"I'm definitely more fruit-driven," she says, prying a rather ornery lemon-mascarpone cream tart from its ring mold (an impressive feat involving a blow torch, Cirque Du Soleil-style balancing act and a pint glass). "But what I really love are breads and doughs."
You can dress up doughs with all kinds of expensive ingredients like vanilla beans, artisan chocolate, or one too many pounds of nuts. But it's a plain old tuber -- the humble sweet potato -- that wins Shen's heart.
When it comes to donuts, pureed sweet potatoes add a dreamy texture and stunning holiday hue, she says. What Shen doesn't tell you is that more ingredient weighing is involved (hey, at least it's ounces, not grams). So if you haven't bought that inexpensive electronic scale, you may want to add one to your holiday wish list. At least if you want to play with the pastry kids on the block.
Sweet Potato Donuts
From: Wilshire pastry chef Jen Shen. Makes about 2 dozen large donuts.
Note: You will have some leftover sweet potato puree. Add some butter and salt and call it tonight's side dish.
13 ounces all purpose flour flour
8 ounces cake flour
.65 ounces active dry yeast
3.4 ounces sugar
.37 ounces baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1.4 ounces milk powder
.37 ounces salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
8 ounces sweet potato puree (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ounces butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup sugar
1. Place the flour, cake flour, yeast, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk powder dry ingredients together in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix briefly to combine.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the salt, whole egg and yolk, sweet potato puree, 10 ounces of water and the vanilla extract. Mix on low speed until combined, increase the speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes. Slowly add the butter until combined. Beat for an additional minute.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly buttered bowl, sprinkle the top lightly with flour and cover with plastic. Allow the dough to rise in a warm spot for 35 minutes until doubled. Punch down the dough and refrigerate for an additional 30 minutes.
4. In a deep fryer, preheat the soybean or peanut oil to 365 degrees. Roll out the dough 1-inch thick on a well-floured surface (the dough will be very moist) and cut with a floured donut cutter (you may also use small round cutter for donut holes). Fry two to three at a time until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes (be careful not to overcrowd the fryer or the donuts will be soggy). Flip donuts and fry an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until golden.
Sweet potato puree
2 large sweet potatoes
1. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 2-inch pieces. Place the potatoes in a medium pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until fork tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Strain the potatoes, allow to cool for 15 minutes, and puree until smooth in a food processor or blender.