Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vicious Doughnut Balls

Recently, I resolved to set aside a lifelong fear of deep frying at home to try making my own doughnuts.  My favorite type are yeast-raised and glazed, and rarely do I stray from that standard when visiting a local doughnut shop.  But after deciding to make my own at home, I thought it would be best to start with a simple cake doughnut on my first go-round (or I guess I should say the second half of it).  And while the “Hot Now” sign at Krispy-Kreme may make your heart flutter, I’m telling you that nothing compares to a doughnut fried up in your own kitchen.  

Although I expected the frying to be the challenging part of this process, a thermometer made it simple as can be.  It doesn't look promising in its raw state, but as soon as you slip a little ball of the sticky dough into hot oil it sinks to the bottom, puffs up, and develops brown blisters on top.  When you flip the cake halfway through cooking, its glorious brown belly confirms that you are in fact making a perfect cake doughnut in your own kitchen.  Minutes later, it sits on your cooling rack, demurely powdered and seemingly innocent of the oily fug that has settled over the room.

Although this was my first time making them, I’m beginning to think that these light and crispy doughnuts are going to become a fall tradition around here.   They would be perfect served warm on a crisp autumn morning with a hot cup of coffee, but I brought mine to share with friends at a Halloween party.  Judging by how many were consumed, I guarantee that a platter of these freshly fried doughnuts will be welcomed with truly gratifying enthusiasm...if your friends and relations are normal human beings. 

The ingredients you will need to make about 24 doughnut balls are:

1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 cup corn flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup Vicious American Wheat IPA from North Peak Brewing Co.
2 Tbsp. oil (plus oil for frying)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

In a heavy pot, pour oil about 3" deep and heat on medium-high for about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low, trying to keep the oil temperature around 350-375 degrees. 

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients, then add liquids and egg and stir to make a smooth, thick batter. Use two spoons to scoop out walnut-sized balls of batter and drop them into the hot oil. Allow each side to cook for 10 seconds to achieve a round doughnut shape, then continue cooking approximately four minutes, turning occasionally, until doughnuts are uniformly dark golden brown and cooked all the way through. 

Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with powdered sugar (if desired) and serve hot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Short's Brewing Company

Here at Michigan Beer Blog, we talk a lot about Short’s Beer. A disproportionate number of the Bottled Michigan posts reference Short’s Beer. I regularly use them as a poster child for a Michigan brewery not afraid of experimenting and occasionally making a beer that few will enjoy. When talking of Michigan beer, Short’s is one of the “Big Names” in the industry, well known throughout the footprint (mitten print?) and beyond.

So what’s it like to go there?

A few weeks ago, my wife and I, flush from our successful outing in Traverse City (which included stops at Right Brain brewery, North peak Brewery, and Mackinaw Brewing Company), made the relatively simple trip up and over from Traverse City to Bellaire to sample wares from Short’s directly from the brewpub itself.

(Those with sharp eyes will note that the city we visited differs from the city printed on the label on your favorite bottle of Short’s beer. Their brewpub is in Bellaire, while their larger bottling facility is located in Elk Rapids, Michigan. We did not visit the bottling facility. Yet.)

Short's Brewing is exactly how I pictured it; a warm, rustic atmosphere filled with hastily thrown together tables and chairs, none of which match. The second room is devoted to live music and spillover from their always-bustling taproom. Laura and I sat down and made the same mistake most people not versed in Joe Short's (or, more accurately, his wife Leah's) concept of how a fast highly streamlined food and beer joint should run; there is no waitstaff. Luckily a friendly patron directed us to the food ordering station.


I should note, too, that by claiming Short's has no wait staff, I am painting with a brush possibly more harsh than is necessary. Short's requests that you order your food at the food ordering station, which is at the bar near the taps. A smarter person would've noted this on the menu.This style is identical to a few other restaurants I've patronized, including one specific chain restaurant that specializes in buffalo wings. The food was still brought to my table, and if anything the steamlined ordering system caused the food to be delivered more quickly than I expected, and freed up the staff to keep the fast moving floor clean of leftover dishes.

Short's Brewing may cater to the sandwich and pizza crowd, but despite making some of the best beer in the country, the food was possibly the high point of the evening. Bear in mind, I'm stealing the descriptions of the two sandwiches we ordered directly from their menu. I had the Chocolate Town: Shaved pit ham, bacon, lettuce, red onion, tomato and Swiss cheese with a creamy blue cheese spread and spicy BBQ sauce. Often in my own experiments, I make the mistake of slamming so many different tastes together that I cannot differentiate one from the other when I'm done.  Short's does not have this problem, and I appreciate them for it. Laura ate the Tender Situation: Roast beef with avocado, portabella mushrooms, roasted peppers, white cheddar and roasted shallot mayonnaise. These were two of the most delicious sandwiches either of us have eaten in a long time. That Short's Brewing has food to match its beer is truly a frustrating thing; damn the 3 hour drive to get up there!
Tender Situation
Chocolate Town

Between the two of us, Laura and I managed to sample most of the beer they had on tap. Their samplers are generous and decently priced; not as bargain friendly as North Peak, but not as expensive as Right Brain. High points included the Chocolate Wheat, the Funkin' Punkin, and the Autumn Ale, and while I've found the Autumn Ale in bottles, I've yet to luck upon a pack of the other two. Short's Funkin Punkin, specifically, is the best Pumpkin ale I've had in the state, comparable in complexity and boldness to Dogfish Head, but with a light quality reminiscent of Brooklyn Brewery's Post Road.

Short's offered us a "hippie friendly," hastily thrown together ambiance that exuded understated charm and warmth with a clear focus on local entertainment and flair. Short's offered some of the best session beers (their Bellaire Brown and Sustenance Stout, specifically) as well as some of the most surprisingly delicious experimental ales, like the Pistachio Crème and Key Lime Pie ale. Short's offered some of the absolute best beer food in Michigan. Clearly, there is very little that Short's can't offer. . . except perhaps a location closer to my home. Congratulations, Joe Short; you've got one hell of a brewery.  A thousand mile brewery.
It says balls on your mug.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Screaming Pumpkin Doughnuts

I have never met a variety of deep-fried dough I didn’t like. Yet, given that most doughy fried items out there are rather mediocre — say, the ones found at our local grocery stores — I don’t find myself indulging this habit as often as I’d like.  The exception to this rule is pumpkin spice doughnuts, which I am absolutely weak in the face of.  Despite the fact that even the loveliest looking ones at our local markets tend to disappoint, I eat them anyway. Because it’s fall and crunching through ochre-tinted leaves, wrapping your fingers around a paper cup of mulled cider, and eating even lackluster pumpkin spice doughnuts is the right and proper thing to do.

You’ll be pleased to know that despite requiring chilling and cutting and deep-frying — something I’m anything but skilled in (admittedly, this was the first time in my life I have EVER deep fried something), which I blame on my upbringing; seriously, my family did not deep fry things — these were not hard to make. The dough comes together quickly and the cooking takes less than 15 minutes, beginning to end. And the eating… well, faintly spiced, lightly pumpkin scented, perfectly light from the beer and crisped at the edges, these are so very worth it.  All of it.

For this recipe, you will need:

2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Michigan Brewing Co. Screaming Pumpkin Spiced Ale
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or equal parts cinnamon, ground ginger, and nutmeg)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk 6 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

1. Line baking sheet with parchment.  Line a large plate with paper towels.  In a paper bag, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp. cinnamon; shake to mix well.  Set aside.

2. Bring beer to a boil over medium heat.   Cook, stirring occasionally, until beer has reduced to 1/2 cup, about 20 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature.

3. In a large bowl, whisk pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, salt, 1 cup flour and remaining sugar and cinnamon until well combined.  In a small bowl, whisk butter, eggs, yolk and cooled beer until well combined.  Add beer mixture to flour mixture; whisk until smooth.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups flour and mix until just combined.  Dough will be slightly sticky.  Refrigerate 10 minutes.

4. Pour oil into a large pot and attach a candy thermometer to side (thermometer should not touch bottom of pot).  Heat oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 375ºF, watching and adjusting as needed to keep oil from overheating.

5. Turn dough out onto a well-floured countertop and coat fingertips with flour.  Pat dough out to 1/2-inch thickness.  Using a doughnut cutter or 2 round cookie cutters (one large and one small), cut out doughnuts and holes.  Transfer both to lined baking sheet.  Gather scraps and re-pat dough, cutting as many doughnuts as possible.

6. Working in batches, carefully slide doughnuts into hot oil.  After about 1 minute, doughnuts will rise to surface and begin to brown.  At that point, turn over and fry 1 1/2 minutes longer.  Transfer to lined plate to drain.  Bring oil back to 375ºF before frying another batch.  When doughnuts have cooled for 1 minute, add to bag with cinnamon sugar and toss to coat.  Remove to a clean plate and serve.

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