I only knew my paternal grandmother, my grand-maman, as a young girl. But recently, my dad gave me her small handwritten binder of recipes. With a blue and green cover, the recipes on the slightly yellowed and very delicate sheets of paper reflect her French Canadian heritage.
One of the first recipes in the book is for nutmeg donuts, or beignes, as they’re called in French. Often referred to as old-fashioned donuts in Quebec, they are cake donuts that fry up with a golden cracked and craggy surface. Flavored with vanilla and nutmeg, and coated in nutmeg sugar after frying, they were traditionally made during wintertime, especially around Christmas and New Year. These donuts can still be found in grocery stores across the province, either coated in a thick layer of powdered sugar or sold plain.
As a Jew by choice and a Jewish food historian, I’m always looking for ways to bring my Italian, Ukrainian and French Canadian backgrounds into my Jewish celebrations. These nutmeg-scented donuts hold a special place in my heart, offering me a special way to connect to my grand-maman and to know her a little better through the food she made.
This newly discovered family recipe will now be a permanent fixture on my Hanukkah table, where every part of my identity has a place.
- 2 cups canola or vegetable oil, for frying
For the donuts:
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup milk, at room temperature
- 1½ Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
For the topping:
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until they are fluffy and turn a very pale yellow, about 2 minutes.
- In a liquid measuring cup, combine the milk, melted and cooled butter, and the vanilla extract. In a small bowl, blend the cake flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
- Make the donut batter by adding a third of your flour mixture to the egg and sugar mixture, and, using a wooden spoon or a spatula, mix until the flour just disappears. Add half of the milk mixture to the bowl and combine. Add another third of the flour mixture, blending until the flour just disappears. Mix in the remaining milk mixture and following this, the last of the flour mixture until you have a soft dough. Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
- In a shallow bowl, combine the sugar and ground nutmeg. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or a Dutch oven until it registers 360-365°F on a deep-fry thermometer.
- While the oil is heating, place half the dough onto a lightly floured surface and, using a rolling pin, roll it to about a ½-inch thickness. Using a 3¼-inch donut or cookie cutter, cut out rounds. If you’re not using a donut cutter, use a 1-inch-round cookie cutter or pastry bag coupler to cut the center hole. Bring the scraps of dough back together, re-roll, and cut out more donuts. Continue with the other half of the dough until it has all been used.
- Line a baking sheet with paper towels or place a wire rack over a baking sheet. This is where you’ll be putting your donuts after being fried, so place it near the pot you’re frying in.
- Once the oil has reached 360-365°F, carefully place four donuts into the pot, you can use a slotted spoon to do this. Fry until golden brown, flipping once, for about a minute on each side. When the donuts are done, place them on the prepared baking sheet, making sure to return the oil to 360-365°F between batches. Continue with the remaining donuts, only frying 3-4 at a time.
- Let the donuts cool for a minute or two, but while still warm, coat them in nutmeg sugar. Eat them all as quickly as you can, since they are best right after being fried. Any leftover donuts can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for two to three days.