The fact that shortening returns to firmness after a doughnut has been fried can have other advantages for the commercial doughnut makers. Specifically, it can mask a variety of sins committed by inept (or just plain cheap) fry guys. You now know from previous posts that old, worn out frying fat soaks into a doughnut much more readily than fresh. If your doughnut has been fried in oil, any soaked-in oil is easy to see, you simply slice the doughnut cross-wise and look. When your doughnut has been fried in shortening, though, it isn’t obvious. The solidified shortening simply blends into the crumb of the doughnut, making it very difficult to spot. Old frying fat, therefore, is not a problem for the unscrupulous fryer. Who, after all, is going to know the difference? In fact occasionally the effect is created on purpose.
I remember when I was a lad how much I enjoyed going to the doughnut shop on Sunday mornings, and how much I looked forward to my favorite type: the buttermilk. Something about it just tripped my proverbial trigger. It was sweet, yes, sort of fluffy, but mostly wonderful. Still, I would have been hard pressed to tell someone exactly what the difference was between a “buttermilk” and a regular cake doughnut. Years later, I found out.
Most buttermilk doughnuts, I learned, are made with the very same batter as a plain cake doughnut, usually a pre-made mix, acquired from a wholesaler. The main difference between the plain cake and the buttermilk was in how it was prepared. Plain cake doughnuts, as I’ve demonstrated, are fried at about 375 degrees for about a minute and a half. Buttermilk doughnuts are the same batter fried at a lower temperature, around 300. What happens when you drop a ring of cake doughnut batter into a vat of 300-degree shortening? It sinks, to the bottom of the fryer, where it sits for about two minutes soaking up shortening to its very core…until finally bobs up to the top, a true fat bomb.
THAT’s what I loved so much about those doughnuts, though thinking about them now, it almost makes me sick. Know a buttermilk in a doughnut shop now by its more contemporary name: an “old fashioned” and by its jagged outer edges, which are a side-effect of very long, low-temperature frying. But then you almost don’t need vision to tell a shortening-suffused “buttermilk” from an honest, well-fried cake doughnut. The heft of one alone will tell you everything you need to know.