Guglhupf, the German-Austrian bakery and restaurant in Durham, is famous for its impeccable breads, pretzels, tarts and croissants, but its Berliners, available only on Saturday mornings, are a special treat.
Filled with tart raspberry jam, coated with granulated sugar and sold while still warm, they are leavened to the point of ethereality, with none of the cloying sweetness of Krispy Kremes or similar sugar-delivery devices.
Guglhupf prepares a mere 100 Berliners each weekend. Devotees gather in the pre-dawn gloom and wait for the bakery to open at 7:30. The Berliners are gone by 8:30, leaving a sense of calories worthily consumed—and maybe a few jam stains—as their only trace. Christian Oertel, a 34-year-old baker from Neuenmarkt, Bavaria, helps make the Berliners, a process that begins at 4:30 a.m. each Saturday.
"The most difficult part is getting the Berliners to the retail area before the employees eat them," Oertel says.
Can you produce a Guglhupf-caliber Berliner at home? The challenge is managing the yeast. It seems unassuming in its little foil sachet, but once exposed to air, yeast snarls and rears like a raging beast. Tame the beast, and doughnuts become feathery pillows, their gluten structure as graceful and lacey as the art nouveau lineaments of the Viennese coffeehouses where some of the best doughnuts in the world are eaten. Fail to tame the beast, and doughnuts become bready grease sponges, the stuff of guilty carb orgies.
Oertel's instinct for the subtle moods of his proofing dough is unquantifiable and perhaps indescribable, but this recipe, graciously provided by Guglhupf, should result in a better-than-average doughnut, suitable for weekends when 7:30 seems a bit early.
500 grams King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour (see cook's note)
7 grams (1 sachet) Fleischmann's RapidRise yeast (not to be confused with ActiveDry)
50 grams granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg and 2 egg yolks at room temperature, beaten
80 grams unsalted butter, melted
200 milliliters warm whole milk
Canola oil, for frying
Raspberry jam, for filling
Granulated sugar, for coating
Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt dry in a large bowl. Add the eggs, butter and milk. Knead (with hands) until the dough is elastic, supple and smooth. Alternately, a KitchenAid mixer fitted with a dough hook and set on Level 3 for about 10 minutes does the trick. The dough should neither crumble nor stick to the sides of the mixing bowl. To achieve the desired consistency, you may need to add a little milk or flour.
Place the dough in a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Proof until air-filled and doubled in size (see cook's note).
Punch down and fold, like a letter to be inserted in an envelope. Tuck the folded dough under itself, forming a ball. Again, cover and proof until air-filled and doubled in size.
Gently flatten the dough to a thickness of about 1 inch, trying to retain as much air as possible.
Using a floured 2 1/2- or 3-inch biscuit or cookie round, cut the dough into pieces, each about 50 grams. Let the pieces proof, uncovered, until doubled in size, on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper. Properly proofed, the oil-ready Berliners should look puffy and inflated, as if they might pop if punctured.
Pour 2 inches of canola oil into a deep fryer or sturdy Dutch oven and heat to 325 degrees. Carefully flip or nudge the Berliners into the oil and fry each until golden brown, turning them over once. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Using a food syringe or pastry bag (a food syringe is easiest to handle), inject a tablespoonful of jam into each. Alternately, cut each doughnut with a bread knife and insert the jam with a spoon (a less elegant approach). Roll each doughnut in granulated sugar while still hot.
Berliners are best eaten warm, but they will maintain their appeal for several hours. Yields about 10.
Guglhupf uses all-purpose King Arthur flour, which is is optimal because of its relatively high protein content—11.7 percent—but any all-purpose, non-self-rising, unbleached white flour should work.
Keep in mind that heat and humidity will affect proofing. The warmer and more humid the environment, the faster yeasted dough will proof. Guglhupf's Berliner dough is sufficiently proofed only when it has ballooned to roughly twice its volume. If the recipe goes awry, under-proofing is the most likely explanation. Home bakers can accelerate the proofing process by placing the dough in an 80–90-degree oven. If the oven cannot be set as low as 90 degrees, set it on the lowest temperature available and prop open the door. For the final rise, uncover the Berliners and place a tray of ice water on the floor of the oven to generate moisture. You will need an oven thermometer. The advantage of the floured biscuit round is that it cuts the dough without pinching it and inhibiting the proof. A drinking glass is less effective.
Because of their high sugar content, Berliners burn easily. Use a thermometer to make sure your oil is not too hot. If the Berliners have been properly shaped and proofed, their sides will not fully submerge in the oil and therefore will not fry as fully as the tops and bottoms, resulting in a white band—a kind of racing stripe—of undercooked dough. The white band is an aesthetic grace note more than anything, but all the same desirable. Perfectionists might try shaping the dough pieces into balls rather than cutting them with the biscuit round. Use the pizza dough technique: tuck the dough underneath itself, repeating until tight and firm (rather like rolling socks).
The sugar for coating the Berliners will quickly become oily and clumpy. Replenish it frequently. Avoid "fine" or "superfine" sugar; larger granules adhere better and lend a more pronounced texture. By all means, experiment with variations. Berliners may be filled with all manner of jam, custard, pudding and compote. A loose crme patisserie is appealing; so is a chunky apple or berry compote, sweetened and thickened slightly with corn starch. The Berliners may be dusted with powdered sugar, spread with icing or rolled in a mixture of granulated sugar and cinnamon. Guglhupf's version—raspberry jam and granulated sugar—is, of course, classic.
Dr. David Ross teaches English at UNC and edits the Southeast Review of Asian Studies. He likes to relax with a cleaver and a flaming wok.