Every once in a while, I get a call for help from my dear friend Carol Himmel and when she calls, I jump. Carol is always helping others, donating her time, energy, resources and attention so when she needs me, I am always honored to oblige.
Carol is chef and co-owner of Himmel’s restaurant in Lincoln Square, owner of Erich’s Lehigh Auto Body Shop, director of the German American Children’s Choir, band member of the Tuesdays, vice-president of the German American Association, and these are just some of the things she is up to. On a recent Sunday, I had an opportunity to join her and the wonderful volunteers at The Society of the Danube Swabians as they prepared authentic Krapfen for their annual Carnival (Fasching) fundraiser. Fasching Krapfen is the traditional carnival donut served at these special occasions.
I had sampled this delicious German donut on several occasions but never had the opportunity to learn how they were made. I am so honored that I got to learn from a group of German women who have been making Krapfen their whole lives - they are the real experts! These tough, hard-working and generous women give of their time to their very special club Donauschwaben Society of Chicago so it was no surprise they showed the same generosity to me by teaching me their secret recipe and techniques. I have tried to incorporate all their secrets and tips into the instructions below.
Although these donuts are traditionally served at German Carnival celebrations, they are perfect anytime you want to enjoy a freshly cooked donut at home.
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Recipe compliments of: Carol Himmel
Yield: 2 dozen donuts
Prep time: 1 hour
Inactive time: 2-4 hours
Cook time: 5 minutes
Start to finish: 3 to 5 hours
1/2 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 package dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons
2 cups cold milk
2 Tablespoons brandy (secret ingredient)
3 Tablespoons vegetable or grapeseed oil
2 whole eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups all-purpose flour
Extra flour for dusting, kneading and rolling surface
Approximately 1/2 gallon vegetable oil for frying
Step 1: Prove Yeast
Warm the 1/2 cup of milk on the stove over low heat. You want to keep the milk between 110-115 degrees. If you overheat the milk, it can kill the yeast and if the milk is too cold it will take much longer to activate.
Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the warm milk and sprinkle the package of yeast over that. The sugar will give the yeast something to eat and the warm liquid gets the yeast activated quickly. Let the yeast set for about 5 minutes, once the surface starts to foam up you know the yeast is activated and will allow your dough to rise.
Step 2: Mix Liquid Ingredients
While the yeast is proving, start measuring all your liquid ingredients into a large mixing bowl: 2 cups cold milk, 2 tablespoons of brandy and 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Once the yeast is bubbling, pour that mixture into the liquid ingredients.
Step 3: Mix in Dry Ingredients
Add the 2 eggs, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 5 cups of flour to the liquid ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together somewhat.
Step 3: Knead the Dough Lightly
This dough is relatively sticky to start with. Sprinkle a light and even layer of flour over your dough and mix it in the bowl. Knead together adding flour as needed until the dough is only slightly sticky and starts to smooth out a bit. This should just take just a few minutes, no more than five. Do not over knead this dough, we want a nice tender Krapfen.
Step 4: Let the Dough Rise
Cover the bowl with clean dry towel or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm spot, not a hot spot. Room temperature is good, somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees.
*Alternatively, you can take the dough and put it in the refrigerator at this point. Make sure to cover it with plastic wrap, which will keep the dough moister than a towel. You can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator and pull it out in the morning. You need to let the dough reach room temperature, which will take several hours. Once it reaches room temperature continue to step 5. When you want to cook the Krapfen in the morning, this technique can be a whole lot faster.
Check the dough after 2 hours by pushing into the dough gently with your finger. If the dough bounces back, the dough needs to continue to rise. Let the dough rise until the indentation of your finger remains, somewhere between 2 and 4 hours.
*Remember if you let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator, just skip this part. The rising happened in the refrigerator. All you do now is to let the dough reach room temperature so you can shape it.
Step 5: Shape the Dough
Lightly flour your work surface with an even layer of flour and pour the dough out on to the surface. Divide the dough in half with a dough scraper or knife.
*Note that Carol is doing enough dough for 200 Krapfen in this video, many times the size of the recipe provided here.
Starting with half of the dough, lightly sprinkle it with flour and form into a smooth even ball. Do the same with the other half of the dough.
Cover the dough balls with a clean dry towel and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes to relax the gluten and make them easier to roll.
Put an even and light layer of flour onto your work surface and place one dough ball onto the surface. With a rolling pin roll the dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle.
With a 3-inch round cutter, cut the rolled-out dough into circles. Place the circles on a lightly floured sheet pan and cover with a clean dry dish towel.
You can either re-roll the scraps of dough or do as the Donauschwaben Volunteers do, fry them in their random shapes for the cooks to enjoy! It’s also a great way to cook a practice round of Krapfen.
You can leave the dough as is in the 3-inch circles or you can create a slight divot in the center. The divot is the perfect place to add a dollop of jam if you are inclined. The divot is made by simply stretching the dough a little thinner in the center.
Step 6: Time to Cook the Donuts
A heavy gauge pan that is deeper than it is wide is ideal for frying, something like an 8-quart stock pot or French oven. You want to have ample room between the level of the oil and the top of the pan. When you add the donuts to the hot oil, the oil level will rise but it will also bubble up when the oil is sufficiently hot. You really do not want your hot oil to be bubbling over the edge of the pan and on to your stove top. This is a real safety issue.
At the same time, you need enough oil in the pan to cover the Krapfen, the oil should be about 6 inches deep.
Once you have your pot ready, it is ideal to insert a deep fry/candy thermometer into the pan. I really can’t stress how much easier frying is when you know exactly how hot the oil is. The ideal temperature is between 350-375 degrees, 365-375 being most ideal. When you start frying, the temperature of the oil will start to drop naturally. To keep the oil from dropping in temperature too dramatically, don’t overcrowd your pan with the Krapfen, they will expand in size and take up more room than you might expect but adding too many donuts at one time will also drop the temperature of the oil too quickly. I like to increase the heat under the pan just a little bit once I start frying, this will offset the drop in oil temperature. If the oil is too cold it will lead to a soggy and greasy Krapfen, if the oil is too hot you will end up with a hard exterior and undercooked center.
If using an 8-quart stock pot you can fit about 4 or 5 Krapfen in at a time. Place them in the oil dropping the donut in the oil gently and away from you so it doesn’t spatter you with hot oil. Once the first side is golden brown turn it over to brown the other side. Approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. A spider or slotted spoon is very helpful to turn the Krapfen over and take them out of the hot oil.
When using granulated sugar to coat the Krapfen, I like to place the Krapfen directly into granulated sugar once I take it out of the hot oil and toss it in the sugar. I find it sticks better than draining the donut on a paper towel first.
It helps when using powdered sugar to let the donut cool just slightly. I like to cool it ever so slightly by placing the Krapfen on a paper towel or a cooling rack placed over a jelly roll pan after I pull it out of the hot oil. Immediately after I do this, then I sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
I know frying isn’t something most people do a whole lot of at home, but for a special Easter treat I promise a beautiful Krapfen, warm and fresh right out of the fryer is worth a little mess in the kitchen! I have never seen a Krapfen at any donut shop so your only option to try these delicious and authentic donuts may be in your own kitchen.
If you are interested in more authentic regional dishes and fundamental cooking techniques, we have so much to offer both virtually and in person. Check out our class calendar to see what strikes a craving! And if donuts interest you (who isn't interested by donuts?!), you can't miss our Donut Boot Camp this summer on Saturday, June 3 at 10am at Lincoln Square.