In theory, the word “doughnut” can be applied to any piece of sweetened leavened dough that is fried. Occasionally, though, they are baked.
Usually, a doughnut has a hole in the centre, but it doesn’t have to have one to qualify as a doughnut. They are usually made in a ring, a ball, a square or a twisted stick, in that order.
They are treated as a snack.
The leavening in the dough can be yeast or baking powder. If yeast is used, the dough is allowed to rise once, punched down.
At home, you roll out the dough and use a special cutter that cuts out a circle, and at the same time, a small circle at the centre of that circle. Then, you fry it.
Doughnuts leavened with baking powder are sometimes called “cake doughnuts”; they are usually chilled before frying so they won’t absorb so much oil. Yeast ones are lighter, cake ones are denser, and often flavoured with spices. Many people don’t like cake doughnuts; they find them too heavy. They call the condition “doughnut stomach.”
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are yeast-raised. The original recipe for Krispy Kreme doughnuts, reputedly acquired from a New Orleans chef named Joe LeBeau, contained some Potato Flour. It no longer does; they use soy flour instead, along with other flours.
After cooking, the outside of a Doughnut may be left plain, dusted with granulated sugar, powdered sugar or a combination of sugar and a spice such as cinnamon. Or, it may be drizzled with an icing or glaze. The inside may have a jelly, cream or jam filling piped into it.
The “holes” (the pieces of dough cut out to make the hole) are often cooked up and sold separately. Though, in practice, the demand for them in some areas is so great, they are just made on their own that size. In some places, they are just called “doughnut holes”; in Canada, they have become known as “Timbits”, though that is actually a registered brand name.
At Chanukah, while Jews in North America usually make latkes, in Israel the popular item is Jelly Doughnuts (“Sufganiot.”)
Fried cakes have probably been made since man worked out how to make a vessel that could be put over fire to boil oil in.
The Dutch in New York made olliebollen (aka “ollykoeks”.) They were balls of deep-fried dough.
One of the first recipes in print was that given for “Dough Nuts” in 1828 by Eliza Leslie in her “Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats By A Lady of Philadelphia”. Her recipe used yeast.
There are many spurious legends around how the hole came about. The theory is, the hole makes it easier for the doughnut to cook all the way through in the short cooking time allotted, without having to cook it longer and burn the outsides. That theory doesn’t explain, though, why square doughnuts made today are quite successfully fried up without a hole in them.
Inhabitants of town of Rockport, Maine, credit the invention of the holes to a local, named Mason Crockett Gregory, in 1847. They even raised a historical plaque outside his house, documenting that fact. He was a sea captain. He may have encountered the idea on his travels, and as some say, decided that doughnuts cooked up better that way.
Literature & Lore
“First, came on an unknown quantity of tea, contained in a coffeepot that might have served for a moderate sized light-house. Secondly, a place of what Mrs. Dunning, with apparent sincerity, called sliced pork, but what I suspected from its color and tenacity to be gum elastic. This was followed by a quart bowl of real pork in a state of fusion. Some one who had previously told me, by way of encouragement, that all schoolmasters live upon the fat of the land. Alas! the ambiguity of language; till now I had never understand the expression. On one corner of the table stood an article that would have staggered Heliogabules**; namely, a conical turret of doughnuts. This detestable esculent, the pride of our country dames, sometimes resembles one of your inflexible soup dumplings; at others, it appears to be a kind of mongrel pancake…..”
— Confessions of a Country School Master. From Boston Magazine. In The Wilmingtonian And Delaware Advertiser. Wilmington, Delaware. Thursday, 10 August 1826. Page 4. [**Ed.: Roman Emperor Heliogabalus was accused of smothering dinner guests beneath rose petals. The unnamed author claimed to be writing of a village somewhere in New England.]
“The Elmira (N. Y.) Gazette mentions the case, in that-vicinity, of a Mr. F. W. Holt, artist, who was severely scalded a few days since by the explosion of a doughnut which was frying in a pot of lard.” — Current Paragraphs column. St Joseph, Michigan: St Joseph Herald. 28 January 1871. Page 2.
“I bought a doughnut from a store and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut. I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut. Man, I’ll just give you money, then you give me the doughnut. End of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut… ” — Mitch Hedberg (24 February 1968 to 29 March 2005)
“I too come from Greece,” said the doughnut to the Elgin marble.
It is hard to understand where the “nut” in “doughnut” comes from. Some say they were originally were called “dough knots” and were twisted like a pretzel.
The first reference in print that we know of so far gives the word as “dough nuts”. It’s in Washington Irving’s “History of New York” (1809). He wrote of the Dutch in New York: “The table …was sure to boast an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough nuts, or oly koeks.”
Note that Irving is referred to balls of dough. It may be that, when fried and drained, they were thought to resemble something like walnuts in their shells, and the word literally did made nuts made of dough.
The first mention that CooksInfo.com has been able to find of the spelling “donut” occurred on Thursday, 5 August 1920, when the “Square Donut Company of America” (executive offices in the Munsey Building in Washington, DC) advertised franchises available. (Washington Post, page 10.) [Ed.: no word on the success of the venture, but Washington Municipal court case A-55 on Thursday, 4 May 1922 featured “B.G. Collier &c. vs. Square Donut Co. et al.” Washington Post. 4 May 1922. Page 10.)
By fall of that year, reports of a law suit over the word “donut” make it clear that a Guy Sheldton [sic] felt that the word originated with him: “$5000 SUIT OVER ‘DONUT’ BUSINESS. TACOMA. — All on account of a ‘donut’ a suit has been filed by Guy Sheldton against N.H. Morell. The former contends that he built up a large friedcake business on the word ‘donut’ and that the latter stole his idea.” (In Iowa City Daily Press. Iowa City; Iowa. Saturday, 16 October 1920. Page 1.)
But by 1921, ownership of the word “donut” may have been a lost cause. It was appearing in grocery ads in newspapers in Decatur and Chicago, Illinois. “Who Puts the Hole in Mother’s Donuts. Come In, We’ll Show You. 30c Dz. Great Eastern Tea & Coffee Company at 33 North Water Street in Decatur.” (The Decatur Daily Review. Decatur, Illinois. 20 April 1921. Page 6.)
If someone says “doughnut shaped”, assume they mean ring-shaped.
The trend now in North America is to shorten the word to “donut.” Some people who wouldn’t even bring themselves to eat a doughnut get all hard-core in their opposition to it’s being spelt “donut” by people who do eat them.
Ephron, Nora. Sugar Babies (Doughnuts). New York: The New Yorker. 17 February 1997.