Sour Orange Doughnuts

‘Do you like lemons?’ she asked as we wandered through the citrus grove. ‘I do’ I replied. ‘I like them very much’. We stepped further into the trees, her long grey hair following behind us and her stories of this place bursting to be heard. Her brother in law, the hawk, had perched himself high atop the oak tree and looked down on the grove, and on us. ‘Then you need to try a sour orange. They’re Florida’s best kept secret’ she said. ‘Once you try a sour orange, you may never want to try another lemon again’.

I took a basket of sour oranges home. They would be good with seafood, their tanginess and sour juice the perfect marinade for any type of fish, or their acidity, a gentle way to cook a freshly shucked oyster. But I wanted these oranges to be a celebration of everything that I have known these last two years. My time here is almost over, it slips each day with only a handful left to go. I want this season, this citrus filled life changing season to be celebrated with my memories of the States. This country, all that I have learned here, all that we have done here. All that it represents.

I searched hard. A southern recipe? A take on the Floridian key lime pie perhaps? And then it hit me. I think of America, I think doughnuts. Don’t you? I don’t even eat them. But I suddenly had a winning urge to make them. The old fashioned kind filled with jam or custard or cream. I would use the orange rind in the dough and I would fry those little balls and fill them with all that is orange and good. Sour orange and good. I would fill them with sour orange curd. They would be American, Floridian and so very delicious.

I tried to photograph making them. But the afternoon light, it faded. I had the oil too hot, I burned them. I had the oil to cold, it soaked into their skin. I became sad that the kitchen I was in wasn't the kitchen that I had known here for the past two years. That kitchen has been packed up, cleaned up and put away. My friend’s kitchen, however lovely with its fetching old window sills and wooden bench tops and although a comfort and friend of mine, was whispering truth. You are leaving soon. This city is no longer your home. I am not your real home.

I waited until morning, packed a picnic and took the best part of my temporary home, my friends, down to the St Johns River to enjoy doughnuts, coffee and the morning river view. It’s January and there is sun. The perfect place for sour oranges to grow, for the seasons harvest to be savored – for this time of waiting and moving and stirring to be calmed. We enjoyed the doughnuts, all whipped up into a gooey, spongey, fried bite. I’m still not sold on doughnuts. But those sour oranges, they whisked me away.

I thought of her brother in law, the hawk. I thought of him watching over the tree where the sour oranges grow. He has wings. Strong, strong wings. He could fly anywhere, but he stays. That grove is his home.

Never in my life has my heart ached so much for home. I’ve tasted many homes in my time, but right now my heart, it ached for two. For here, for Jacksonville, for all that we had. For Australia, for familiarity, for the place where our roots run along. For a passing moment I wanted to be like him - the hawk. I wanted to be able to choose between the sour oranges and the lemons. To have the option to stay. But I soon realized that I’m not like him. No matter how good tasting the next fruit is, no matter how good a secret it keeps, I don’t choose. I can’t. I fly. I am a flyer. And home is found wherever I land.

Sour Orange Doughnuts

cook time: 3 hours total (including 2 hours rising time)
yields: 18-24 servings

For Dougnuts
180ml lukewarm milk
9g active dry yeast                                                                                                          
450g all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for kneading
75g white sugar
2 large free range eggs
56g salted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon sour orange zest 
powdered sugar, for dusting
1 liter canola  oil, for frying

For Sour Orange Curd
4 large free range egg yolks
100g of sugar
juice of 1 sour orange
zest of 1 sour orange  (see below for an easy zesting tip!)
84g butter, chopped at room temperature 

Making the dough: Sprinkle yeast over lukewarm milk and let sit for 5 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and turned slightly foamy.

In a large bowl, mix flour and sugar. Add eggs, butter, zest and milk mixture. Combine using your hands, or on a low speed of a standing mixer until a soft ball of dough starts to form. Knead dough on a clean floured surface, or in mixer using a kneading hook attachment,  until soft and elastic about 10 - 12 minutes.

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen to about double its original size, turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 24 pieces for small doughnuts, or 18 pieces for medium sized doughnuts. Roll each piece into a ball making them as smooth as possible, then place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Cover loosely with cling wrap leaving room to rise and allow to rest and rise for about 25 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the sour orange curd. 

Peel the zest from the sour orange using a peeler, being careful to avoid the white pith. Combine the sugar and zest in a food processor and blitz until the zest is finely chopped and mixed in with the sugar. Alternatively, grate the zest or use a lemon zester.

Fill a medium saucepan with a small amount of water and bring it to a simmer over high heat; reduce the heat to low and keep the water at a bare simmer.

Place all of the ingredients except the butter in a large heatproof bowl and whisk to combine. Place the bowl over the saucepan, making sure that it doesn't touch the water and whisk constantly until the yolks thicken and the mixture forms ribbons when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Be very patient, it will take about 7 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to let the mixture become too hot. Remove the bowl from the water and continue to mix on the side if it starts to thicken unevenly or the egg yolks cook to quick.

Once the curd has thickened, remove the bowl from the saucepan and whisk in the butter one piece at a time. Once all the butter has been incorporated, place a piece of cling wrap/ plastic wrap over the top of the curd to stop it forming a skin and let it sit and cool to room temperature.

To fry the doughnuts,  heat the oil until in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil reaches 350F/180C. If you don’t have a thermometer to test, drop a little flour into the oil. The oil is ready if the flour bubbles instantly and gently. . If it bubbles vigorously, it’s too hot. Try one doughnut to begin with, to be sure. Carefully add doughnuts, 3-4 at a time, depending on how large the saucepan is. Fry until golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Test the first one to make sure that the doughnut has cooked completely through. If not, leave the next batch just a little longer, being careful not to over brown the outside. It's a balancing act, I'm afraid! Drain doughnuts and move to paper towel-lined plate.

Once doughnuts have cooled, place the sour orange curd in a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round tip opening. Press tip halfway into doughnuts and squeeze until the curd begins to dollop out. Sprinkle doughnuts with powdered sugar. Enjoy.