February 16, 2014 by Shweta D'souza
It is true that the humble doughnut does have a convoluted past that involves Dutch immigrants, Russian exiles, French bakers, Irving Berlin, Clark Gable and a certain number of Native Americans. And, yes, in its democratic ethos, its optimism, and its assorted origins, it does seem rather quintessentially American. Doughnuts in some form or other have been around so long that archaeologists keep turning up fossilized bits of what look like doughnuts in the middens of prehistoric Native American settlements. But the doughnut proper (if that’s the right word) supposedly came to Manhattan (then still New Amsterdam) under the unappetizing Dutch name of olykoeks–“oily cakes.”
Doughnuts didn’t come into their own until World War I, when millions of homesick American doughboys met millions of doughnuts in the trenches of France. They were served up by women volunteers who even brought them to the front lines to give soldiers a tasty touch of home. When the doughboys came back from the war they had a natural yen for more doughnuts. (The name “doughboy,” though, didn’t derive from doughnuts. It goes back to the relatively doughnutless Civil War, when the cavalry derided foot soldiers as doughboys, perhaps because their globular brass buttons resembled flour dumplings or because soldiers used flour to polish their white belts.)
The first doughnut machine did not come along until 1920, in New York City, when Adolph Levitt, an enterprising refugee from czarist Russia, began selling fried doughnuts from his bakery. Hungry theater crowds pushed him to make a gadget that churned out the tasty rings faster, and he did. Levitt’s doughnut machine was the first sign that the doughnut, till then merely a taste sensation, could, in production, become a public spectacle. And so generations of kids and adults have stood transfixed by the Willy Wonka-like scene behind the glass of doughnut shops, learning in the process that the doughnut hole is built in, not cut out. There before them a circle of dough, shaped like a perfect smoke ring, and about the diameter of a baseball, dropped off into a vat of boiling oil, circulated, got turned over to brown on the other side, and emerged from the oil on a moving ramp, one by one like ducks in a row.
But that’s not exactly how we can make doughnuts at home. The procedure is in fact, quite simple! We present you the old-fashioned doughnut recipe with nutmeg and a little cinnamon.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 3 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup milk
- Mix together the shortening, sugar, and egg yolks. Into another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
- Stir into the first mixture alternately with 1 cup milk. Stir until dry ingredients are moistened, handling dough as little as possible.
- Roll dough to about 3/8-inch thickness on a floured cloth covered surface. Let rolled out dough stand for about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat oil to 370°. Fat is ready when a doughnut center browns in about 1 minute. Keep temperature as steady as possible. Cut doughnuts out with floured 2 1/2 or 3-inch doughnut cutter.
- Fry doughnuts in the hot oil, turning carefully with a wooden spoon handle when the first crack appears. Continue cooking and turning until browned nicely. This will take about 1 1/2 minute total frying time. Drain doughnuts on brown paper or paper towels. Makes about 2 dozen doughnuts.