Grandma Friesen never made anything in small amounts.
A mother of ten, and grandmother to twenty five, I can almost never picture her outside of her kitchen.
Like a lot of women born more than a hundred years ago, Anna was a stranger to certain luxuries her whole life. Even when my grandfather bought her a house with a modern kitchen and plenty of countertop space, she rarely used it.
Instead, in the attached summer kitchen, which was little more than a nook with a fridge, stove, sink and just enough room for a dish rack, she continued to cook as she always had when her family was young.
Dipping into a flour bin that contained a hundred pounds at a time, Anna baked bread and cream cookies, cooked vereniku topped with cream gravy, and fried roll kuken and New Year’s cookies. And doughnuts.
Not exactly one of her staple items, doughnuts were a special treat. Especially when I got to help make them.
Like her bread, my grandmother’s doughnut dough was mixed and left to rise in bowls the size of bathtubs, covered with grease-stained kitchen towels that were probably older than my oldest aunt.
After all, Anna wasn’t one to throw things out. Even plastic produce bags from the grocery store were washed and clothespinned to a string tied above the sink to dry. They then became bread bags for giving away her loaves to family and other villagers who dropped by.
Once risen, and with the kitchen already rich with the smell of yeast, my grandmother let me punch down the dough. First, I pushed my fingers into the warm sponge. Then my fists, which deflated it in the most satisfying way that I love even now.
With handfuls of flour tossed onto the kitchen table, we turned the dough out for a quick knead, flattening and shaping it with a wooden rolling pin so perfectly seasoned that not even sticky doughnut dough would cling to it.
We cut out circles and holes, and set them aside on every possible surface to rise a second time. And then slid them, one by one, into a pot of spitting lard, before sugaring and glazing.
A couple of months ago, someone gave me a little box of homemade doughnuts.
They were soft and pillowy and perfectly golden. And delicious.
Delicious but different.
Not only were they made with mashed potatoes and in a bread machine, but they were also baked!
Adapted from an old Czechoslovakian recipe, and a favourite treat made by the wife of a local chef, the doughnuts are tender and a perfect alternative for cooks who, like me, are terrified of boiling oil.
My grandmother would laugh if she knew that.
But then, since the cooking gene skipped a generation before resurfacing in me, I don’t think she’d mind. She’d just hand me an apron and ask whether I wanted to sugar or glaze.
Czecholslovakian Baked Doughnuts
(recipe courtesy of Christine Deschatelets)
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water from cooking the potatoes
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbs cup melted butter
Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender. Pass through a potato ricer and set aside 1 cup to cool.
Place potatoes, milk, water, eggs, shortening, sugar and salt in the pan of a bread maker. Cover with flour and place yeast on top. Set machine to “Dough” function.
When dough is ready, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, kneading in a little more flour, if necessary, to form a workable dough. Roll to 1/2-inch thick and cut using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter. Place on greased baking sheets. Cover with lint-free kitchen towels and let rise until almost doubled (about an hour in a warm place). Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden. Brush warm doughnuts lightly with butter and dip in cinnamon sugar.
– Words and photos by Darcie Hossack