I have a confession to make.
I have killed….. so many sourdough starters. So. Many.
There was the one I created when Gabe and I were first married. The amount of care I put into that jar of flour and water was probably concerning for those around me. Nancy Silverton told me (not personally) to add grapes to the starter to really get that yeast buzzing, so I diligently obliged. This particular starter traveled with us to Los Angeles but met its demise when I became overwhelmed with my new pastry job and had no extra time to feed it. Instead I spent my off hours buying gallons of ice cream from Ralph’s and practicing my quenelle scoops.
Then there was the starter from four summers ago. My eldest, Baron, told me he was bored. My kids now know better to use those words around me because most likely the outcome will end in house cleaning or yard work and their eyes tire from all the rolling. But this time my response was “let’s make bread!” So we created David. S. Pumpkin, our sourdough starter. Being the romantic I am, I envisioned saying our goodbyes to Baron as he left the comfort of our little nest and gifting him with a portion of David to carry with him for the rest of his life. His children would bake with David. As would his children’s children. And so on.
David didn’t even see Baron through the end of middle school.
And there have been many since then that have been ignored, malnourished, and have found their way into the compost pile when I felt as if I couldn’t nurture one more thing. I’ve come to terms with this and have cast off the romantic notion of having a long lived starter. I mean if that happens, great but if I find myself needing to cull the to-do’s, even if it’s a small task such as adding a few scoops of flour and a splash of water, then that’s what I need to do. I’ve come a long way in trusting myself and knowing my own limits. My apologies to the starters who have sacrificed greatly for this life lesson but what I’ve found is I can always start again. The same wild yeast that always exists in our home will happily find a warm and cozy refuge in a fresh starter and the process only takes a few days before the baking can begin. I texted my brother a picture of these donuts on Tuesday, he started his starter that day and by Saturday morning they were eating hot sourdough donuts.
Sometimes beginning again is the kindest gesture of grace we can give ourselves. And to others.
So if you need to start again, there’s no better time than now. And if it doesn’t last this time, just know that you can always start again, again.
Sourdough Apple Donuts with Salted Brown Butter Glaze
My intention was to make these more fritter-like but they end up being soft, pillowing and full of sweet and tart apples. Not the crackling crispness you’d expect in a fritter so we’re calling them a donut and no one in my family seemed mad about it. I’ve used as little as 1/3 cup sugar so you can reduce that here if you’d like. You can also play around with the spice quantity. But please do not skip the glaze. It’s nutty, salty sweetness takes these donuts over-the-top. And if at all possible, give this dough an overnight rest in the fridge. Both the flavor and the texture are improved after a good rest. Donuts and I have so much in common; we both are improved with a bit of rest.
4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup water, lukewarm
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups peeled, cored and diced apples
Neutral oil, for frying
Add the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, sourdough starter, water, and eggs into the bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook and mix on a medium speed for 8 min, or until the dough starts coming away from the sides and forms a ball. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for a minute.
Start the mixer up again on a medium speed and slowly add the butter to the dough, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Finish by mixing in the lemon zest, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Once it is all incorporated, mix on medium high speed for 5 minutes until the dough is glossy, smooth and elastic when pulled.
Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel then leave to rise until it has doubled in size, about an hour.
Once the dough has risen add the apples and mix to combine. Now listen, this is a lot of apples to incorporate into this dough so this may take some time and the dough may need to rest for a bit in between the mixing. Once you have most of the apples contained within the dough, dump the dough on a lightly floured surface and give it a few folds or knead it slightly to incorporate all of the apples.
Shape the dough into a rough rectangle about 1 1/2 inches thick. Set on a parchment lined and lightly floured sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a lightly damp, clean kitchen towel and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the dough from the fridge when you’re ready to fry and leave out for about 30 minutes to get the chill off. This leaves you with enough time to get the oil heating and to make the glaze.
Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a large pan, leaving at least 3 inches of space to the top of the pan so the oil won’t splatter. Heat the oil to 350*F over medium high heat. Try to maintain a consistent heat while frying; don’t overcrowd the pan and check the temperature with a thermometer often.
Cut the donuts in whichever way makes you most happy. I love the consistency of using a round cookie cutter but that does leave scraps behind. Square donuts are perfectly fine too.
Fry the donuts until deeply golden and cooked throughout, rotating them a few times throughout the frying process. Let the donuts fry for 4 to 6 minutes. You can test one donut to be sure they are completely cooked through before frying them all.
Remove the donuts with a spider or slotted spoon then let them drain on a rack set over a sheet pan and cool slightly before dipping in the glaze (recipe below).
Salted Brown Butter Glaze
Prepare yourself to want to put this on everything.
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
Add the butter to a small saucepan set over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and let the milk solids caramelize. The butter will foam and then calm when it’s properly browned. Don’t be afraid of a deep, dark caramelization. It will smell nutty and quite frankly, intoxicating. Few scents tug at me more than browned butter.
Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl then add the browned butter, making sure to scrap as many of those browned bits off the bottom of the pan as you can. Add the cream and a hefty pinch of salt then whisk everything until completely combined and the glaze is smooth. The finished texture should drip off of the whisk but not run. Add more powdered sugar or cream if needed. The cream I used contains 45% milk fat so if you have a slightly less fat-filled cream you may need to use less or add more powdered sugar.
Taste and add more salt if needed or you can reserve the salt and sprinkle flaky salt on top of the glazed donuts.
Dip the warm donuts into the glaze.
If at all possible, enjoy while warm.