A doughnut or donut (pronounced /ˈdoʊnət, ˈdoʊnʌt/) is a type of fried dough food popular in many countries and prepared in various forms as a sweet (or occasionally savory) snack that can be homemade or purchased in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, and franchised specialty outlets. They are usually sweet, deep-fried from a flour dough, and shaped in rings or flattened spheres that sometimes contain fillings. Other types of dough such as potato can also be used as well as other batters, and various toppings and flavorings are used for different types.
The two most common types are the toroidal ring doughnut and the filled doughnut, a flattened sphere injected with jam (or jelly), cream, custard, or other sweet fillings. A small spherical piece of dough may be cooked as a doughnut hole. Baked doughnuts are a variation cooked in an oven instead of being deep fried. Doughnut varieties are also divided into cake and risen type doughnuts.
Various doughnut incarnations are popular around the globe. Shapes include rings, balls, and flattened spheres, as well as ear shapes, twists and other forms. Not all doughnuts are sweet: in Southern India for instance, savory doughnuts called vadai are served.
Ring doughnuts are formed by joining the ends of a long, skinny piece of dough into a ring or by using a doughnut cutter, which simultaneously cuts the outside and inside shape, leaving a doughnut-shaped piece of dough and a doughnut hole from dough removed from the center. This smaller piece of dough can be cooked or re-added to the batch to make more doughnuts. A disk-shaped doughnut can also be stretched and pinched into a torus until the center breaks to form a hole. Alternatively, a doughnut depositor can be used to place a circle of liquid dough (batter) directly into the fryer. Doughnuts can be made from a yeast-based dough for raised doughnuts or a special type of cake batter. Yeast-raised doughnuts contain about 25% oil by weight, whereas cake doughnuts’ oil content is around 20%, but they have extra fat included in the batter before frying. Cake doughnuts are fried for about 90 seconds at approximately 190 °C to 198 °C, turning once. Yeast-raised doughnuts absorb more oil because they take longer to fry, about 150 seconds, at 182 °C to 190 °C. Cake doughnuts typically weigh between 24 g and 28 g, whereas yeast-raised doughnuts average 38 g and are generally larger when finished.
After frying, ring doughnuts are often topped with a glaze (icing) or a powder such as cinnamon or sugar. Styles such as fritters and jam doughnuts may be glazed and/or injected with jam or custard.
As well as being fried, doughnuts can be completely baked in an oven. These have a slightly different texture from the fried variety with a somewhat different taste due to the lack of absorbed oil—and so have a lower fat content. The fried version may sometimes be called “fried cakes”.
There are many other specialized doughnut shapes such as old-fashioneds, bars or Long Johns (a rectangular shape), or with the dough twisted around itself before cooking. In the northeast USA, bars and twists are usually referred to as crullers. Doughnut holes are small spheres that are made from the dough taken from the center of ring doughnuts or made to look as if they are. These holes are also known by brand names, such as Dunkin Donuts’ Munchkins and Tim Hortons’ Timbits. There are also beignets, which are square donuts topped with powdered sugar.
Doughnuts have a disputed history. One theory suggests that doughnuts were introduced into North America by Dutch settlers, who were responsible for popularizing other American desserts, including cookies, apple and cream pie, and cobbler. Indeed, in the 19th century, doughnuts were sometimes referred to as one kind of olykoek (a Dutch word literally meaning “oil cake”), a “sweetened cake fried in fat.”
Hansen Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was only sixteen years old. Gregory was dissatisfied with the greasiness of doughnuts twisted into various shapes and with the raw center of regular doughnuts. He claimed to have punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship’s tin pepper box and later taught the technique to his mother.
According to anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. By the mid-19th century the doughnut looked and tasted like today’s doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.
The earliest known recorded usage of the term dates an 1808 short story describing a spread of “fire-cakes and dough-nuts.” Washington Irving’s reference to “doughnuts” in 1809 in his History of New York is more commonly cited as the first written recording of the term. Irving described “balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.” These “nuts” of fried dough might now be called doughnut holes. Doughnut is the more traditional spelling, and still dominates outside the US. At present, doughnut and the shortened form donut are both pervasive in American English. The first known printed use of donut was in Peck’s Bad Boy and his Pa by George W. Peck, published in 1900, in which a character is quoted as saying, “Pa said he guessed he hadn’t got much appetite, and he would just drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut.” The donut spelling also showed up in a Los Angeles Times article dated August 10, 1929 in which Bailey Millard jokingly complains about the decline of spelling, and that he “can’t swallow the ‘wel-dun donut’ nor the ever so ‘gud bred’. The interchangeability of the two spellings can be found in a series of “National Donut Week” articles in The New York Times that covered the 1939 World’s Fair. In four articles beginning October 9, two mention the donut spelling. Dunkin’ Donuts, which was founded in 1948 under the name Open Kettle (Quincy, Massachusetts), is the oldest surviving company to use the donut variation, but the defunct Mayflower Donut Corporation is the first company to use that spelling, prior to World War II.