This is a conversation, a conversation with a beautiful soul and learning the art of creating donuts, not just with a recipe but with a heart full of love.
Being in the same community for a decade or more has its own charm when despite hectic schedules, a brief “hello” or “how are you” from a neighbor keeps you in the loose yet comfortable knit of your surroundings, knowing that there are people who do care to know and interact with you.
I am blessed with some lovely neighbors where I live, all of them from different countries, different professions, and different backgrounds, all here for the one and only “American Dream!” One such family is of Serbian heritage.
A young couple, they recently had a baby and as is true with many families around, were fortunate to have the baby’s grandma visit and devote herself to taking care of the new angel in their home. While both parents worked through their new found parenthood, grandma was the one steady support they could rely on completely. Not very old herself, she took on this task with her boundless love and energy. Having gone through a similar phase myself as a new mom, I know how dedicated a grandma can be to bringing up her grandchildren…with no restraints on her time, no other demands and of course far removed from her own home, my mom was with my new born taking over baby sitting while also baby sitting us parents by always being there for us.
And so I would see her, stepping out in the sun whenever it was a warm day with the little bundle, either in her stroller or snuggled up in her arms, crooning to her as she walked, sometimes even humming into her tiny ears. I was briefly introduced to her when she arrived and so I often ventured to say hello to her. She always had a welcoming aura around her and with her smiling eyes aglow with warmth, I could tell that not knowing English was never a barrier for her when she was here. We understood each other perfectly well and I finally learnt to call her “Tetka” or Aunt.
Helped along with her daughter’s translation we would have a few conversations through which she transported me effortlessly to her town in Serbia…where she has a beautiful orchard in the backyard of her home extending down a slope and rich with fruit every year. During one such conversation, we chanced upon talking about her culinary expertise since I had heard both, her daughter and son in law extoll her virtues in the kitchen! She would have sumptuous meals of pies and baked dishes, all authentically Serbian, ready for them when they would return home from work. We were invited to tea at their place when we sampled her awesome creations…a soft and earthy cake with almonds and a spinach and cheese filled pie along with precious coffee which I learned is a way of life in Serbia. I still drool when I remember eating these. And so, during these conversations, she divulged her best cooking skill yet…making donuts, and yes, she was more than happy to teach me how to make these as well.
So, one afternoon, pencil and paper in tow and with the thought of donuts completely taking over me, I trudged over to their place. As always, beaming with a smile, her beautiful eyes lit up, and draped in an apron, she began her instruction. Like in my mom’s and both my grandmothers’ kitchens, there was no measuring cup in sight, just the ingredients and her instinctive knowledge of cooking. For the sake of a novice such as me however, her daughter helped translate ingredient measures.
Thus with a constant exchange of banter in English and Serbian, dutifully translated by her daughter for us, she embarked on creating her fantastic donuts for us. I watched her deftly knead the dough, let it rise, then divide into small balls of dough, again let it rise and then quickly fry them in oil at just the right temperature. I had anticipated an hour or more for this venture, but right there, in short of 45 minutes, there they were, emerging from the hot oil, resplendent in their golden glory, puffed up as clouds ready to bestow their goodness upon us, one by one, until we had a small army of them ready to be rolled through a bed of powdered sugar and removed to a beautiful serving dish. And then the announcement…IZVOLITE! or lets eat! It was hard not to deny these surreal things another look before plunging into their pillowy goodness, unbelievably soft, yielding to the texture first, then to just a hint of sweet from the sugar and finally succumbing to a surprise subtle flavor of lemon zest, making the mouth go into a happy dance and want everything all over again! Reluctantly, I removed my gaze from the plate of inviting donuts and decided it was time to say "Hvalah,” or thank you, and graciously say goodbye as well. I came home that day with a plate full of donuts for my family.
I was touched by this experience of welcoming warmth, infinite generosity and a willingness to share, transcending all boundaries of language and ways of life. A day when no words were needed to explain art. Love you, Tetka!
Just as I shared the experience, below is the recipe that Tetka shared with me.
Dry Yeast: 1 1/2 tsp
Sugar: 2 tsp
Milk: 3/4 cup
Warm water: 1/4 cup
Flour: You’ll know soon :)
Oil (any kind): 3 tbsp
Salt: 1 tsp
Lemon zest from one lemon
Separate egg yolks and whites. Add yolks to the milk, sugar and yeast. Add oil, salt and lemon zest to this yeast mixture. Meanwhile, beat egg whites until fluffy and form stiff peaks. Mix in egg whites gently. Now add enough flour to all of this mixture and gently fold in making a smooth batter not too stiff, nor too soft. Leave for 30 minutes to rise.
Roll out this dough and cut into circles into a size of your choice; we used a regular cup to cut them out. You can use a cookie cutter if you choose to. Now allow these to rise again for about 5-8 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat enough oil in a heavy bottom pan to fry these. When hot, but not smoking hot, fry donuts until puffed up and golden. Dust with Vanilla sugar and enjoy!