Archive for the ‘Humanities’ Category

Are Doughnuts truly American? Blimey – think again!

Saturday, October 26th, 2013


From the shocking-but-true category, a ground-breaking discovery has been made in Britain by Dr. Heather Falvey, historian for the Hertfordshire Record Society. She located a 213 year old recipe book which may contain the first ever doughnut recipe which would pre-date any known American references by almost a decade. What is known is that the recipe – with ingredients that included sugar, eggs, nutmeg, butter and yeast – was given by a local woman, known only as ‘Mrs Fordham,’ to the Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale of Hertford in 1800. The Baroness was wife of smallpox pioneer, Thomas Dimsdale and she had compiled a collection of 80-some household hints and 700 recipes, including this astonishing reference to a “dow nut”.

There are a handful of theories on the origin of doughnuts in America, from Washington Irving’s 1908  “doughnuts” in his History of New York as well as anthropologist Paul R. Mullins’ research that the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. but they are later than this newly-found British reference.


From the Hertfordshire genealogy site where the book may be purchased:

Some time after 1800, when she was in her late sixties or early seventies, Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale copied just under 700 recipes and more than 80 household hints into a parchment-bound book. At the top of many of these items she indicated their provenance – some had been given by friends and acquaintances in Hertfordshire society, others had been gleaned from published works ranging from medical treatises to scientific journals, others had come from donors who cannot now be identified due to Elizabeth’s tendency to use initials rather than names. Some of the recipes are of foreign origin given by acquaintances of her late husband. Many of the recipes have the same titles as those published in the burgeoning number of printed cookery books in circulation during the later eighteenth century, but the ingredients and methods differ; a handful, however, are recorded verbatim from such sources, indicating that either she, or her acquaintances, were collectors, or at least readers, of such publications.

Doughnut historians all over the world are rethinking the humble history of our beloved sweet treat. Full story in the Mirror.

Wherein a 12-year old speaks about the Plain Doughnut

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Ah, from the mouths of babes…

The Next Iron Chef, Week 2; Innovation ~ Coffee and Donuts

Monday, October 11th, 2010

I was very excited to watch the Food Network’s second episode of The Next Iron Chef and see the first challenge of the evening involve coffee and doughnuts! What could be closer to a Fried Dough Ho’s heart after all? And I admit up front that I am rooting for Chef Mary Dumont as I had the distinct pleasure of dining on her scrumptious cuisine many years ago when she was the chef in foie gras-centric Sonoma Saveurs (now closed). Wishing I could taste the offerings, here is my thoughts based solely on what I witnessed.

But you must know that what was offered to the chefs to cook with were obviously sub-standard doughnuts. Considering this was being filmed in Los Angeles, I would have hoped the producers of the show might have sourced this ingredient from Randy’s Doughnuts but I could tell from the images of the doughnuts that these were mediocre at best. Given that, I am sure what the chefs did was to create the best possible dishes considering the mediocrity of their core ingredient.

Chef Pagan: Donut Tapa with ricotta, coffee-infused cream (the cream had come from a doughnut), bacon and pine nuts  as well a deep-fried doughnut with banana. There were some great comments about the fact that that Chef Pagan re-fried and already fried dough with Chef Estes alluring stating, “it was naughty!”   But Chef Caswell commented that he could not taste the coffee in either dish. The extra crunch on the outside of the double-fried doughnut looked like a bit of overkill, but apparently it tasted better than it looked.

Chef Tio – Her Old Fashioned Griddled with butter and Bacon and Egg Donut and served with red-eye gravy looked pretty disgusting; flat and lifeless. But the second offering of a buttermilk fried powdered doughnut topped with fried chicken livers with hearts – her version of chicken and waffles – was well-received by Estes and seemed quite appetizing to me. It was Chef Canora who said that chicken liver was not a breakfast meat and I wanted to bitch-slap him right there for that. Oh, so wrong, my friend! Her dish was favored by Chef Tsai.

Chef Dumont – Duo of bananas; Bananas which had been caramelized and served with a sauce made from the scrapings of a glazed doughnut and croutons from French doughnuts with a coffee crunch. The second was also bananas, this time deep-fried and served with a sauce made from the chocolate from a doughnut glaze.  She admitted that she wanted to have a lemon cream but a sliced finger prevented her from other additions. Chef Forgione expressed empathy over the injury, but pragmatic that it was a competition. Chef Dumont was quite possibly the least traditional of the evening’s offerings by going off on the banana junket, and not showcasing more doughnut and coffee flavor and it definitely hurt her in the long run, as Chef Tsai noted.

Chef  Chauhan – Doughnut Grilled with Cheddar and Fontina Cheeses as well as Doughnut Frittata made with glazed and chocolate doughnuts. It seems she used coffee and basil in the flavorings which elicited a wink from Chef Pagan. I would be curious which flavor doughnut she used for the grilled cheese; it looked like a standard cake doughnut and while that might work, I am more intrigued with the basil-scented frittata. Chefs Tio, Pagan and Dumont picked these dishes as their favorite.

Chef Tsai – The only one to make a beverage this evening; an iced, frozen espresso topped with a thinly sliced section from a chocolate chip-studded doughnut. To complement the beverage, he sliced a glazed doughnut to make a panini with sliced green tomatoes, eggs, and ham. Chef Canora commented that he couldn’t get any coffee flavor and I wonder if the objective was to assure there was coffee flavor in both dishes. More surprisingly was Chef Caswell’s objection that “he’s seen it before.” Like Chef Tsai, I would be curious where one would find such a dish. It seemed innovative and oddly tasty.

Chef Estes – Tried to create baked shirred eggs but had to fry them up at the last minute with doughnut serve. Coffee yogurt with doughnut granola and coffee’d apricots. Like Chef Tsai’s beverage, the idea of a granola seemed more innovative and daring than what some of the other chefs were doing in the classic sandwich sense. Although the eggs seemed like they were not going to work, the presentation looked appetizing. Chef Canora picked Estes as the winner based on the granola.

Chef Forgione –  Coffee Sabayon served in eggshells served alongside a doughnut grilled in brown butter. His other dish was a deeply gorgeous browned French toast served with caramlized bananas and a coffee and bacon syrup. Chef Caswell thought the sabayon was perfect and Chef Chauhan chose Forgione’s dishes as her pick of the evening. Chef Pagan thought the French toast was innovative but did not like it because of texture. Honestly, if you are going to serve a dish in eggshells, make the eggshells presentable! I know they are on a time limit but having bits of broken and hanging shell bits dangling around what you are about to eat is less than appetizing.

Chef Caswell – Cake doughnut Pain Perdue and here I *do* see another glass with a beverage.  The pain perdue was made with a cake doughnut and served with a roasted peach, bacon bits, and coffee syrup. His version of a Vietnamese coffee was shockingly created a BLENDED monstrosity of buttermilk doughnuts with buttermilk, coffee and heavy cream. Excuse me? You blend fried dough with liquid and expect people to drink it? Well, obviously not well because no one could taste the doughnut in the dish. Some bickering occurred with Chef Forgione thinking Caswell’s French toast was undercooked (it did look a bit pale and pathetic!) as “it was squishy.”

Chef Canora – Breakfast sandwich which depicted a sliced, grilled doughnut was the base under an egg with fontina cheese, some spinach, and this slice of coffee-crusted Canadian bacon. The coffee crust made the dish look burned and unappealing. His second dish was cinnamon doughnut French Toast with sliced banana and a bunch of other toppings which were hard to distinguish. With comments from his fellow chefs that they were tasting bitter, Chef Canora tried to justify it with a comment that “Bitter is a great flavor that does not get enough recognition.” Oh really? Well, he did acknowledge later that he might have over-griddled his toast. This was favored by Chefs Caswell, Forgione.

THE WINNER: Chef Chuauan

THE LOSER: Chef Dumont

The Donut Peach

Friday, August 20th, 2010

No, this post isn’t about any form of fried dough, but a specialty fruit that appear briefly each summer, the Donut Peach. I am considering this a sort of Trompe l’Oeil doughnut for looking at it, there is no doubt the mind immediately goes to the more fattening, unhealthy version. A little research has discovered that with the heightened awareness of heirloom fruits and vegetables, this is not actually a new variety of peach at all, but had been grown in the States as early as the 1800’s. Originally from China, it probably lost its allure because its flesh is not the bright yellow of classic peaches and also perhaps its shape.

Long before it was known as the Donut Peach — undoubtedly because of its flattened shape with the ubiquitous hollow in the center so indicative of those raised and cake varieties we love so much — this odd fruit was known as Chinese flat peaches, Chinese sauces peaches, peento peach, or Galaxy or Saturn peach (because it alludes to a 1950s U.F.O. shape and/or the rings of our sixth planet?) Now more commonly referred to as the Donut Peach, California and Washington are the primary locales for its growth and farming.

As an artist, I am drawn to their two-toned, mottled color – pale yellow splotched with alluring splashes of blushing crimson at once, demure but at second glance, teasing and sultry. Granted, there is not as much flesh so cooking with donut peaches would take a few more if quantity is needed – and they are a bit more expensive. But on the upside, they are lower in acid than the classic peach with a more mild, sweeter taste and some have ascribed almond overtones to them. They are a little easier to eat and the skin tends to be a bit thinner with less fuzz so some who are inclined to peel peaches might enjoy these varieties more. I have also found them much easier to pit; a quick slice through the flesh with a knife and the two halves can be twisted apart with the pit almost falling free, leaving just unctuous bites of decadent fruit easy to consume.

The Donut Chef

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Over a very large and expansive tasting of organic, vegan doughnuts at The Ferry Plaza in San Francisco, I met a delightful young lady named Emi, aged five. She was very helpful in tasting Pepple’s Blueberry doughnut. It was all that much more appropriate for while we were noshing and chatting about the qualities of her doughnut, her father told me that Emi’s favorite book at the moment is called Donut Chef.

So I got myself to the library — as I don’t normally read children’s book — and checkout out this oversized picture book. Written and illustrated by Bob Staake, a graphic designer and illustrator who as well as doing work for everything from The New Yorker to Mad Magazine, writes children’s books of some renown. And I must say that Donut Chef is more than a book for children, this is one that adults will certainly get a huge chuckle from; especially food-obsessed fanatics who have witness the progression of haute cuisine and obscure and bizarre flavor models.

The book tells the story of two rival doughnut makers who continually try and one-up each other with their fantastic concoctions and intricate flavors, but poetically, it is written in heroic couplets of Iambic Tetrameter, with the first and third lines being acephalous, i.e. lacking the syllable of the initial foot, beginning thusly:

Once upon a summer’s day
A donut chef was heard to say:
“On this street where people stop,
I’ll open up my donut shop!”
The store was cozy, made of brick.
He got it ready super-quick!
He washed the walls, he swept the floors,
He hung a sign above the doors!

The story commences quite delightfully, but I do take exception at what might be considered a minor error, but for me is a bit more glaring. To commence his doughnut production, we read the following:

That donut chef, he worked so hard
By mixing flour, sugar, lard.
He baked his donuts fresh at daw,
Then hoped by noon they’d all be gone!

Well, as anyone who has been following this blog knows, doughnuts are FRIED. How would it sound to be the Baked Dough Ho? It just is not the same and while I commend Mr. Staake for his wit and delightful illustrations, there is a tragic misnomer in instructing children to believe that doughnuts are baked. Baked dough are cupcakes or cookies or madeleines or macarons, but they are not doughnuts. It is still a great book though and one I can heartily recommend.