Some of the blog search terms I’ll be using for this year’s project are straightforward, and some made proto-recipes fly immediately into my head. This one did not. Part of the reason I chose to do it first was simply because I wasn’t sure what “rumpled donuts” should be, and wanted to figure it out before I was too deep into the spring semester.
Though I can think of what many “rumpled” baked goods might look like – particularly rumpled pancakes, which might be crepes, or maybe that lovely giant Dutch baby or German pancake that rises up past the edges in the pan – I couldn’t fathom what a rumpled donut might be. If you’re still out there, searcher, what were you after? When I think “rumpled,” I think unmade bed sheets. It’s uneven. It’s piled and layered, and that meant my dough, whatever I opted for, would also have to be uneven. Clearly this is a problem for regular dough – in almost all baked goods you want your dough or batter to be rolled or spread or patted out to the same thickness all the way across, for even cooking. It would need, then, to be a non-traditional dough.
I’m not sure what eventually led me to phyllo. Certainly I thought of my favorite donut, the perfectly delicious but sometimes overlooked apple fritter, and somewhere in the contemplation of apple and cinnamon and unmade beds, I thought of a crumpled layer of phyllo dough, and I knew exactly what I would do. Phyllo would get twisted and wrapped around a ring of apple, then fried until crisp and dredged in a healthy layer of cinnamon sugar. Bingo. Rumpled donut. The apple slices would have to be cooked for a while first, though, since the phyllo would fry so quickly.
Next to making caramel, frying is the cooking project that puts me most on edge. The oil takes a long time to come up to temperature, it seems like so much, and there’s always the fear that, well, you have a vat of boiling oil on your stove right next to your hands, and arms, and legs, and all those body parts you’d prefer remained un-fried. In this case, there was also the complication of working with phyllo, which needs to be treated quickly and delicately to avoid tearing or drying out. For that reason, even after deciding exactly what I would do, I put off making these for three weeks. Surely, I thought, they would be more trouble than the end product was worth.
Untrue. I’m not in a rush to make them again, but for a pure experiment they were amazing. The apple rings are meltingly tender after a sauté in butter and brown sugar spiked with a cinnamon stick. The loose buttery caramel they leave behind is the perfect slick to brush between phyllo layers to help them cook through and to sweeten the tasteless, papery dough. Once fried, which only takes about a minute on each side, the phyllo is impossibly crisp, not particularly greasy, and deeply golden. It’s like a croissant and an apple fritter had a beautiful affair. I made six of these, since that’s how many rings I divided my apple into, and since each one consisted only of one slice of apple and one sheet of phyllo, N. and I felt no compunction whatsoever about eating three each over the course of the afternoon and evening.
Here’s the thing, though. Most of the recipes I post here, I want you to cook. I try to make them precise, and organized, and exact, so you can replicate them successfully, with your own touches, if you wish. This one is different. Unless you’re really into what you’re seeing here, don’t make these. They were outstandingly delicious, yes, but they were also a giant pain to execute. The apples tore, the phyllo tore, there was sugar everywhere, and as you’ll see below, the process of folding and twisting and wrapping is tricky to describe and to do (and impossible to take pictures of – I gave up). What I’d advise instead, and what I will likely do when a craving for fried phyllo arises, is to forget about the donut ring shape. Just make packets – twist or roll or wrap up a sautéed slice or plank of apple in phyllo layers and drop it into the oil that way. It will still produce sweet, tender apples in flaky, crispy layers of dough that shatter everywhere upon impact, but you’ll save yourself a lot of irritation in the construction phase. And if apples aren’t your jam, I’d imagine you could use almost anything: a smear of pesto, a dollop of nutella, a slice of brie spread with fig or apricot preserves and wrapped in prosciutto inside that papery crispy envelope.
Just in case, though, what follows is my procedure, as clearly as I can describe it, for my attempt to invent the “rumpled donut.” Enjoy!
45-60 minutes, roughly, depending on how many donuts you fry at a time
1 large green apple
4-5 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of salt
6 sheets phyllo dough (or however many apple rings you end up with)
1-2 quarts vegetable oil
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
- Begin to heat the oil to 350F in a deep pot. I use one with straight sides, but a wok would probably also work nicely. Oil should be at least three inches deep.
- While the oil heats, prep your ingredients. Skin the apple and core it, leaving a hole down the center at least 1 ½ inches in diameter. Cut the cored apple into ¼ inch thick rings – for me, this made 6 even slices.
- Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, the cinnamon stick, and the pinch of salt and stir or whisk together the sugar is fully dissolved into the butter. Add the apples in a single layer and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes per side. When apple slices are tender but not mushy, turn off the heat, remove apple slices from the pan, and set them aside to cool until room temperature, or just barely warm.
- While the apples are cooling, combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small dish, and prepare a work station for the phyllo dough. You will need a large board and two slightly damp kitchen towels. Lay one towel down on a countertop, place the 6 sheets of phyllo on it, then cover the phyllo with the other towel. Phyllo dries out fast, and when it dries it becomes brittle and even more difficult to work with. Set out a wire rack with paper towels, or a cookie sheet, or a large plate underneath – this is where you will set your finished rumpled donuts.
- Carefully separate one sheet of phyllo from its companions and spread it out on the large board. Cut it in half width-wise so you end up with two fatter rectangles (as opposed to two thinner ones, as you would if you cut it lengthwise). Use the leftover butter and sugar mixture in your pan to brush lightly over each rectangle (if this has solidified and seems unbrushable, add the additional tablespoon of butter, put it over low heat, and stir or whisk together until melted and spreadable again). Fold each phyllo rectangle in half lengthwise for two longer, thinner strips. Repeat, brushing and folding again, for each piece so you have two thin strips of phyllo.
- Now comes the pesky part. Take one of your apple rings and carefully insert one of the phyllo strips through the hole in the center. Pull the apple through about ¼ of the length of the phyllo, and wrap that ¼ back around the apple ring. Draw the remaining phyllo strip around the apple ring and back through the hole. This is easiest if you draw the end of the phyllo through as though you were threading a needle, rather than pushing from the middle of the phyllo strip, which can encourage tearing. Continue to draw the phyllo through and carefully wrap it around the apple ring in a spiral, and repeat with the second strip. You will need both to form a full spiral of dough around the apple, completely encircling it. Tuck the ends of phyllo into the central hole of the apple to secure.
- Repeat with the remaining apple rings and sheets of phyllo.
- When you have wrapped your apples and your oil has reached a temperature somewhere in the window of 350-365F, you are ready to fry. Use a skimmer or a kitchen spider to carefully lower the “donuts” into the oil one at a time. If your pot is wide, you can fry more than one at once. I just did one at a time.
- Fry the “donuts” until deeply golden, then flip and repeat. For me, this took about 1 minute per side. Carefully remove with the skimmer and let it drain over the pot of oil for a few seconds, then sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar mixture (be sure to get both sides!), and set gently on the wire rack to cool for at least 5-10 minutes. This will ensure that all surfaces stay crispy. Keep an eye on your oil temperature, ensuring that it remains in the 350-365F range.
- Repeat with remaining donuts, and eat as soon as they are cool enough to handle, with plenty of napkins at the ready. We did not save any, so I don’t know how they store, but my guess is the phyllo will not retain its perfect crunch overnight.