Do whatever you have to do to convince yourself to make these doughnuts from Joy Wilson’s cookbook, Homemade Decadence. Maybe you have to convince yourself that you have the time. Maybe you have to talk yourself into working with yeast. Maybe you have to coach yourself through working with a pan of hot oil. Pep-talk yourself right into doughnut making, because the end result — the part where you get to eat a warm, sugar-coated doughnut fresh from the fryer — makes the doughnut-making journey worth it 10 times over.
In a small bowl, stir together the warm water and yeast until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If the yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast mixture, flour, milk, butter, egg yolks, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Beat at low speed until a soft dough forms. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat 3 minutes more. The dough will be soft and sticky. If it’s too sticky to handle, add up to ½ cup more flour.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and then lightly sprinkle the dough with flour (to keep a crust from forming). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Put the bowl in a warm place and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1½ to 2 hours.
Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round that’s ½ inch thick. Cut out as many rounds as possible with a 3-inch cutter (or a doughnut cutter, if you prefer a hole in the middle) and transfer the doughnuts to a lightly floured baking sheet. Do not reroll scraps (they’ll make for tough doughnuts). Cover the doughnuts with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.
Heat 2½ inches of oil in a deep, 4-quart, heavy pot until it registers 350 degrees on a thermometer. Fry the doughnuts, 2 at a time, turning occasionally, until puffed and golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Quickly submerge the doughnuts in the hot oil, and then immediately transfer them to the vanilla sugar (recipe follows). Toss well, transfer to a paper towel–lined baking sheet, and let cool.
Return the oil to 350 degrees between batches and continue until all of the doughnuts are fried. Doughnuts are best served the day they are made.
While the cut doughnuts rise, make the vanilla sugar. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and salt. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the bowl. Using your fingers, blend the mixture, making sure the vanilla seeds are evenly distributed. Set aside.