Doughnuts are a hard food to pin down. They come in fried or baked versions, and can be made by a huge variety of methods: some are like breads and use yeast as a leavening agent, while others rely on baking powder; they can be made by the muffin method or by the creaming technique. Grandmother’s recipe introduced me to yet another style of doughnuts.
This style of doughnuts is closed connected with another kind of fried dough – crullers, which are fashioned into a long, twisted shape. Traditional French crullers are also made from choux pastry, while other kinds of crullers can be made from other kinds of leavened doughnut dough (either using yeast or baking powder). The term ‘Chinese crullers’ is sometimes used to refer to Chinese you tiao [Mandarin] / yao zhar kwai [Cantonese].
Speculation on the historical origins of the doughnut range from prehistoric Native Americans to ancient Rome to the medieval Middle East. However what most sources agree on is the better-documented story of how doughnuts became an American staple. Beginning in early modern Germany and Holland, oliekoecken (oil cakes or fried cakes) were brought to the New World by Dutch settlers, and had established themselves on the American dining table by the mid-19th century.
Well, if what makes a doughnut a doughnut is the hole in the middle, then what about the dough balls made from these holes? Aside from just seeing them as leftover ‘doughnut holes‘, one can simply shape the dough directly into balls and make more elegant-sounding beignet (recipe here).
Below are the two recipes grandmother copied into her notebook. The first is for choux pastry-style doughnuts, The second set of ingredients doesn’t include eggs and therefore can’t be for choux pastry. You’ll need to improvise your own cooking method there.