choclateNow that’s a hole lot of love. All photos by April McGreger

I’m no fan of the hyped-up consumerist, romantic fantasy of Valentine’s Day. But I won’t stand between you, your chocolate, and your special friend. Forget the box of candy from the drugstore; I’m promoting Valentine’s Day as a chance to spread a little love through baking. Let us rise to the chocolate challenge! What could be better than handmade chocolate truffles or a luscious chocolate cake? Well, how about … chocolate for breakfast?

This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday, and that makes it an opportunity to combine two of my favorite things — chocolate and brunch. After considering an array of possibilities, chocolate-filled doughnuts captured my imagination.

Doughnuts are an old love of mine. As child, there was nothing that delighted me more than waking up at my grandparents’ house to a dozen doughnuts that my grandfather had procured from the local doughnut shop while I slept. I could never decide in those days which doughnut was my favorite, the cinnamon twist or the chocolate glazed. I would have one of each, taking a bite of one, then the other. It dawned on me that a spiced chocolate doughnut would be the ultimate for me.

donutsPutting the art in “I [heart] you.”There was only one problem to fanning the flames of this old love: I’d outgrown it. These days, store-bought doughnuts — heavy, greasy, tooth-achingly sweet — make me feel terrible. I had to find a new and improved fried pastry that would treat me right. All the recent snow in North Carolina has given me time to move beyond wheat flour and experiment with alternative grains. My new favorite: spelt.

Despite misconceptions, spelt isn’t gluten-free, but it is much lower in gluten and easier to digest than regular wheat. This makes it suitable for many people with minor wheat sensitivities. Spelt is very nutritious as well. It is a superb source of fiber and B-complex vitamins and contains special carbohydrates that stimulate the immune system.

It is also higher in protein than commercial wheat — and, its high water solubility allows its superior nutrients to be easily absorbed by the body. And since it’s been in agricultural production for 9,000 years old, we know it’s got history on its side.

Spelt’s wonderfully nutty, sweet taste, and the fact that it behaves similarly to wheat, makes it a pleasure to use in baking. It can be substituted in almost any recipe calling for wheat. Just note that spelt absorbs water more readily, so a bit of extra moisture may be required in some cases. It also develops its gluten quickly, so long and laborious kneading sessions can be omitted, which makes it a boon to our doughnut recipe.

donutsThere’s a hole in my heart! Along with replacing white flour with more nutritious spelt, I replaced most of the sugar with natural, less processed sweeteners. For the lactose-sensitive, I’ve given dairy-free options as well. If you use egg replacer, the recipe can be made vegan as well. Don’t want to fuss with filling your doughnuts? Take the easy way out. Warm the chocolate ganache and dunk your doughnuts! It’s like doughnut fondue.

Serve with broiled pink grapefruit, blood orange mimosas (or juice), and organic coffee or tea for a day-time feast fit for any Valentine.

Spiced Spelt Doughnuts with Chocolate Ganache Filling
Makes about fifteen 2 1/2 inch heart shaped doughnuts

Doughnut ingredients
1 cup buttermilk, whole milk, or milk substitute (e.g., soy or almond milk)
1 tablespoon sweetener–I used evaporated palm sugar, but honey and agave nectar are good substitutes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 3/4 cups spelt ,whole-wheat or regular all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
1 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Ganache ingredients
4 ounces organic, fair-trade bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream or coconut milk (not light)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, optional

donuts.Be still, my hearts. To finish
Confectioner’s sugar for sifting over doughnuts; or spiced turbinado sugar for tossing doughnuts in (1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger + 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon); or basic doughnut glaze for dipping doughnuts

For basic doughnut glaze:
Stir 1 cup sifted powdered sugar into 2 tablespoons milk and ½ teaspoon vanilla. Heat on stove until warm and sugar has dissolved. Dip doughnuts and place a rack to drain.) I colored my glaze pink with the tiniest pinch of dehydrated beet powder.

Special equipment:
2 1/2-inch heart shaped cookie cutter; a deep-fat thermometer; a pastry bag with a small basic tip, or a plastic quart storage bag.

Instructions:
Bring milk to a simmer in a 1-quart heavy saucepan, then remove from heat and stir in granulated sugar and salt. If you use buttermilk, it will likely curdle, but don’t worry about it. Cool milk to lukewarm (about 90 degrees F).

While milk is cooling, dissolve yeast in warm water in the bowl of your mixer, stirring until creamy, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with fresh yeast.)

Pour the lukewarm milk mixture into the bowl with the yeast. Be sure the mixture is not about 100 degrees F. Stir in 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon soft butter, and the eggs with the paddle attachment to make a soft dough. Gradually mix another 3/4 cup of flour in the mixer. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for 2-3 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You can also knead the dough by hand on a well floured board for 5 minutes. Remember, spelt is sensitive to overkneading. **If using wheat, increase kneading to 5 minutes with the dough hook or 10 minutes by hand.

Transfer dough to another large, greased bowl and cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, you can cover the dough with a towel and let rise at warm room temperature for about 2 hours until double in bulk.

Meanwhile, make your ganache. Chop chocolate and transfer into a heat proof bowl. Heat cream until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Then stir until combined. Add butter and stir to combine.

Let cool then cover. Leave at room temperature or refrigerate. Can be made ahead, but needs to be brought to room temperature before filling doughnuts.

Next day, remove dough from refrigerator and turn out onto a floured surface. Roll out with a floured rolling pin until 1 inch thick. Cutout rounds with 2 1/2 inch cutter heart shaped cutter.

Transfer hearts to a floured parchment lined baking sheet, then reroll scraps and make more doughnuts in same manner. Let dough rest for 10 minutes after rolling out and before cutting more circles. When finished with your second batch of doughnuts, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot for about 45 minutes.

About 5 minutes before your doughnuts have finished rising, heat 3 inches oil (about 8 cups) in a deep 4-quart pot or large cast-iron skillet until it registers 350 degrees F on thermometer. Be careful and do not let the oil overheat. Fry doughnuts 4 or so at a time, turning occasionally, until puffed and golden brown, about 2 minutes per batch. You will need to hold the bobbing doughnuts down or flip them in the oil with your slotted spoon or skimmer in order to get them evenly browned. Transfer browned doughnuts to a wire rack to drain and then fill with chocolate.

With a chopstick or a small knife, poke a hole at the top end edge of the heart, between the two humps of the heart. Be careful not to poke the hole through the other side. Place your pastry bag or plastic storage bag in a large mug and fold the side of the bag back over the mug. Fill with some ganache, fold the sides back up and push the ganache to the end. If using a plastic bag, snip a 1/4-inch line diagonally across the bottom corner of your bag to create a small opening that you can squeeze the ganache through.

Fill the doughnuts with ganache and place back on the rack. Top with powdered sugar, toss in spiced granulated sugar or dip in glaze. Transfer to a plate and serve immediately!