vanilla custard bread ahead donuts
Time for YUM

vanilla custard bread ahead donuts

When Erlend and I were trying to figure out where to go on our upcoming vacation in May, we used Google Flight Explorer. If you've never used Google Flight Explorer, it's worth checking out: you type in the dates you want for your travel, and a map pops up for you to "explore". Scrolling around the map shows you how much tickets are to that city or country for your date of choice — it's a great way to find cheap tickets (which is honestly how we pick most of our international travel destinations, lol — why spend most of your money before you've even gotten there, ya know?).

With Google Flight Explorer (lol at all the links to Google; honestly, this isn't even sponsored— I just love it so much and want you to use it), we discovered that tickets to London were insanely cheap—like $500 roundtrip from Portland and back—and literally half the price of most other tickets to Europe. It seemed too good of a deal to miss, but also recognized that it was likely risky due to the shitshow ambiguity of Brexit. Besides — we'd both just been to England last September. We'd had the time of our lives, hanging with some of my good friends and eating delicious meals at Rovi (Ottolenghi's latest restaurant dedicated to fire and fermentation), Brigadiers, St. John Bread and Wine, Polpo, and more. But was it really worth a second trip in less than a year?

Looking at my photos, I was undecided — until I saw this photo of Bread Ahead donuts from our last trip to London. Bread Ahead is a bakery and baking school known for their donuts, whose reputation is well-earned, to say the least. Their donuts are incredibly light and fluffy, rolled in sugar and plump with custards flavored with passionfruit meringue, orange and cardamom, honeycomb, and more. I legit made Erlend go back to Borough Market three times just so I could keep eating their donuts. It was their donuts that sealed the deal; I bought our tickets to London without any more thought.

In retrospect, it was probably more sensible to just make the donuts at home. I'd picked up a copy of Bread Ahead's Baking School cookbook when I was last in town, and had forgotten that it actually contained the recipe for their famed donuts. I've recreated it today for you guys in celebration of Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday (where you're supposed to eat all the fried things, right?), and to spare you the $500 ticket to London (lol). While the recipe stays pretty true to their vanilla custard donut recipe, I made some changes and adaptations to make it more friendly for American kitchens and the home baker — be sure to check out the baker's notes below, and enjoy!

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Some baker's notes:
  • I'm not going to lie, this recipe is a motherfreaking JOURNEY. According to Bread Ahead's cookbook, the secret to their donuts is letting the dough rise THREE times throughout the baking process, first for an hour, then overnight, then another 3 to 4 hours after that. It's INTENSE, and honestly, it's probably just easer to book a damn ticket to London at this point, ha. To help you manage the time better and make sure you're not in the kitchen for giant blocks of time, I've broken up the recipe over the course of 3 days — you'll make the custard first, then the dough, and fry and assemble the donuts on the third and final day. A lot of it is passive time (you're really just waiting for the dough to rise), but it's still a lot, I know. If you want to make the donuts a 2 day affair, I suggest making the custard cream and dough on the same day. For those who want to visually see the process, I suggest checking out this video of Justin (the head baker of Bread Ahead) making salted honeycomb donuts at home.
  • The recipe calls for a few special pieces of equipment: a piping bag with a Bismark pastry tip, and a deep fryer. A Bismark tip is typically used in professional pastry kitchens to pipe stuffings and fillings into pastries; I got mine online via Amazon, but in a pinch, you can use a regular piping bag (or even a homemade version via a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off) with a small round tip. Just use a chopstick or clean pen to poke a deep hole in the donut, then jam your piping bag in there and squeeze away. As for a deep fryer, I recently got the Breville deep fryer which I love, love, LOVE — it makes deep frying so much cleaner and safer. But in the past, I've just used my trusty Staub cocotte (but really, any cast iron Dutch oven will do) and a deep fryer thermometer for the job. Just remember that you'll need to fill the pot about halfway up with oil.
  • The original recipe uses fresh yeast, which is really hard to find in the United States for the average home baker. I've adapted the recipe to use instant yeast instead — in a pinch, you can use active dry yeast in its place instead, but you'll need to change the temperature of the water and the way it's mixed into the dough instead. Read more about the science of why and how in my recipe for ube babka.

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