I think it’s time we talked about donuts. I know they come up a lot in my travelogues, but I’m pretty sure I have never devoted all my allotted words to the subject. And why not now, when just about everybody is resigned to the fact that it’s the holidays – all diets are off and all gym memberships are inactive until January 2, anyway. A perfect time to explore the exciting world of fried dough.
Ultimately, that is what we are talking about – fried dough. And we have been frying dough for a long time. The form may have changed, but even in the book of Leviticus (verse 12, chapter 7) the Hebrews were instructed to present offerings of peace and thanksgiving in the form of fried cakes of fine flour. Sing it with me now: “I eat donuts, this I do, for the Bible tells me to.” (That may not be the way you learned the song, but people add verses to hymns all the time.) A plain donut straight from the hot oil through the glaze waterfall is definitely something I can be thankful for.
Let’s camp here a moment, near the hot oil. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that a fresh, hot donut as described above has no real equal when one takes into account the total experience. It’s almost as if one is biting into sweet, sticky air. There is a shape until a bite is taken, then the dough practically melts in the mouth. This is why I look for the illuminated “Hot Donuts Now” sign whenever I am in the vicinity of a Krispy Kreme store. (Some will even give you a free one if you make it in under the glow of the red neon.) This is why at Shipley’s I scan the scene prior to placing my order to see if there are hot ones on the rack. I may still have a sausage roll, apple fritter or blueberry cake in my clutches, but if there are hot, plain, glazed donuts available, I must have at least one. I must. And this is why I practically inhaled (to carry forth the air analogy) two of the round beauties at work not long ago, just after having a perfectly good low-carb breakfast at home before I arrived. I have no willpower with hot donuts. I attribute some of my behavior to my parental units, who taught me early in life that even a day-old donut is pretty good heated, a habit made even easier with the invention of the microwave. (Yes, kids, there was a day in my lifetime when they did not exist. I am that old.)
Allow me to make another blanket statement: I am not a donut snob, per se. I’ve just finished John T. Edge’s book, “Donuts, An American Passion” in which he speaks both of corporate giants (like Krispy Kreme) and local artisanal donut makers. Though I am normally the anti-champion when it comes to chain restaurants, with donuts I make an exception. I like the fact that a hot glazed Krispy Kreme in Columbus, Mississippi, is essentially equal to a hot glazed Krispy Kreme in Kuwait. And I can testify that they are. I have not had a Shipley’s as far away as Houston, TX, but I have had them in Oxford, and the same principle holds true. Even the blueberry cake I had at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Dubai satisfied the same craving as it did here in the US of A. Which brings me to another point in my “I am not a snob” soliloquy. My favorites outside of a hot glazed are apple fritters and blueberry cake, hands down (and sticky). But I will not turn away from any other flavor or filling if that’s all that’s left in the box. No uppity donut critic here.
John T. also mentions that in a pinch, he has been known to deep fry canned biscuits with holes cut in the center. I can also testify to the surprising goodness of that recipe, and its crazy simplicity. I tried the same method last week with canned cinnamon rolls with mixed success, but I won’t let that deter me from trying again.
Another childhood favorite in the donut category is the dunkin’ stick. The idea, I assume, is to dunk the stick in coffee or another appropriate beverage. That may be good, but I prefer just to eat them out of the wrapper, right outside the service station where I tend to find them most often. Yes, I could probably buy a whole box from any Little Debbie purveyor, but having a whole box of dunkin’ sticks at my disposal is a dangerous wager. There is an undefinable flavor found in these pastries and a texture that is hard to match in any other. Though I will say that a good cruller does share some of those ethereal characteristics.
Donuts are inspiring. Edge also wrote three other books about iconic American foods: fried chicken, apple pie, and hamburgers & fries – all were subtitled, “An American Story.” But donuts are “An American Passion.” Dough for thought. Comedian Tim Hawkins has been heard to say that eating a Krispy Kreme is like eating a baby angel. A bit irreverent, perhaps, but clearly he has been affected profoundly by the experience. The heavenly beings are also evoked by writer and humorist Roy Blount, Jr, who said, “Krispy Kremes are to other doughnuts what angels are to people.”
I have had a donut sundae: donut base topped with ice cream and other decadent toppings. I have had donut cobbler: so sweet it sets your teeth on edge but so good you don’t care. I have had a donut burger: don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I have made donut French toast: try it with a cake donut, it just works better. Donuts are a paradox: international but local, timeless but ephemeral, sinful but angelic. Eat a hot one soon.