Who doesn’t like doughnuts? I confess, I was a slow adopter to these wonderfully decadent, fried pastries. As we cope with pandemic-driven isolation and an early, snowy winter in Minnesota, I found myself craving the delight of a custard-filled doughnut still warm from the fryer. They are such a comforting food during tough times: warm and sweet, with an airy texture inside and an unmistakable crispy texture on the outside. Perhaps I have been drawn to doughnuts because these pastries have been a symbol of comfort and home for American soldiers during both World Wars, so as you can see, these cravings are of historical significance.
For the longest time, I thought doughnuts were a quintessentially American food, until my good friend and fellow baker/writer/blogger Maryana, from The Storied Spoon, introduced me to the Croatian iteration of doughnuts known as Krafne. If you haven’t visited her blog, you should get acquainted with The Storied Spoon, a wonderful food blog that highlights Croatian and Turkish dishes as well as baking recipes. I love the dark and moody vibe of The Storied Spoon’s photos accompanying the recipes, as well as the evocative stories and history trivia that are part of each post. When Maryana told me about these delicious, round, pastry-cream-filled doughnuts, they immediately reminded me of the Argentinian version of doughnuts known as Berlinesas. The intersection of our respective doughnut versions seemed such a serendipitous coincidence that it seemed like a perfect recipe on which to collaborate. Maryana and I collaborated last spring when we teamed up to make plum tarts for our first collab together: “Drinking Plums with Friends.” We are both thrilled to find that our different heritages intersect in so many ways with similar recipes with their own cultural twists. To have that in common, together with our love of literature, writing, and baking is a wonderful gift. So with this collab, let me take you on a journey about doughnuts around the world and re-creating the original versions of Croatian and Argentinian doughnuts.
The origins of doughnuts can be traced back to Central Europe, in present-day Southern Germany and Austria. They are a super-old dessert that was created hundreds of years ago: the earliest recorded recipe for doughnuts appeared in Germany in 1485, and was referred to as a Gefullte Krafpen. The Croatian Krafne come more specifically from Austria, where an Emperor’s pastry chef developed the recipe and shared it with others, popularizing the doughnut recipe all over Central Europe. Read more about the story of Croatian Krafne at The Storied Spoon! Simultaneously, Berlin doughnuts, originally known as Berliner Pfannkuchen, developed around the year 1756, in the Prussian Empire (present-day Germany). Legend has it that a pastry chef wanted to join the Army under King Freidrich the Great, but given that he had some health problems, he could not qualify to serve in the military. Nevertheless, the King offered him a position as chef of the regiment so he could still be a member of the Army. To thank the King for his courtesy, the chef created a pastry in the shape of a cannonball, frying them in oil since there were no ovens outdoors in the military camp. And that’s where the name comes from: Pfannkuchen means fried pastry. In the beginning, these post-medieval versions of doughnuts were filled with cheese, spinach, or other savory fillings, but when the price of sugar dropped due to the introduction of sugar crops in the Caribbean, sugar became affordable, so jams and jellies could spread in Europe and jelly doughnuts emerged in Berlin, the earliest version of jelly doughnuts recorded in print. In the 19th Century, Germans and Central Europeans travelled to the Americas, introducing their desserts and breads to practically all countries in the New World.
Regardless of who was the original creator of doughnuts, they are enjoyed around the world and known by many names, and they are all iterations and variations of the same pastry, a sweet yeast dough fried in oil and featuring a filling of jam, preserves, or cream of some type, and they are either covered with powdered sugar, regular sugar, or iced on top. Most English-speaking countries call them jelly doughnuts. In Croatia they are called Krafne and enjoyed as carnival doughnuts traditionally eaten before Lent. They are also very popular in Christmas holiday markets in Zagreb. In Berlin, they are known as Pfannkuchen, and they are eaten to celebrate New Year’s Eve and other holidays. In France, they go by the name boule de Berlin. In Austria and Northern Italy they are known as Krapfen. In Israel they are called sufganiyah and they are traditionally eaten at Hanukkah. In Venezuela, they are known as bombas, and they are filled with pastry cream and sprinkled with sugar. And in Argentina they are known as Berlinesas, suspiros de monja or bolas de fraile, and they represent a classic example of panaderia Argentina, Argentinian patisserie. Berlinesas are almost always filled with dulce de leche, pastry cream, or the classic Spanish quince jam known as membrillo.
By now, I’m sure you’re dying to try your hand at making doughnuts, which brings me to Maryana’s wonderfully scrumptious Croatian Krafne recipe, featured above. If you live in Brooklyn, you’re in luck: you can order these mouth-watering Croatian Krafne doughnuts through the Woodspoon app and have them delivered every weekend. If you’re not in New York City, visit The Storied Spoon to learn how to make Croatian Krafne doughnuts filled with Nutella, sour cherry jam filling made with Croatian cherry wine, or pistachio pastry cream mousseline prepared with pistachio paste, pastry cream, and whipped butter. Maryana’s Krafne recipe produces a dough that is light as pillows! It takes two hours to make and contains Sljivovica, Croatia’s national plum brandy drink. Finally, the feather-light Krafne are rolled in almond sugar or pistachio sugar as a way to complement the flavor of the filling.
My recipe for Berlinesas makes a rich and airy dough with hints of lemon, is then fried until golden, and are almost always filled with dulce de leche, after which they are rolled in sugar. In Argentinian culture, we enjoy Berlinesas with breakfast, as a snack for merienda in the afternoon, and sometimes they go along with the local drink of mate. The dough doesn’t take long to prepare, but you do have to work one day ahead of when you’re planning to fry them. That way, the dough can rise overnight in the fridge to achieve that fluffy consistency. I created 4 filling options for you to choose from: pure dulce de leche, chocolate-dulce de leche, cream cheese-dulce de leche, and lastly a light pastry cream. You can make all 4 flavors or just stick to 1, and if you really wanted to simplify and cut down on time, I recommend using one of the dulce de leche varieties so you don’t have to make another recipe for the filling, as is the case with pastry cream.
Berlinesas were my first life experience with doughnuts They will always have a special place in my heart, now joined by The Storied Spoon’s lovely Croatian Krafne donuts. I hope you will try the recipe below or Maryana’s recipe at The Storied Spoon, and you’ll see that when you bite into a Krafne or Berlinesa, you’re not just taking a bite of a doughnut, you’re taking a bite out of history.
Berlinesas (Filled Berlin Doughnuts)
Prep time: 50 minutes (30 for dough, 20 for fillings if you make more than 1)
Rising: 4-8 hours or overnight
Frying Time: 3-4 minutes
Servings: 32 doughnuts
For the Dough
- 3 ½ to 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour + ¼ cup more for dusting
- ¼ cup + 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp yeast
- 4 eggs, beaten
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ½ cup water, room temperature
- 10 tbsp butter, softened
For the Fillings
- 1 cup milk, divided in 2 half cups
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (do not use powder)
- ½ cup + 4 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
Cognac-Dulce de Leche
- ½ cup dulce de leche
- 1 tsp cognac
Chocolate-Dulce de Leche
- ½ cup dulce de leche
- 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
Dulce de Leche-Cream Cheese
- ½ cup dulce de leche
- ½ cup cream cheese
For the Flavored Sugars
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ tsp ground vanilla
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
Make the Dough
Note: I recommend making the dough a day before frying.
- Place the 3 ½ cups flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
- Stir on low speed. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then the water, continuing to mix at low speed. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do this by hand using a strong spoon. The dough will be very sticky. Don’t worry—you’re doing everything OK. It should be sticky at this point.
- When the dough is a little bit more incorporated, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, and once all the butter has been mixed in, continue to mix on low speed for another 5-7 minutes, or until you obtain a dough that is smooth and homogenous.
- If the dough is too sticky, continue adding the remaining ¼ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you can shape the dough into a loose ball. The dough will still be slightly sticky.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour on the bottom of a bowl, and place the dough in the bowl, covering it with a cheesecloth or tea towel. Set this bowl in a warm and slightly humid place for an hour and a half to 2 hours, or until doubled in size. I recommend that if you have the ability to make your kitchen nice and toasty that you do so, especially if you are making this recipe in winter or on a very cold day. The dough will dramatically change during the rising process.
- While the dough is resting and rising the first time, I recommend using this time to prepare your fillings in advance, especially if you will be using pastry filling.
- Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead the dough lightly by hand for 3-5 minutes.
- Place the dough back in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight, or at least a minimum of 4 hours.
Make the Fillings
- In a bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, warm the heavy cream, milk, and vanilla powder until the edges of the milk clings edges of the pan. Don’t bring it to a boil.
- Remove the milk and cream from the heat and let it cool.
- Meanwhile, use the remaining ¼ cup of milk and whisk it into the cornstarch and yolk mixture.
- Once the milk and cream mixture has cooled to lukewarm, carefully add the yolk, cornstarch, sugar, and milk mixture you have prepared, and warm up over medium heat, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure that the plastic wrap is touching and in contact with the surface of the pastry cream. This will prevent a layer of pudding skin from forming on top of your pastry cream.
- Store the pastry cream in the fridge until ready to use.
Cognac-Dulce de Leche: Mix ½ cup dulce de leche with 1 tsp cognac (or to taste).
Chocolate-Dulce de Leche: Mix ½ cup dulce de leche with 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate melted and cooled.
Dulce de Leche-Cream Cheese: Mix ½ cup dulce de leche with ½ cup softened cream cheese.
Frying and Assembly:
- On the day you are going to fry the doughnuts, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Turn dough onto a lightly-floured surface, and roll until it is ½ inch thick. Using a small, round cookie cutter approximately 2 inches thick, cut out circles of dough. Place the cutout doughnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and leave them to rise for 50 to 60 minutes, until they are puffy. You can reuse the scraps of the cutout doughnuts, re-rolling them together into a dough ball, flattening it with a rolling pin, and cutting out fresh circles, but doughnuts that you cut on your first batch of dough will be the smoothest ones.
- Meanwhile, while the doughnuts are proofing, assemble your fillings or bring them out from the fridge if you prepared them in advance. Set up your assembly station so that you have a large plate lined with paper towels for cooling the fried doughnuts, a bowl for each kind of sugar in which you roll the fried doughnuts, and your pastry cream and fillings piped into individual plastic bags fitted with a metal tip, or with the ends snipped off if you don’t have a piping tip. I used 3 different kinds of sugar and made 4 fillings, so my assembly took some time, but if you have only 1 filling, the process is waaaaaaay easier and faster.
- In the last 10 minutes of the doughnuts’ rising, heat sunflower oil to 350°F in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. I like to use a pot with high sides to prevent splatter, and it also makes it safer if you are frying multiple batches. If you don’t want to use a ton of oil to fry, consider using a small saucepan or pot so that you can fry 2 at a time, but I still recommend using a saucepan with high sides. You should always use fresh, unused sunflower oil and fill the saucepan so that doughnuts can float in the oil without touching the bottom of the pot.
- Once the oil has reached the desired temperature, you can test it with a few bits of dough, or with doughnuts you cut from the re-rolled dough. If the dough has fizzy bubbles around it and floats, the oil is ready.
- Fry the doughnuts in the oil without overcrowding your pot using a slotted spoon. For safety, I recommend lowering each doughnut with the slotted spoon. Flip every 30 seconds for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the doughnuts from the oil with the slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels.
- Let the doughnuts cool for about a minute before tossing in the sugar. Continue this process with the rest of the doughnuts until all of them are fried, cooled, and coated in sugar.
Filling the Doughnuts:
- Using a chopstick or bamboo skewer, pierce a hole in the side of each doughnut.
- Fill each doughnut with your desired fillings, piping until a small blob comes out on top of each. If you are using flavored sugars, correspond the pastry cream and chocolate dulce de leche to the vanilla sugar, cognac dulce de leche with cinnamon sugar, and cream cheese dulce de leche with plain sugar.
- I recommend placing the doughnuts with the filling facing up on a baking sheet so they can all vertically support each other. They are best eaten on the day that they are made!
Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried the recipe which filling was your favorite! It is so much fun to make doughnuts! It can be a cool family project on a weekend and this is truly a recipe meant to be shared with others. Enjoy!