A time to hunker down and eat doughnuts

"It's like I've never been here before," R. remarked as we headed home after a night of Vancouver International Film Festival documentaries. It wasn't the case, of course. At that precise moment, we were walking down a stretch of street that we've traveled hundreds—maybe even thousands—of times before. The funny thing is I knew exactly what he meant.

When we left for South America in early September, summer had found its groove. After hitting the snooze button one too many times, the sun had finally sat up, stretched her arms, rubbed her eyes and taken a good look around. Life was on the up and up: our tomato plants were pumping out scarlet fruit faster than we could eat it, sandals had claimed their rightful place at the front of the coat closet, and week-night trips to Dairy Queen were a regular occurrence.

When we returned three weeks later, the air was still warm but there were tell-tale signs of a subtle shift in our absence. Umber leaves lined the sidewalk and the pungent smell of earth signaled a recent rain. I left dreaming of juicy peaches eaten over the sink and came back contemplating my first spiced apple crisp.

I can't say I'm sad though. Autumn has always been my favourite. It's like the new year for us Peter Pan types: a time for reinventions and fresh starts, a time to hunker down and sink your teeth into big projects.

Like doughnuts.

Doughnuts seem way more daunting than they actually are, which makes them a great place to start. And, since you're already going to the trouble of deep-frying, why not make two kinds?

Chocolate Cake Doughnuts
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk, scalded
1 teaspoon vanilla

Peanut oil for frying

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using an electric mixer, blend until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients slowly, mixing as you go. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat for 30 seconds. The batter should be smooth, thick and not too wet. Let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup sour cream (I used some Greek yogurt I had kicking around)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon butter

Peanut oil for frying

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, sour cream, egg and butter until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time until a smooth dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter for 15-20 minutes.

To fry the doughnuts, heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot until the temperature reaches 360 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/2-inch thick. Cut out the doughnuts. Fry for 1-2 minutes per side, or until light golden brown.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Cool slightly before glazing.

Chocolate Glaze
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Measure the icing sugar into a medium bowl. Slowly stir in the milk and vanilla, a little at a time, to make a smooth, pourable glaze.

Lemon Glaze
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Measure the icing sugar into a medium bowl. Slowly stir in the lemon juice, a little at a time, to make a smooth, pourable glaze.

To frost the doughnuts, either dip them in the glaze or use a silicon brush to lightly coat their tops.

Notes & Source: For even more doughnut recipes—including baked variations—and tips and tricks for making Tim Horton's a distant memory, I highly recommend Lara Ferroni's doughnut-making bible, Doughnuts.