Doughnut Puffs, Sweet or Savory

MAKES: About 2 dozen

TIME: 30 minutes

For everyone who craves bread and pastry, fried dough is the ultimate decadence; no wonder virtually every culture has both sweet and savory versions of it. This recipe is basically a pate choux, a fancy but simple pastry that begins by cooking butter, water, and flour into a pastelike batter. It’s quick, versatile, and can be baked instead of fried, which makes an even easier fresh hot bread. See the variations for some specific ideas, then start experimenting.

Peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs

1/4 cup confectioners sugar for dusting

Put at least 2 inches oil in a countertop deep-fryer or in a deep pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high; bring to 350В°F .

Combine the sugar, butter, salt, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and add the flour all at once. Stir constantly until the mixture pulls away from the pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and beat the eggs one at a time into the mixture, stirring until smooth after each addition.

Carefully drop spoonfuls of the dough into the hot oil, only as many as will fit comfortably at once. Cook, turning as they brown, for a total of 5 to 10 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the doughnuts from the oil and drain them on paper towels. Put the confectioners sugar in a shaker or tea strainer and immediately dust the tops with powdered sugar. Serve hot or at least warm.

Variations

Churros. The easy way or the authentic way: Instead of confectioners sugar, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon on a plate. Follow the recipe through Step 2. Then you can either drop the dough into the hot oil (the easy way) or make the signature churro sticks by spooning it into a pastry bag with a large star tip (more authentic). Press strips of dough about 4 inches long into the hot oil. Proceed with the recipe, rolling the hot churros around in the cinnamon-sugar mixture before serving.

Fruit Fritters. Try unexpected fruits like figs, pineapple, or papaya or more common ones like apples, berries, peaches, or plums: Trim, peel, and cut the desired fruit into slices or chunks. You should have about 2 cups. Sprinkle with a little sugar and put in a strainer to drain excess juice. Prepare the dough as directed in Steps 1 and 2. Heat the oil. Now either dip large pieces of fruit in dough or fold several smaller pieces of fruit into a spoonful of dough to form a loose ball. Either way, carefully put the fritters into the hot fat and proceed with the recipe.

Savory Doughnuts. Endless seasoning possibilities: Omit the granulated and confectioners sugar. Increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon. Prepare a seasoning for the hot doughnuts: coarse salt, smoked or sweet paprika, any spice blend (see The Spice Lexicon), or grated Parmesan cheese, for example. Proceed with the recipe, dusting the hot doughnuts with seasoning before serving.

Cheese Puffs. Another name for gougres: Omit the granulated and confectioners sugar. After mixing in the eggs in Step 2, stir in 1 cup grated melting cheese, like Gruyre, Emmental, or cheddar, and 1 cup hard cheese like Parmesan or manchego. Proceed with the main recipe or the following Baked Puffs variation.

Baked Puffs. A lot less mess and fat: Instead of preparing oil for deep frying, preheat the oven to 425В°F. Line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper or grease them or use nonstick sheets. Prepare any of the preceding sweet or savory doughs; drop spoonfuls onto the baking sheets. Bake until crisp and golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

Cream Puffs. Also known as profiteroles and even better with thinned Chocolate Ganache drizzled on top: Prepare a custard recipe or whip and sweeten to taste 2 cups of whipping cream (see The Basics of Whipped Cream). Prepare the main recipe, only instead of preparing oil for deep frying, bake as in Baked Puffs. After the puffs have cooled a bit, carefully cut them in half like a sandwich roll and spoon in some of the prepared custard or cream; replace the top.