Brown Sugar Custard Doughnuts

Week 7 of Bake Off saw the tent transport back to the 1980s for 80s week with the bakers showing their signature quiches, technically delicious and demanding finger doughnuts and showstopping ice cream cakes! I decided to make my own version of the Technical Challenge and I came up with these Brown Sugar Custard Doughnuts!

I was reading one of my favourite books, ‘Bread. Cake. Doughnut. Pudding.’ by Justin Gellatly to find inspiration for my recipe this week. I knew I wanted to make doughnuts as it’s been something on my baking list that I’ve wanted to try for a while but the motivation wasn’t really there until this week. It has long been one of my favourite cookbooks on my shelf but I seldom get an opportunity to make a recipe from this book. While browsing the doughnut chapter, I saw a recipe suggestion for a brown sugar custard filling for doughnuts and I thought this was a really unique but delicious sounding idea as I’d never seen or heard of brown sugar crème patissière! That meant I knew I wanted to try it myself!

Pastry cream is made by mixing together egg yolks (with sometimes whole eggs, like in my recipe), sugar (in this case, dark brown sugar) with a starch (here it is cornflour and plain flour) until it forms a thick batter. Warm milk is gradually whisked in to prevent the eggs from scrambling (a process called tempering the eggs) before returning to the heat to cook out the starch to form a thick but delicious custard.

The pastry cream should be whisked constantly to prevent the custard from burning or sticking. The custard is ready when the custard has bubbles that pop on the surface, a process sometimes called burping. This means the custard has completely thickened. To get rid of any lumps, I like to strain it through a sieve to make sure it is super smooth. When it is covered, clingfilm should be pressed on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. 

It is important to have the bowl with the sugar for coating ready before frying. The doughnuts need to be coated in sugar while they are hot and freshly fried as the oil helps the sugar to stick. The oil temperature should be around 170ºC which is the perfect temperature that allows the doughnuts to cook fully without being too dark or absorbing too much oil. I recommend using a thermometer to monitor the oil temperature before frying. The doughnuts should float after a few seconds and rise and expand with the heat of the oil. Keep an eye on the colour of the side in the oil as an indicator for when to flip the doughnuts to cook the other side. 

If you don’t want to fill the doughnuts with the brown sugar custard and just want plain ring doughnuts, I recommend doubling the sugar in the doughnut dough to 50g and portioning out 45g of dough per doughnut, shaping into a bowl and then making a hole with your finger in the middle and then rolling out to make the hole larger and the dough thinner; as the doughnut proves and rises as it fries, the hole will close up. 

For the doughnut dough:

  • 520g strong white bread flour
  • 70g margarine
  • 25g granulated sugar
  • 7g table salt
  • 10g fast action dried yeast
  • 250ml whole milk, warm
  • 2 large eggs

For the brown sugar pastry cream:

  • 500ml whole milk
  • 2 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
  • 50g soft dark brown sugar
  • 40g cornflour
  • 40g plain flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 25g margarine or unsalted butter

For the frying and coating:

  • Any flavourless oil, for frying
  • 125g granulated sugar

For the doughnut dough, mix together the flour, margarine, sugar and salt by rubbing the margarine into the dry ingredients until it is incorporated. Mix lightly before adding in the yeast and mixing lightly again until all the dry ingredients are evenly mixed. Make a well in the centre of the bowl and add in both of the eggs and nearly all of the warm milk. Combine everything into a rough dough using a wooden spoon or spatula. Once almost all of the dry ingredients have been combined, turn out the dough onto a floured work surface.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, sprinkling flour only to prevent the dough sticking to the table. The dough will be soft and easy to work with but should not be sticky. The dough is kneaded enough when you shape the dough into a firm ball and when you prod the dough with your finger, it will spring back completely. Place back in a bowl and cover with clingfilm and allow to prove for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile prepare the brown sugar pastry cream. Place the milk into a medium saucepan over a medium heat to warm. In a separate bowl, whisk together the brown sugar with the eggs, egg yolk, cornflour, plain flour and vanilla extract until it is an even batter consistency. When the milk is heated, gradually pour the milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. 

Return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk constantly over a medium heat until the pastry cream thickens completely, ensuring the mixture has bubbled which means the starch has been released. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a large heatproof bowl which has 25g of margarine inside of it. The residual heat from the custard will melt the margarine. Use a spoon or spatula to ensure the margarine has been well incorporated and then cover the pastry cream with clingfilm, making sure the clingfilm touches the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Leave to cool and then refrigerate until needed.

When the dough has proved, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute to knock back the dough. Divide the dough into 70g portions; any leftover dough can be made into ring doughnuts or small doughnut holes. Shape each 70g portion of dough into a 15cm finger shape with rounded ends, making sure that the doughnut is even width throughout. Place the shaped doughnuts onto a lined baking tray and cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for about 30 minutes. 

When you are ready to fry the doughnuts, place the granulated sugar into a large bowl ready to coat the doughnuts and have a cooling rack ready to place the doughnuts on. 

Place the oil into a large wok, deep and wide pan or into your deep fat fryer and heat up the oil until it reaches 165ºC. Fry the doughnuts 2 or 3 at a time depending on the size of your pan (note that I used a commercial sized wok and was able to fry 6 of them at once), carefully lifting them up from the baking tray and suspending them in the oil for a few seconds before dropping in.

The doughnuts should remain submerged in the oil for a few seconds before rising to the surface. Cook the doughnuts for about 3 minutes on the first side or until it turns golden brown and then carefully flipping over to cook the other side.

When the colour of the doughnuts are even, remove them from the oil and drain the excess oil. Place the hot doughnuts into the bowl of sugar and toss the doughnut to coat completely in sugar. Avoid touching the doughnuts too much while coating and then move to a wire rack to cool down completely. 

To fill the doughnuts, whip the chilled pastry cream until it is smooth again and place into a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Slice the doughnuts down the middle using a serrated knife, slicing far enough down so that the filling can get down to near the base, making sure you don’t slice through. Hold open the doughnut and pipe a decent amount of the pastry cream along the middle of the doughnut. 

Serve these doughnuts immediately or warmed slightly in the microwave. 

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