One of my first full time jobs was in Dunkin Donuts, back in 1994. I was nineteen years old and had just moved to London. Kurt Cobain had recently committed suicide and John Smith was coming to the end of his Labour party leadership as a result of a fatal heart attack. This wasn’t my first job in the city. I’d managed to hold down a position as a Pizza Hut cook on Oxford Street for an entire three weeks before walking out and, before that, I’d survived a McDonald’s kitchen for all of two and a half hours before sneaking out (I made sure I got my free lunch first).
It’s true that things were not going well on the job front for me. I had no money. I couldn’t pay my rent. I had to walk to work (from South London to the West End) and the only food I was able to eat was what I was given for free (I would often have to go two to three days without eating at all). I’d been in London for a month by this point and was starting to realise that things were a little more difficult that I’d anticipated.
I managed to keep the job in Dunkin Donuts. In fact, I was there for a year and a half and had become a shift supervisor before finally throwing in the towel. I remember the smell when I first walked into that shop. The smell of confectionary, that multi-layered melange that sugar in all its forms brings. And the colours. Row upon row of pinks, the dark brown of chocolate, the lighter brown of caramel. That opaque, satin white of vanilla. Mixed with all of this, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. The coffee at that time was good. Brewed into urns first thing in the morning, using fresh coffee and filter paper put together by whomever was on duty that morning. The coffee was notmade by a machine, where all the attendant had to do was push a button. They served neither lattes nor cappuccinos, no flat whites or mochas. Just good, old-fashioned coffee. This is still, 25 years later, the way I prefer my java.
Of course, as time goes by, those aromas dissipate with familiarity. You don’t smell then any more, at least not the way you once did. The magic is forgotten, and it becomes just a place that you work.
I never made a single one of those brightly-coloured doughnuts sitting on those racks behind the counter. I decorated them, certainly. I iced them and stuffed them with jams, custard and chocolate. I put sprinkles and chopped nuts on some of them and I did all this by the thousand. The doughnuts themselves were made in a bakery in another part of the city, a place I only ever visited once, and were delivered each morning at about 5am to the store in large white crates, ready for us to begin work on.
The store was situated right opposite Piccadilly Circus station, on the corner of Glasshouse Street. It was a busy place that remained open 7am to 2am, 7 days a week. During the day its patrons consisted mainly of tourists and workers from the local businesses. We sold sandwiches and croissants as well as doughnuts, so people would buy their lunch there too (those who weren’t going to Burger King two doors down). Many, though, would come just for the coffee.
At night the place was a little different. Tourists still trickled in, but it was also the haunt for the local pimps, drug-dealers and rent boys who worked the area. Night times could be filled with a lot of tension for the few staff who worked the close shift, myself included. Mostly everything was fine, but at least once a night there would be some kind of trouble. Usually it was because of fighting, but a great deal of stress was caused by the store’s no-smoking rule (this was long before the smoking ban) and a lot of the customers’ refusal to accommodate it. Time after time we would have to take the trip around the counter to tell someone to take their cigarette outside. Some would go straight out, but many would not and a fierce argument almost always ensued, often with the police having to be called. Fighting and arguing with customers on an almost daily basis tends to take the fun out of work.
The days of that kind of work are long gone for me, but the smell of freshly-made doughnuts brings back those memories, most of which are pleasant ones.
There are vegan doughnuts out there that you can buy and I’m sure most of us have enjoyed them. Being able to make your own doughnuts, however, gives you an element of control. It gives you power. This is yourdoughnut, it has what youwant in it.
These basic fried ring doughnuts are a great place to start and will help you get you dough right. It works in the same way as bread, in that you use yeast to raise it, let it prove, shape it and then prove it again before cooking. This stuff doesn’t happen quickly, but when you’ve finished you’ll be glad you went to the effort. So will everyone you make them for. This recipe makes about a dozen ring doughnuts, with a little left over for you to roll up a few doughnut holes to cook at the same time. If you’re doubling the recipe, as I did recently, add a little less than double of the plant milk, or it will come out a bit too sticky and you’ll have to add more flour.
Prep time: 30 minutes, plus nearly 2 hours proving. Cooking time: 6-8 minutes per batch
Makes about 12 ring doughnuts
For the Dough:
500g strong white bread flour
2 tsp dried yeast
½ tsp salt
100g golden caster sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
50g gram (chickpea) flour
350ml plant milk
65g vegan butter
Enough vegetable oil for deep frying
For the Glaze:
100ml maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Juice of half a lemon
Put the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, cinnamon and gram flour into a large mixing bowl and stir to fully combine.
Now put the plant milk and vegan butter into a saucepan and heat until the butter has melted. Allow it to cool for about 20 minutes, so as not to kill the yeast, then pour the mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir with a table knife until you get large lumps forming, then bring it all together with your hands.
Knead on a work surface for 8-10 minutes, until you have a smooth, elastic dough, then brush with a little oil, cover and prove in a warm place for about 90 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
Bring the dough back to the work surface and then knead it again. Now roll out the dough to about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick. Take a large pastry cutter, about 3 inches (7.5cm) in diameter and press down into the dough to get your doughnut shape. Gently lift out the shape and lay it onto some greaseproof paper. Now take a smaller cutter, about 1 inch (2.5cm) in diameter and press down in the middle of your rounds to create your doughnut hole. Knead any discarded dough together and roll it out again. Keep going until you have made as many doughnuts as you can. Roll any remaining dough into little balls to make into doughnut holes. Now gently cover your doughnut shapes and leave to raise again for about 20-30 minutes.
Half fill a large saucepan with the vegetable oil and heat to about 170 ºC, or so that the oil begins to bubble immediately when you put some dough into it. Make sure it is only hot enough to cook them gently, or they will burn before they are cooked through.
Gently fry 3-4 doughnuts at a time (depending on what you can comfortably fit in your pan) for about 3-4 minutes on one side, then use a slotted spoon or cooking tongs to turn them over and cook the other side. Be very careful not to splash yourself with the oil
Once they are cooked, drain them on some kitchen paper or a tea towel and begin cooking the next batch. Do this until all of the doughnuts are cooked.
To make the glaze, put all of the glaze ingredients into a saucepan and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool a little, then use cooking tongs to dip your doughnuts into the syrup, making sure they are fully coated. Allow to rest for 10 minutes on greaseproof paper, and them dip them a second time. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes more before eating.