Bunce was a duck-and-goose farmer. He kept thousands of ducks and geese. He was a kind of pot-bellied dwarf. He was so short his chin would have been underwater in the shallow end of any swimming-pool in the world. His food was doughnuts and goose-livers. He mashed the livers into a disgusting paste and then stuffed the paste into the doughnuts. This diet gave him a tummy-ache and a beastly temper.
Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl, The Three Farmers
There are some writers (J. K. Rowling, C. S. Lewis, Joanne Harris) who feature heavily on this blog because their books are littered with mouthwatering references to food. Their characters regularly enjoy warming, comforting or just plain magical dishes. Then there's Roald Dahl. For every character who enjoys a wonderful meal (Miss Honey and Matilda's shared afternoon tea, thousands of children devouring a peach in Central Park, Danny and William's oven roasted pheasant, Charlie's bar of Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight) there are others subjected to some truly horrifying foods. The Twits' worm spaghetti, soup full of a potion that turns witches to mice and Bunce's doughnuts have stayed vividly in my memory for two decades now.
Boggis, Bunce and Bean are truly odious characters. Obviously, a cunning fox stealing chickens (and apples) from a farmer is not an ideal scenario. If the terrible trio were more sympathetic characters, perhaps we'd be on their side. But they're not. Their diets alone (respectively: three boiled chickens a day, goose liver filled doughnuts and nothing but apple cider) make me feel slightly ill. Although I love pâté, minced goose livers inside the doughnuts is not something I wanted to recreate here. So I went instead for something Bunce and Bean might both appreciate: a doughnut filled with apple. Well, it pleased me at least...
ps. This completely terrific recipe is not originally mine. Doughnuts are completely new to me, so I followed the master: Justin Gellatly (though I did alter his filling recipe). Genuinely, I have never had better doughnuts than the ones he sells in Borough market. They're not something to tackle if you fancy something quick and easy, but are well worth the overnight prove. They were very enthusiastically received by some friends of mine after a Sunday roast.
Caramelised Apple Doughnuts
250g strong white bread flour
30g caster sugar
5g fine salt
3g easy action (or instant) yeast
62g softened butter
1.5l vegetable oil
Bowl of caster sugar - for tossing
250ml full cream milk
3 egg yolks
62g caster sugar
40g plain flour
1tsbp caster sugar
Mixer (it really is useful here, but you can knead by hand if you have considerable arm strength, a bowl and a bench)
Electric scales (ideal for weighing ingredients specifically here)
Large saucepan or deep fat fryer
Knife and chopping board
Small frying pan
Fish slice or dough scraper
1. Put all the doughnut dough ingredients except the butter in the bowl of a mixer and mix for around eight minutes on a medium speed using a beater attachment. Alternatively, combine the ingredients by hand and then knead for at least twenty minutes until elastic. The dough should come away from the bowl (or bench) in a ball.
2. Allow the dough to rest for a minute and then start the beater up again on medium speed. Add the butter in small cubes, allowing time for each piece to be incorporated before the next is added. If you're kneading by hand, follow the same directions, continuing until you have used all the butter. Once incorporated, turn the speed up to high (or draw on your strength reserves and kneading muscles) and knead for a final five minutes with the mixer or ten minutes by hand, until the dough is very smooth, shiny and elastic.
3. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the dough to prove for an hour or so until doubled in size. Knock the dough back (with your fist) then cover the bowl again and leave in the fridge overnight.
4. Take dough from the fridge and cut it into 50g pieces - you'll have around ten. Roll the doughnuts into smooth, taut balls; between your palms first and then on the bench under a clawed hand. Place the doughnuts on a floured baking tray, dust them with flour and cover them with cling film. Allow them to rise one final time for around four hours, or until doubled in size.
5. To prepare the crème pâtissière filling, place the milk and split vanilla pod in a small saucepan over a low heat. Bring to simmering point. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and flour until thick. Slowly pour the hot milk over the yolks, beating continuously. Return the mixture, including the vanilla pod, to the (cleaned out) saucepan, stirring over a low heat with a wooden spoon until thick. Sieve into the (cleaned out) bowl and cover with cling film, pressing the film right against the custard to prevent it forming a skin.
6. Peel and chop the apple into small cubes. Heat the butter in the frying pan over a medium heat, add the caster sugar, then tip in the apples. Cook until browned and sticky in places. Once cool, stir the apples through the crème pâtissière.
7. Prepare the oil in the saucepan (or deep fat fryer) and heat to 180C. Watch you don't overheat the oil, or the doughnuts will brown on the outside and remain raw in the middle. Once the oil is hot enough, carefully transfer the doughnuts to the oil using a floured dough scraper or fish slice. You don't want to squash any of the air out of them. Place them in a couple at a time, allowing them space to float around. Cook for around two minutes each side until golden brown. They will puff up, so you might need to gently keep the bottom side in the oil by pressing them with the slotted spoon. Once brown, remove them from the oil and drain on kitchen paper, then roll them in a bowl of caster sugar. Set the doughnuts aside to cool.
8. Make a 1cm cut into the side of the doughnut, pushing the knife into the centre. Fill the piping bag with the custard, then chop a hole in the tip, large enough for the pieces of apple to get through. Squeeze the mixture into the doughnut, stopping when it starts to push back against the piping bag. Serve as soon as possible.