basic Cruller Dough
Makes 30 crullers
8 ounces butter
1 1/3 cups water
1 1/3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
425 grams all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
2/3 cup egg whites
Palm oil for frying
Place butter, water, milk, salt, sugar and vanilla paste in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Add flour and stir until well combined. Continue to cook on medium low heat another 5 to 10 minutes to dry out. After the dough starts sticking to the bottom of the saucepan, transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer.
Using the paddle, set to medium speed and mix until there’s no more steam coming from the dough.
Gradually add the eggs and egg whites, allowing the dough to mix well between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to mix for another minute.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Pipe into 3.5-inch circles onto the parchment and freeze from 40 minutes to an hour — or just long enough so you can peel them off the parchment while they keep their shape.
Bring palm oil to 350 degrees. Add the frozen dough to the oil and fry on that side for 2 minutes. Flip and fry for another 2 minutes. Flip a final time and fry for 2 minutes. Remove crullers from the fryer and let cool about 15 minutes before glazing.
White Chocolate Mint Ganache Glaze With Jalapeño Passion Fruit Drizzle
454 grams white chocolate
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 grams fresh mint leaves
200 grams powdered sugar
Place white chocolate and salt in a bowl.
Pour heavy cream and vanilla extract into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and pour over the white chocolate and salt. Let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk the ingredients to melt the chocolate and combine all the ingredients.
Pour into a blender container, add the mint leaves, and pulse blend until the mint is finely chopped.
Pour back into the bowl and whisk in the powdered sugar.
133 grams passion fruit puree (make fresh from passion fruit or you can purchase ready made)
½ jalapeño chili, including seeds
2 teaspoons corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
660 grams powdered sugar
Pour passion fruit puree and jalapeño into a blender container and blend until the jalapeño is pureed.
Pour into a bowl and whisk in salt, corn syrup and powdered sugar.
Pour into a pastry bag or plastic bag and when you’re ready to drizzle, cut a small tip from a bottom corner of the bag.
To make the crullers, dunk the top half of each cruller into the ganache and set on a rack to drain the excess. Then, using the pastry bag, drizzle the jalapeño passion fruit mixture lightly over each cruller.
Brown Butter Sage Glaze
112 grams melted brown butter (see note)
½ cup whole milk
11 grams fresh sage leaves
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon corn syrup
550 grams powdered sugar
¼ cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
Note:To make brown butter, place butter in a light-colored heavy bottom saucepan and heat gently over low heat until melted, swirling or stirring as it melts. As the butter melts, it will foam, with the color going from yellow to tan to a toasty brown. You’ll also smell a nutty aroma. That’s when you’ll take it off the heat and transfer to a heat-proof bowl to cool, leaving as much of the milk solid sediments in the pan.
Pour milk into a blender container with the sage leaves. Blend until the leaves are finely chopped.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and whisk in salt, corn syrup and powdered sugar. Add melted brown butter and whisk until well combined.
To make the crullers, dunk the top half of each cruller into the brown butter sage glaze and set on a rack to drain the excess. Then sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts lightly over each cruller.
Almond Cardamom Glaze
1 cup soy milk
90 grams toasted, sliced almonds
2 cardamom pods
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon corn syrup
700 grams powdered sugar
Place soy milk, almonds and cardamom in a blender container and blend until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a bowl and whisk in salt, corn syrup and powdered sugar.
212 grams blueberry puree (make fresh from blueberries or you can purchase ready made)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon corn syrup
700 grams powdered sugar
Whisk everything together in a bowl until well combined.
To make the crullers, dunk the top half of each cruller into the glaze and set on a rack to drain the excess. Then, using the pastry bag, drizzle blueberry mixture lightly over each cruller.
Recipes from Kristianna Zabala of Nomad Donuts.