There are a few tales, some of them tall, about how the doughnut got its hole. The best and most famous is that of one Captain Hanson Gregory whose mother sent him off to sea with-- what else?-- fried pastry. During a violent storm, Captain Gregory needed both hands free to man the wheel of his ship, so he impaled his doughnut upon the top spoke of the wheel, thereby creating the center hole.
Believe it. Or not.
A more likely explanation is that the center of the pastries had been notoriously hard to cook thoroughly. They usually ended up a doughy, oily goo. By punching a hole in the center, more surface area is created, therefore allowing for faster, more even cooking. But if you prefer to believe the first explanation, by all means do.
For a really good read about doughnuts, please visit Mr. Breakfast. I think he might be my new hero.
The Dutch, and through them, Americans, are not the only people on earth in love with puffy fried dough. The Argentines have their facturas, the Austrians love a good krapfen (giggle, it's okay), the Chinese go for youtiao (though it is not sweet), and the French, of course, are dating the beignet.
Wherever in the world you may eat them, eat them warm and fresh. A doughnut made yesterday dunked into this morning's coffee might be fine, but it really cannot compare to a doughnut still warm from the fryer. I almost typed friar, which might say a lot about me.
The last time I made doughnuts was in June of 2001. I must have been in love or something. I was going to my boyfriend's cousin's annual oyster party on Limantour Beach. I wanted to make a favorable impression on them and, for some reason, doughnuts seemed the perfect thing to make. Perhaps I had hoped that, had the wind kicked up a bit too much, no one would notice the sand that would stick to the pastries, camouflaged as they would be by their coating of granulated sugar. My boyfriend thought I was crazy to go to so much trouble. Maybe I was, but everybody still remembers the doughnuts.
Try making a batch for yourself. They're really easy. I mean it. You'll need a good thermometer though. The temperature of the oil is key.
What I like most about this recipe, which has been borrowed from Epicurious.com, but altered slightly, is that the sweetness is rather subtle. I'm just not a super-sweet fan. I tend to regard these doughnuts as, well, cakes, though hopefully not oily ones. I like these served up on a plate with a bit of fruit sauce. Blueberry compote works really, really well. It's sort of like a lazy man's version of a jelly doughnut. Or, looked at in a more positive way, a healthy (or healthier) man's version.
Servings: Makes about 10
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening, room temperature
3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 tablespoon almond extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil (for frying)
1. Place 1 1/2 cups flour and 1 1/4 cups sugar in large bowl.
2. Add buttermilk and next 7 ingredients.
3. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until just smooth.
4. Beat in remaining 1 cup flour.
5. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.
6. Turn dough out onto floured work surface; roll to 1/2-inch thickness.
7. Using 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut dough into rounds.
8. Using 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut hole from center of each round, making doughnuts.
9. Gather scraps and reroll dough, cutting additional doughnuts until dough is used up.