Defiant doughnut survives diet trends
Doughnut, anyone? Of course you want one, maybe two if they’re hot. Fact is, the USA is a nation of glazed gastronomes who gobble 10 billion doughnuts ó that’s $2 billion worth of fried dough ó each year.
Indeed, doughnut shops served about 150 million more people in 2004 than in the previous year, according to food-industry surveys.
“It’s not a big mystery,” says Sally Levitt Steinberg, author of The Donut Book: The Whole Story in Words, Pictures & Outrageous Tales (Storey Publishing, $14.95). “Everybody likes sweet, fried cakes.” Blame the country’s obsession on Steinberg’s grandfather, Adolph Levitt, aka the Doughnut King, who invented the doughnut machine after he started frying cakes in a pot in Harlem. “Everybody has a doughnut story, about the first or the best doughnut they ever ate,” Steinberg says, explaining why she wrote the book. “You don’t find this kind of commitment to, say, lemon meringue pie.” Here, she demystifies the doughnut as she chews the fat with USA TODAY.
Q: What is the enduring appeal of doughnuts?
A: The answer is not in their taste; it’s about their shape. The circle is so universal, and the doughnut is very appealing physically and metaphorically. Of course, there are doughnuts that are not shaped in circles, and fritters are really doughnuts, but we don’t categorize them like doughnuts. The doughnut is in a class by itself; it transcends mere food appeal.
Q: Can you explain the increase in consumption at a time when many people are trying to eat healthier and decrease their fat and carb intake? Why is the doughnut impervious to diets?
A: Doughnuts represent a timeout from dietary considerations. They are not a staple; they’re a treat. And sometimes, diet or not, you just have to have a doughnut.
Q: Do doughnut machines produce better doughnuts than those made by hand?
A: No, not better, but a doughnut machine is more efficient in terms of standardization of doughnuts produced and quantity. My grandfather could not make enough by hand, so he figured out a way to mass-produce them. Still, the best-tasting doughnuts are handmade. And the hot ones are the big things now. Fried stuff, especially dough, is good hot because the fat becomes heavy (when cold).
Q: Can home bakers buy doughnut machines?
A: Yes, there is a company called Lil’ Orbits (lilorbits.com), which offers home doughnut-making equipment such as fryers and cutters that can be used with the machine that mixes the mix, cuts the dough and the hole, drops the doughnut in oil, fries it, then places it on a conveyor belt.
Q: You say in the book that doughnuts are very persnickety, needing perfect humidity and temperature for just-right rising and frying. How can home cooks ever hope to create them?
A: It’s really so hard, I don’t even do it. My kids and husband made them once, and it was a huge mess. Back in the old days on American prairies, women cooked and baked constantly and then did it so many times they got good at it. Frying doughnuts in vegetable oil is tricky (old-timers use lard) because the dough is so delicate yet it has to absorb so much.
Q: What is your favorite kind of doughnut in general?
A: I love a glazed raised (yeast) doughnut, provided it doesn’t have too much sugar in it. It’s easier to find good raised doughnuts. But if you can get a good cake doughnut, it’s an amazing and wonderful experience.
Q: There’s a lot of controversy about the origin of the doughnut’s hole. Is there a definitive answer?
A: There are many stories, and in the 1940s, a big debate erupted between two camps: Did a whaling captain stick a piece of dough on his ship’s wheel to create the hole? Or was it a Native American who shot a doughnut out of a pioneer woman’s hand? All I know is that the hole has been around for a long time, and there is evidence in paintings that round cakes with holes existed in Europe in the 17th century. In America, there has been a doughnut with a hole since the 19th century.
Defiant doughnut survives diet trends