The French Laundry is wonder-chef Thomas Keller’s most famous, and notoriously tough to get a table at, restaurant. In the event that you aren’t a celebrity or a culinary pal of Chef Keller, the only way that you will have a remote chance of securing a reservation at this 16 table Yountville, California establishment, is to call exactly 2 months ahead of the date you would like to dine, at 10 a.m. PST. This is when the management releases the tables, and they are generally sold out faster than tickets to a Hannah Montana concert.
In the off chance that you are not met with a busy signal and you actually get that coveted reservation, you’ll need to spend the next few months preparing yourself for the French Laundry experience. From what I’ve heard, it is not a dinner, but more of a food marathon, which sometimes lasts 20 courses and 5 or 6 hours. You may want to bring your pillow to take a brief snooze at halftime, or better yet, bring your running shoes so you can take a few laps around the building. I have also heard that this once-in-a-lifetime experience is more than worth the steep price.
I haven’t been blessed with the opportunity to dine at the French Laundry yet, but I think it is something that probably holds a spot on every foodie’s "bucket list". The closest that I have come was when a friend gave me the gorgeous and quite large French Laundry Cookbook, which to me is really more of a coffee table book, due to its lovely food photography and technically difficult recipes that I will unlikely ever attempt. I have found inspiration in some of Chef Keller’s ideas however, which I have been able to translate into my style of cooking.
One of the best ideas that I found in the French Laundry Cookbook was the recipe for "Coffee and Doughnuts", a dessert version of yeasty doughnut holes paired with a cappuccino semi-fredo. I think that this is a great suggestion for a dinner party dessert as it is small, light, unique, and certain to impress your guests. The version that I created is based upon Italian bomboloni, or doughnut holes, which I filled with raspberry jam for a bit of tart fruity flavor. The recipe is extremely easy, and since the dough is prepared one day in advance, you can finish them just prior to serving. This would also be a fun recipe to make with kids (as long as an adult handles the frying). Here are some extra tips for these divine dessert doughnuts:
- The raspberry filling is optional. The doughnuts will be just like a sugar-coated donut hole otherwise. I filled half of them and left the other half empty. You can also substitute other fillings for the raspberry, such as pastry cream, chocolate cream, whipped cream, lemon curd, or other flavors of fruit spreads.
- If you do not have a pastry bag and a 1/4-inch tip, then you can substitute a squeeze bottle. You can also fill a zip-top bag with the filling, snip a small end off the corner, and then insert the corner into the bomboloni to fill.
- Instead of using a standing electric mixer, you can prepare the dough by hand (although this method will make much more of a mess and is not nearly as easy). Whisk together the yeast mixture and then stir in the rest of the ingredients. Gently knead on a lightly floured surface. The dough will be very sticky.
- For variation, add spices to the rolling sugar, such as cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg. You can also glaze the doughnuts with a confectioner’s sugar icing as opposed to coating them with sugar.
Bomboloni (Italian Doughnut Holes)
Makes about 30
3 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons honey
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons milk
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups canola or safflower oil for frying
3/4 cup raspberry preserves
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the water, yeast, honey, and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 1 hour.
Return the bowl to the mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the remaining 1 3/4 plus 2 tablespoons flour, the milk, egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Mix at low speed until blended, then add the butter and knead at medium speed until silky but sticky, about 5 minutes. The dough will not pull away from the sides of the bowl. Using an oiled spatula, scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. The dough will not rise significantly.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil to 360F degrees. Line a rack with paper towels. Fill a shallow bowl with 1/2 inch of granulated sugar. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch thick. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cutter, stamp out as many rounds as you can without rerolling the dough. Fry the rounds, 8-10 at a time, until they are browned, about 4 minutes. Try to keep the oil in the range of 360-375F degrees. Drain the bomboloni on paper towels and then roll them in the sugar. Continue frying and rolling the remaining dough.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain round tip, about 1/4-inch in diameter, and fill it with the preserves. Poke the tip about 3/4 of the way into the bomboloni and squeeze in the preserves, pulling the tip out slightly as you squeeze to fill them as much as possible. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.