I’m sure that I must have mentioned here at some point that I didn’t really grow up in a doughnut-loving household. I know for some people they were a tradition, maybe a Sunday-morning-after-church thing. They really weren’t ever a thing at my house; I’m not sure if it’s because my parents didn’t care for them or if they didn’t want us to get hooked on fried dough, but we hardly ever ate them. As a result, anytime they were offered to me, they never really knocked my socks off. I could take them or leave them and, usually, I left them. The lone exception was if I managed to find one that was filled with cream. Not icing, but cream. Bonus if it was Boston cream, but I would happily devour any cream-filled doughnut that crossed my path. It was only a matter of time before I made them appear in my kitchen!
I first began experimenting with doughnuts at home almost as a challenge to myself… I was practically willing myself to love doughnuts. As it turned out, like with many things, I found the doughnuts that I fried up at home to taste significantly better than the ones I was offered as a kid. I started off with easy buttermilk doughnuts (the sugar coated ones were my favorite!), then moved on to beignets and apple fritter doughnuts. The apple fritter ones were the first that I tackled in the “yeasted doughnut” category and I really loved the light and fluffy texture that the interior of the doughnuts had, so when I saw that these cream-filled doughnuts were yeast-based I was elated.
They turned out exactly as I had hoped – a thin, crisp exterior that gives way to an airy and tender center filled with a pastry cream that has been lightened up by whipped cream. The doughnuts are rolled in a coating of granulated sugar while they’re still warm, which causes it to just sort of melt onto the exterior of the doughnut. When you bite into them, they’re crisp, a little crunchy from the sugar and smooth and creamy inside. Basically, they are cream-filled doughnut perfection. They are a bit time-consuming (almost all of it is non-active prep time, though), so just be sure to plan ahead and accordingly. They are well worth it!
Make the Dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, stir together yeast and milk; let stand until yeast is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add the flour, sugar, salt and eggs; mix on low speed until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes. Add the butter, two pieces at a time, mixing after each addition and until butter is fully incorporated and dough is soft, a total of 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 15 hours.
Make the Pastry Cream: While the dough is chilling, make the pastry cream. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks until well combined, about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in the flour mixture until thick and pasty. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until bubbles just start to form around the edges (do not let the milk boil).
Remove the milk from the heat and slowly drizzle into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Scrape the egg mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 3 minutes. Boil, whisking, for 10 seconds (the cream will become thick and glossy and won't have any foam on top), then immediately remove from heat.
Pour the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a small bowl and whisk in the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours and up to 3 days.
Prepare the Doughnuts: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray; set aside. Place the refrigerated dough on a well-floured work surface and gently roll into a 12-inch square (it should be about ½-inch thick). Cut the dough into 9 doughnuts using a 3½-inch round cutter. Transfer the doughnuts to the prepared baking sheet, cover with a piece of plastic wrap that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, and place in a warm spot until they've doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy, 2 to 3 hours.
Fry the Doughnuts: Fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot with 3 inches of oil and place over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. While the oil heats, line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels for draining the doughnuts. Place the sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
Working with three doughnuts at a time, carefully lower the doughnuts into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on the underside, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn the doughnuts over and fry for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until the other side is golden brown as well. Using a slotted spoon or a spider strainer, remove the doughnuts to the paper towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts.
As soon as the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, toss them in the sugar one at a time to evenly coat them. Return the doughnuts to the paper towel-lined pan and allow to cool completely, 30 to 40 minutes.
Fill the Doughnuts: While you're waiting for the doughnuts to cool, beat the 6 tablespoons of heavy cream on medium-high speed until still peaks form. Whisk the chilled pastry cream to loosen it up, then gently fold in one-third of the whipped cream. Fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain.
Transfer the cream to a pastry bag fitting with a small round decorating tip (a Wilton #12 would work well for this). Poke a hole in the side of each doughnut and fill with pastry cream. The doughnuts should be served as soon as they are filled. They are best the same day they are made.