My world got rocked a couple weekends ago. Aside from being the destined recipient of some tainted food or a stomach illness, I was, much more graciously, the recipient of three giant long john doughnuts. Not just any long johns, either. Long johns from Firecakes in Chicago. As in my brother-in-law actually purchased said doughnuts in Chicago in the bitter cold and ever-so-carefully transported them back to NYC on his return flight. Do you fly commercial? Because you know how carry-on anything gets treated on just about any airline, and those long johns of fried dough were in pristine condition when I received them. No leaked filling, no smashed corners, nothing. And I didn’t even mention the ride they took on Metro North to make their way from NYC to Connecticut. Basically, a huge thank you to Kian and Tristyn–I owe you a batch of these for the doughnut inspiration.
Let’s back up a moment. Did you lose me at “long john“? Maybe you’re not from here, but where I grew up, long john was neither underwear or something to giggle about. It was, unless otherwise noted, a large rectangular yeast doughnut, sometimes filled, but I preferred dough all the way through. Until now.
Here’s the anatomy of the, um, fire cake, as we’ll nickname it. Long john through and through, except approximately the dimensions of my forearm. This thing was big. The ones we’re making today will not be that big, because I don’t have time to fry doughnuts one and a time in my largest pot. Then, there was your usual chocolate frosting. When done wrong, the world might stop turning, but when it’s thick, a little bit set on top, and still creamy underneath, no one seems to take note in all the fuss over either the sprinkles or the fried dough. So sad for the icing. But anyway, the top was unassumingly sprinkled with chopped walnuts, without the slightest allusion to what I was about to bite into–thank the lord Tristyn warned me that “It’s basically chocolate pudding.” Chocolate hazelnut cream filling doesn’t even do it justice. Tris was right, and I have her to thank for today’s recipe name. The hazelnut flavor was barely detectable, similar to how mine turned out. You need a lot of either hazelnuts or hazelnut flavor to overcome all that rich chocolate and perfectly textured fried dough. Minor details.
I’ve been postponing this doughnut post for a lonnnggggg (john) time. Testing doughnuts is a lot of work. My motto on weekends over the last three months has been, “If at first you don’t succeed–fry, fry again.” Ha. I tried a couple different approaches to the dough and learned that a whole lot of totally different recipes will yield similar fluffy, delightful fried doughnuts. I did it up with the chocolate frosting and even rainbow sprinkles. But something was missing. Something to really make these my long johns. Until Firecakes entered my life and changed my long john doughnut worldview.
As a result, I made my first pastry cream this weekend, and I am PRETTY proud of how well it turned out. There were definite moments of doubt, and a few teensy clumps in the finished product (my strainer was dirty?), but when both my taste tester and I cannot stop eating the stuff, I’d say it was a success. Pastry cream sounds like a lot of mysterious work, though, and it kind of was. If you’re a culinary go-getter looking for new skills to try, then by all means, make the pastry cream. However, these things would be just as good filled with Nutella. That was kind of the objective, but I just love the name “chocolate pudding long john” and after three weird grocery stores I still could not find a jar of plain old brand name Nutella. Seriously, do people want store brand or uber-organic chocolate hazelnut spread? Did Nutella’s exclusive rights to the chocolate hazelnut spread product just expire? Because I am sick and tired of having to work so hard to track down the real thing. Good luck.
Final note: filling long johns is no small feat. Sure, these look pretty on the outside, but I’m still working on a foolproof method for evenly injecting the doughnuts with my filling of choice. The fact that the doughnuts are homemade from filling to frosting truly makes up for imperfections in filling distribution, but I know there must be a way to fill these things properly at home without any crazy special equipment. I just haven’t found it yet, but you’ll be the first to know when I do. For now, your best bet is to keep the doughnut length a little on the short side, because without a crazy long-nozzled pastry-filling gun, it’s just not within the laws of physics to force an unguided stream of filling toward the center of the doughnut. If anyone out there has solid long john filling advice, I beg you–share. Until then, I’ll continue my crazed quest for the perfect homemade long john.
Update (just after publishing): As suspected, I’ve confirmed that Nutella will stand up to heating, unlike the pastry cream below, which contains eggs and tastes like chocolate eggs when hot. I just can’t let this thing die, and next time I make them, I’ll be using the pesky method from this recipe, spooning or piping Nutella between thinner long john dough shapes, before the second rise. The top and bottom of the doughnut will be sealed together with brushed on egg white wash.
- ½ C + 1 T whole milk, warmed to between 105 and 115 degrees (F)
- 2 T sugar
- 1⅛ t active dry yeast
- 5 T unsalted butter
- 1 large egg
- 2 C all-purpose flour (plus more for work surface)
- 1 - 2 t vegetable oil (for storing dough)
- 1½ qt. vegetable oil, for frying
- ⅓ C sugar
- 2 T all-purpose flour
- 2 T cornstarch
- Yolks of 4 large eggs
- 1⅓ C milk
- 1 t vanilla or hazelnut extract
- 4 oz. semi- or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, cut into 6 equal pieces
- ½ C heavy cream
- ¾ C fine (not powdered) sugar
- 3 T unsalted butter
- ½ t vanilla extract
- Sprinkles or chopped nuts (optional)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine warm milk and sugar until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add yeast, stir, and let stand until foamy (like the before and after here). Meanwhile, heat butter until just melted (not piping hot) in a small mixing bowl or glass measuring cup. Cool butter slightly, then add eggs while whisking constantly (so they don't solidify). With dough hook attachment and mixer on low, pour egg and butter mixture into activated yeast mixture. After a minute of mixing, when thoroughly combined, add flour in ½ cup increments, one right after the other.
- After adding the last of the flour, stop the mixer immediately, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then turn back on low speed for 5 minutes, until the dough forms a smooth mass around the dough hook, completely coming away from the sides of the bowl. Turn off the mixer and leave dough to rest for 10 minutes.
- Add enough oil to the mixer bowl to coat the dough. Use a rubber spatula or your hands to quickly toss dough in the oil. Transfer to a glass bowl, if it fits better in the fridge, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate immediately, overnight (8 to 12 hours).
- To make the doughnuts the next morning, turn cold dough out onto a well floured surface. Roll into a rectangle ⅜" thick (the thicker you roll it, the puffier your doughnuts will be. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut approximately 5 by 2 inch rectangles (or your desired size--frying time is about the same for any size doughnut). There won't be many scraps given the shape, but you can use any to test the oil, make weird shaped doughnuts, or re-roll to try to get more out of the deal. Place cutouts on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper and sprinkled with flour, leaving an inch or two in between doughnuts. Cover with a clean, light dish towel, then let rise in a warm place for about one hour, until very fluffy and indented when poked.
- About halfway through rising, start heating the oil--it will take at least a half hour to come to the right temperature. See notes for lots of safety info about deep frying. Gradually heat the oil, starting at medium low. Each time the temp levels out, turn it up a bit until you reach 375 degrees (F). This requires patience, or your oil may overheat, and then you have a half hour to kill while it comes down to 375. Place the risen doughnuts nearby, and prepare a wire rack with about 3 layers of paper towels. You'll also need a heat-resistant spatula and a slotted spoon or spider strainer.
- To fry doughnuts, dip spatula in the hot oil then use it to pick up one doughnut and gently slide it into the hot oil. Repeat with as many doughnuts as will comfortably fit in the pan. The doughnuts should bubble vigorously if the oil is hot enough (if they don't, your dough also may have warmed too much). Fry 60 to 90 seconds on one side, until dark golden, then flip over gently with the spatula, being careful not to splash hot oil. After another 60 seconds or so, quickly remove the doughnuts to paper towels, letting a little oil drip off over the pan. Flip the doughnuts over on the paper towels a couple times in the first minute after removing from the oil, to help remove excess grease. Repeat with remaining doughnuts until they're all fried!
- With a handheld electric mixer, beat sugar, flour, cornstarch, and egg yolks on nearly high speed until light yellow and thick. Then, brink milk to a simmer in a small saucepan (that's light enough to pick up with one hand). Turn off heat. With mixer running and the bowl of yolk mixture on a towel or silicone mat, pour about a third of the milk into the yolk mix and beat until well combined. It will be surprisingly stiff but should incorporate quickly. Add egg mixture back to pan with remaining milk, and heat over medium low, stirring constantly, until it starts to bubble. At that point, cook and whisk another minute or so until quite stiff. Transfer custard to a bowl and fold in extract of choice and chopped chocolate, until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. For best results, strain through a fine mesh strainer. Press plastic wrap over surface of warm cream, then refrigerate until fully chilled before using. The cream should be thick but still fairly pliable. I didn't bring it to room temp before filling the doughnuts.
- My imperfect method for filling the doughnuts is this: While doughnuts are still warm, use a skewer to carve a narrow channel through the length of the doughnut, poking a hold at both ends. Fit a pastry bag with a small (about ¼ inch) basic tip, then fill with pastry cream. Place doughnut on a paper towel, and pipe in filling from both ends until it feels full, trying to avoid overfilling and bursting the doughnuts.
- Wait to frost doughnuts until after filling them, if using filling.
- Gradually bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off heat and, without stirring, add chocolate. Cover and leave alone for 10 minutes. Scrape mixture into a food processor and add sugar, butter, and vanilla. Process until smooth and sugar is dissolved, about 2 to 3 minutes. Spread icing over fresh doughnuts, or, if making ahead, store up to a week in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature or warm until spreadable before using. While frosting is still soft, sprinkle doughnuts with sprinkles or nuts, if using.
I make the dough at night and refrigerate it, so I haven't tested it more than about 12 hours in the fridge. I can't guarantee it will hold up longer, but if you try it with success, let me know.
Safety is of utmost importance when deep frying. All joking aside, I, a semi-experienced fryer, go to the trouble of taking out our fire extinguisher, reading its instructions, and setting it on the counter before starting. Use your heaviest pot so its less likely a bump would knock it over. I use the back burner--while slightly inconvenient, it prevents bumping of the pan. You don't need to go so extreme as to wear safety goggles (but suit yourself), but I do wear something on my feet and always go for long pants and a fitted, long sleeve shirt. The more common sense safety measures you take, the less nervous you'll be about all that hot oil.
Rumor has it that frying in vegetable shortening yields superior results to any oil, but one look at that ingredient list had me running for the hills. I tried frying with oil first, was ecstatic with the results, and see no reason to use even more processed and scary shortening (lesser of two evils, I suppose).
Doughnut dough scarcely adapted from the Pioneer Woman.
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