Sitto woke up very early in the morning to mix her dough on baking days. She used a big blue roasting pan and loved to feel the dough come together between her hands. Once the dough had risen properly, she set to dividing it up for the tasks at hand—the flatbread, the talami, the fatayar.
By mid-afternoon the work was done, and there was always leftover dough. My mother stretched the balls into flat ovals and pushed a hole in the center of each one, making a rustic donut that she fried to a deep golden brown and sprinkled, immediately, with sugar from the sugar bowl. Then we ate them, immediately, until they were gone.
I can’t say that any ingredient makes these donuts Lebanese. No rosewater, no cinnamon. I can’t even say that I know of other Lebanese families who fry the remains of dough at the end of a baking day. The donuts are Lebanese because they have always punctuated our Lebanese bread baking with a sweet, airy exclamation point. It strikes me now that there was always a heap of dough “left over” for the donuts, enough for everyone to have at least one. If we must steal from the loaves of talami or flatbread to gain for the donuts, then so be it.
We’re in the layup now to Lent, with Mardi Gras next Tuesday. Thoughts of the austerity program have begun to creep in, and a serious sugar/alcohol/fat binge in the coming days is going to be necessary to tide me over for the next 40 days. You may just want to go ahead and unsubscribe from the blog at this point because for several weeks there will be only healthy, hearty Lenten food here…I do promise, though, that what we’re lacking in sweet we’ll make up for in savory flavor. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? Besides, they said to fast, not to starve.
I haven’t gotten through many a Fat Tuesday without eating donuts for breakfast in some shape or form; Chicago was big on the pazcki, and those rich, jam-filled puffs went down easy at my desk between meetings. No doubt I showed up at the conference room table with sugar-rimmed lips, blindly thinking nobody would know what I’d just shoved in my mouth in seconds flat behind closed doors. Here in Harbor Springs, the pillowy sugared donuts at Johan’s Bakery will no doubt try to call me by name on Fat Tuesday.
But I’m going to kick-off Lent with my own donuts by rearranging Sitto’s baking order of the day, and I don’t think she would mind: fried dough first. Wait a minute—how about donuts with all of the dough? It’s the least we can do to help Fat Tuesday live up to its name.
Lebanese Sugared Donuts
These donuts are best eaten immediately after they are fried.
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup warm water
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil, plus canola oil for frying
3/4 cup warm water
Sugar for coating the donuts
Proof the yeast by dissolving it in ½ cup water with the sugar and letting it activate for about 15 minutes.
Whisk together the flour and salt. Create a well in the center and add the oil and proofed yeast mixture. Slowly work the wet ingredients into the dry, adding the 3/4 cup water slowly. Hold back ¼ cup and only as necessary to create a soft dough. Knead the dough gently for just a couple of minutes.
Coat the dough with about 1 tablespoon of oil, cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 2 hours.
Divide the dough into 8-10 balls. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, on a lightly floured work surface for 20 minutes.
Fill a medium sauté pan with enough canola oil to reach 1/3 of the way up. Heat over medium high heat until a tiny ball of dough placed in the oil bubbles up immediately.
Be careful not to over heat the oil, or the donuts will brown too quickly and will not cook through the inside.
Stretch three balls of dough at a time into rustic, oblong shapes and poke a hole in the middle. Keep the rest of the dough balls covered to prevent them from drying out and forming a skin.
Fry three donuts at a time, turning over with tongs when deep golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel, and sprinkle with sugar while they’re still hot, and enjoy.
Print this recipe here.