The Doughnut Development by Angela Caldin
I realised very recently that the humble doughnut has undergone something of a renaissance while I was thinking of other things. We went out for a family lunch with the grandchildren and were seduced into ordering doughnuts for dessert. The sugar coated spheres arrived with a little dish of cream and a giant silvery syringe full of our chosen filling, salty caramel. The children were excited to activate the syringes, but massive frustration ensued as they were too big and stiff for their childish fingers, so the adults had to help them, poking the tip of the syringe into the side of the doughnut and squeezing the contents out, just like a nurse jabbing an injection into your arm. No-one could have predicted the complete sticky carnage that followed: salted caramel oozing all over the place and approximately one thousand napkins needed to mop up the mess. The youngest dabbed in anguish as the filling of her doughnut dribbled out of the top like lava from an erupting volcano until my husband came to the rescue with a white cotton handkerchief lovingly embroidered with his initial years ago by his maiden aunts. I’m glad and relieved that they were spared the distress of seeing their needlework covered in pale brown caramel goo.
The origin of doughnuts is uncertain, but the concept is not exclusive to one country or culture and variations of the doughnut can be seen all over the world. In Austria they appear as krapfen ,while Tunisia knows them as yo-yos and Poles enjoy them as paçzki. In Holland they are called oliebollen and one theory suggests that they were introduced in North America by Dutch settlers who were responsible for launching all kinds of sweet pastries into their new country. Another story claims that an American called Hanson Gregory invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 when he was working in a ship’s galley at only 16 years of age. Apparently, he disliked the greasiness and the raw centre of regular doughnuts and is said to have punched a hole in the middle of the dough with the ship’s tin pepper box.
In my youth, there were only two types of doughnut: the ring doughnut (which I now know can be described as toroidal), and the round doughnut which was filled with a red substance alleged to be jam. It was a tasty, though quite ordinary, sugar-coated snack. But in more recent times, the doughnut has entered the stratosphere of deserts. You can find it stuffed with any manner of fillings: fruit, different kinds of cream, custard, chocolate, butterscotch, salty caramel, or topped with icing of all the colours of the rainbow and assorted sprinkles to match. You can even find it with savoury fillings such as crab or foie gras; although a savoury doughnut seems to me to be something of an oxymoron. I feel the same way about a square doughnut which strikes me as a worrying anomaly. But I am a recent convert to the twisted doughnut so aptly named a yum-yum, and there are few things on this earth more delicious than Spanish churros, deep fried ridged strips of dough, covered in sugar and served with hot chocolate sauce.
Mutant Doughnut Disasters
Homer Simpson, a doughnut aficionado, is quoted as saying, ‘Doughnuts, is there anything they can’t do?’ and he might just as easily have said, ‘Doughnuts, is there anything you can’t do with them?’ It’s right to say that they are delightful, decadent and delicious, and lend themselves to all kinds of interpretations, but I must say a word about the various hybrids which are cropping up. What future can there be for the duffin for example, a cross between a doughnut and a muffin? Why would you, I ask myself in disbelief, why would you tamper with a perfectly successful bakery item like the muffin and combine it with a classic like the doughnut? An even worse mongrel is the cronut, a total aberration to my mind, attempting as it does to combine a timeless French culinary delicacy, the croissant, with the archetypal, sugary, American treat. Complete disasters both and to be avoided at all costs; even the names are off-putting. Let’s preserve the integrity of individual culinary species and not damage their deliciousness by attempting to combine attributes which should remain discrete.