This is no ordinary little donut. It's an okara donut, which is sold at precisely 3pm at the local corner tofu shop. Tofu shop? Yes. And now you are just dying to know, aren't you? What's okara? Why would a small shop lit up at eerie hours in the middle of the night (I know cause I was walking Edward), presumably hard at work making tofu, bother with donuts?
Well. First some background on how I discovered okara and, subsequently, okara donuts. It all started on the second floor of my friendly neighborhood library, which, bless the librarians' souls, actually has English books--precisely one fairly tall shelf of books. Okay, so it's not exactly a treasure trove of literature, but who am I to complain when the next closest thing is a second-hand English bookstore approximately 40 minutes away by train and a real pain in the ass to get to?
When supplies are limited, you take what you can get. So on one rather unfruitful trip to the library, I convinced myself that The Book of Tofu, by Mr. William Shurtleff, could be an engrossing read. After all, I love tofu and yet know virtually nothing about it. The book turned out to have many fascinating facts, which were unfortunately presented in a less than fascinating manner. I never managed to complete this slim volume before the return date came up. But I did force myself to read a few chapters each night, and learned a couple of valuable things:
1) Storing tofu submerged in water--which is what I'd always done in the past--makes your tofu soft, waterlogged, and rather tasteless. I now leave my tofu in a dry tupperware container and let the water in the tofu seep out naturally overnight. This does give me a more intense-flavored tofu that holds together better in simmered and stirfried dishes.
2) When making tofu, you eventually have to give the grounded up soy beans a good wringing. The strained soy milk is made into tofu. The white fluff left behind in the colander or cheese cloth is called okara, which can be eaten. Okara doesn't actually have that much flavor. But it is full of fiber and seems to make cakes and breads light and fluffy, while actually being nutricious.
I hope it's evident that I had to give the above lengthy explanation because if I just said that okara donuts are made from the "by-product" or "leftover pulp" of tofu, that wouldn't sound so good. Okara used to be frequently used in Japanese cooking, back when most Japanese households made their own tofu. It was often stirred into soups, stirfried with veggies, and sometimes mixed with mashed potatoes to make croquettes--mmmmm, croquettes (the Japanese, by the way, make absolutely gorgeous croquettes: light, utterly crisp, perfect golden color, and so damn cheap). Okara, unfortunately, doesn't keep well, which would explain why I often see bags and bags of okara sitting outside the tofu shop, waiting to be thrown out, one presumes. This is really sad because okara is so good for you and could possibly be free, for me, if I ever could be bothered to ask the tofu man to give me his okara. I would love to try making a fluffy okara bread.
A few years back, when everyone was getting all health-nutty, and it was soy-this and soy-that, I think that was when okara started going into things like soy burgers and other imitation meats. I'm also guessing that that was when the idea of okara donuts started getting more common in Japan, cause I hardly think this is a traditional treat. I could be wrong. But traditional or not, they're good.
The first thing you notice as you bite down is the texture: not a Krispy Kreme airy cushion; somewhere between a cake and the inside of a canelé, but with a totally different fragrance.
I have to accept that there are some people who in fact do not like the taste and fragrance of tofu and soy milk. God, really? Yes, yes, it's true. But spending my earliest years in Singapore left its mark, and tell me, please, what is more delicious than a plastic bag of soy milk (that's how it's often sold in the local markets) sweetened with a little ladle of sugarcane syrup? Ohmmmmmm.
Sorry, I actually have a point. The local tofu man explained to me, the secret to his okara donuts is that he uses his own fresh soy milk in his donut batter. So not only do you have a moist product from the okara, but you also have a sweetly fragrant donut. Another magical thing is that although there's no coating of granulated sugar or--ugh--glaze, there is a definite caramalized crunch to the donut as you bite into it that, to me, is just right.