Austin360Cooks: What can biscuit doughnuts teach us about food traditions?

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These doughnuts are made with store-bought biscuit dough fried in canola oil. Photo by Aimee Pruett/@foodbanjo

I’ve been thinking a lot about food traditions since South by Southwest a few weeks ago.

The Interactive conference has roots as a technology festival, but it has grown into one that examines culture at large. The SouthBites food programming included about half a dozen panels on the culture, tradition and history of food, some that nudged us only into the past and others encouraging us to bend and twist those traditions into new forms or with a new purpose in mind.

Sometimes that involves a food chemist in Copenhagen working with Rene Redzepi at Noma. Other times, that’s a Tokyo-born chef making brisket ramen in Austin. Some traditional foodways, it seems, are fixed in time and should be left that way. Others are celebrated because they have benefited from the input of technological advances and scientific study.

These doughnuts are made with store-bought biscuit dough fried in canola oil. Photo by Aimee Pruett/@foodbanjo

These doughnuts are made with store-bought biscuit dough fried in canola oil. Photo by Aimee Pruett/@foodbanjo

Where do doughnuts made with canned biscuits come in?

I was thinking about midcentury dishes like this — and green bean casserole and Velveeta-and-Rotel queso — during several of these panels that put Traditions (those with a capital T) on a pedestal, where there’s not much room for those with shorter roots. Some traditions we aren’t as comfortable embracing, like ones that involve processed food or cultures other than our own, such as the Springfield-style cashew chicken consumed so widely in Southwest Missouri.

Whose traditions are whose, and who gets to do the bending, are two questions I’ll be thinking about for months to come, especially when I think about recipes like this shortcut doughnut recipe from Aimee and Josh Pruett, the bloggers behind FoodBanjo.com.

Aimee is a photographer who has shot several cookbooks, her skill for which you can see on their Instagram account (@foodbanjo), where they recently posted these rings of fried biscuit dough. “When we were little and would stay at my grandma’s house, we would have these delicious biscuit donuts for breakfast,” Aimee Pruett wrote on the blog. “It makes sense. These are so easy to make, and most of the time she would also be in the process of making a Sunday lunch for over 10 people.”

She makes them now, using store-bought biscuits and tossing them in both powdered sugar and a cinnamon sugar mixture. These were a tradition in her family, just like Shake’N Bake pork chops were in mine.

The flavor chemists who developed both of those products — and the women, like Pruett’s grandmother, who popularized the technique at home — aren’t part of these panel conversations about how our ancestors ate 200 years ago or the socioeconomic dynamics of food deserts and menus.

This is an interesting time to want to celebrate old recipes — and traditions and even entire food systems — while also looking for ways to improve and learn more about them. I don’t have right or wrong answers, but if eating these doughnuts means I’m wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Biscuit Doughnuts

1 store-bought roll of biscuits (homestyle or buttermilk work best, rather than flaky or butter lovers)
1 1/2 cups canola oil, for frying
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Start heating the oil to a temperature between medium and medium-high in a medium pot. Make sure that the oil covers the bottom of the pan with about 1-2 inches of oil.

Open the can of biscuits. Watch out for that “pop!” Separate the biscuits onto a flat surface, like a cutting board. Using a doughnut hole cutter (or appropriately-sized syrup cap), punch a hole into the center of each biscuit. (Tip: A reader emailed me to say that you can just poke/tear a hole in the center of the dough with your fingers.)

Place the powdered sugar into a bowl or Tupperware that has a lid. In a separate bowl or plate, mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon so that doughnuts can be dipped on each side.

Test the oil by placing one of the doughnut holes into the oil. If the hole does not start cooking right away, increase the temperature of the stove to medium-high. Once the oil starts cooking the doughnuts quickly, start placing them in for about a 30 seconds to a minute per side, until browned and cooked.

As doughnuts come out of the oil, dry onto paper towels briefly before either shaking in the powdered sugar or covering with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Plate and enjoy! Best served fresh. Makes 8 to 10 doughnuts.

— Aimee and Josh Pruett, foodbanjo.com


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