Perhaps you’ve noticed that doughnuts or donuts have taken a new prominence in the culinary world. They have become the new party food being proudly displayed for the picking on peg boards at graduation parties, replacing cake at wedding receptions, the new “cupcake” at birthday parties, and the most requested birthday breakfast treat. Further, there is the opening of new generation donut shops across American featuring contemporary takes on the standard donut with creative flavors, fresh-made on the spot varieties, limited editions, and other creations that deny all healthy eating. At many of these shops, people wait in long lines to get their treats at elevated prices.
Recently, I was one of those standing in a long line to try one of these new pleasures. In June, we traveled to California for my son-in-law’s PhD hooding. We kicked off graduation day with a trip to a nearby gourmet donut shop for coffee and their special creations. As we stood in line, the baristas brought samples of the donuts they were making that morning so that when we got to the counter we could quickly order. We each picked a different flavor and after getting our treats, we went to a nearby park to share and eat. Our choices include strawberry buttermilk, maple bacon, huckleberry, cookie dough, and chocolate (spelled choc-a-lot). It was my first donut in many years and each was definitely unique and very good.
Like other contemporary “doughnuteries”, this shop boasts donuts made hourly from scratch in small batches, using only the finest real ingredients, no preservatives, use of seasonal products, infused glazes and hand crushed toppings to insure a fresh and warm treat for each and every customer. They feature daily and monthly specials as well as regular offerings all created from their own recipes. At other shops one might find donut ice cream sandwiches or donut burgers. The creation list of flavors and uses is endless.
While donuts seem to be trendy now, they have always been a popular food. They have been around for hundreds of years and there is no definitive answer to the donut’s origin. There are, however, events in history that give background to the development of the donut as we know it today.
Dutch immigrants brought the tradition of making olykoeks (oil cakes) with them when they came to North American. Olykoeks were yeast-raised dough balls boiled in lard (pork fat) until golden brown. However, often the centers remained undone and gooey. To remedy that uncooked center, cooks began pushing nuts into the center of the dough balls to assure more even cooking; while this was better than just the solid dough ball, it was not the perfect solution. In 1847, Hansen Gregory, an American ship captain, experimented with a different method. He used a punch to make a hole through the center of the dough ball and discovered that a hole eliminated the uncooked center completely. Thus Captain Gregory is given credit for inventing the traditional ring shape that we know as a donut today.
There is also the question, cake or raised, when it comes to donuts. Apparently, you are either a cake or yeast donut person. A yeast donut is made from a yeast dough and is often referred to as a raised donut. It’s puffy and light and typically is glazed, sugared, or frosted. Cake donuts rely on baking soda or baking powder to raise and are often denser and sweeter. Cake donuts can come in all kinds of flavors.
Lastly, there is still the question of whether it should be doughnut or donut. Wikipedia attributes the doughnut spelling to British English and the donut spelling to American English. Historians tell us that in 1809, the word “doughnut” appeared in print for the first time in a publication, A History of New York, by Washington Irving. Sometime during the 1900s, the word was shortened to “donut.” Today, either spelling is acceptable.
In whatever way the donut came to be, how we spell it, or if it is cake or raised, one thing is for sure—Americans and people around the world love donuts in many fashions. My favorite is still the standard, raised and glazed donut.