Returning to Jorge, I find him making three batches of old-fashioneds and as many of cake. I can’t be sure just how many, since to my eyes there are thousands, all of them calling to me, promising unspeakable joy.
As he goes, he glazes one batch of old-fashioneds and ices another two, pushing the hot donuts into the tray of icing. Not all donut shops do this, as Ben explains. “Other places, they ice them with warm icing. There’s a burner, and they put the icing in these small containers, and they set each one on top of one of these burners, which is constantly on. So that keeps the icing warm. You can use cold donuts and ice them, because the icing is warm. The reason they do this is that they don’t want to waste any icing. They say, ‘Hey, I’ve got all these donuts with chocolate icing on them, and then I have to throw them away [at the end of the day]. I’d rather throw them away plain. Because sugar is expensive, and chocolate is expensive.’
“But the disadvantage is that the icing, because of the heat, will burn. And it loses the flavor. So here, we use cold icing. We use cold icing, hot donuts. It’s harder to do, but we don’t mind hard work to put out a product that is good.”
The difficulty becomes apparent as Jorge removes the donuts. He pulls up, straight and slow, the icing pulling back, unwilling to loose its hold. When it finally lets go, the donut leaves a crater with raised edges. Slowly, the crater rises and the edges sink, and the icing awaits its next visitor.
The cake donuts are gorgeous. There is no oily gloss, just an exquisite brown crust, laced with cracks revealing the soft yellow interior. These are the colors of appetite, and I am getting dizzy with desire. After icing some, Jorge dips them into the trays of toppings. The sprinkles, with their bright pinks, showy reds, and candy greens, seem out of place here. The white of the vanilla is neutral enough to be okay, but you can’t beat the warm tones of yellow, tan, brown, and that shade that is best called chocolate that shows up in a peanut-chocolate iced cake donut. When Jorge notices my greedy gaze and offers me one, I gratefully accept.
For those of you fortunate enough to have eaten a just-made donut before, what follows will be familiar. The crust makes itself felt only in the biting, then melts away, opening into a warm, sweet lightness. The interior is weightless, barely there until the tongue mashes it into the mush it becomes just before swallowing. The peanuts hang suspended in the lightness, surprising bits of crunch amidst the melting. The chocolate comes in around the edges, more a mood than a sensation, and I am once more reminded of the magic of taste, that food can touch my tongue and somehow transfer a complex and powerful quality to my soul. And there is a soul involved. Pleasure cannot be a mere matter of parts touching parts; there is something more, something spiritual. There must be; otherwise, I could not be transported thus. My whole consciousness is shifted to my tongue; I am aware of nothing else. My eyes instinctively close, so as not to distract me. The sounds of the kitchen no doubt continue, but I do not hear them now.
I recover from my swoon in time to watch Jorge prepare a rack of chocolate donuts, and I get a look at the bag the mix comes in. The bag features a picture of a chef’s head and hand, winking and giving the okay sign, smiling approvingly at the buyer. The brown paper is lettered in red, and I read: “Westco Choc-o-Donut Blend, For Superlative Devil’s Food Cake Donuts, Prepared for America’s Finest Bakers.” Fabulous. I am emboldened to brave the list of ingredients. Flour (bleached, enriched, malted) enriched with (niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate and riboflavin), sugar, cocoa, non-fat milk solids, soya oil, corn flour, egg yolk solids, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), salt, wheat starch, soya flour, sodium caseinate, mono and di-glycerides, corn starch, lecithin and artificial flavor.
The bag finishes with a reminder: “Tested and approved recipes by and for America’s Finest Bakers.” I am aglow.
It is pleasant to watch Jorge because it is pleasant to watch proficiency in any field, and because he is making food. Back and forth he goes, adding shortening in great white dollops to the fryer, keeping the icing moist and supple, fiddling with the temperature, adding water and mix to the mixer as it chugs away. Now washing, now dipping, now cooling, now mixing, and now beginning the crullers.
Crullers require very hot water in the mixing, 120 degrees. The mix is sensitive, and many shops do not carry these miniature snow tires. But Ben prides himself on his staff’s proficiency. Jorge puts a new fitting on the dropper and begins working the batter through. It flowers out, spreading its ridges like petals, then closes as the machine draws it back and folds it over. Finally it drops and sits in the oil, spinning merrily as it fries. Jorge turns them several more times than normal donuts, and they puff high, like a stiff meringue. Even in the cranking, Jorge hesitates for a moment before dropping them, letting them hang in the air to bloom before frying.
The crullers fried, glazed, iced, and topped, he may now turn his attention to the bowl of raised dough, which has been rising for some 30 minutes. He drops the bowl on its side, and the contest is underway. The yeast-quickened dough quivers, spilling out, a reluctantly mobile blob that seeks to spread over the whole board. Wielding a square steel chopper, Jorge lops off a chunk about the size of a loaf of bread. He begins to knead, pinching and punching and folding, and the dough squeaks in protest. The blob of dough holds the sheer face of the cut for a moment, shocked, then begins rounding it out.