Sweets to the sweet. Other food sites are touting the Puritan virtues of warm, homemade soup this week. The Washington Post is pushing ruffage and turnips, for heaven’s sake. Not us. The Spy is all about embracing culture and joy; food and warmth. This week is the perfect time to celebrate Hanukkah with some delicious homemade doughnuts.
Every fall I try to make earnest cider doughnuts; to briskly turn the page on summer and embrace the autumnal – basically I pretend that I have just picked apples and returned home from a hay ride. Which is nonsense. I once picked crabapples in the Hammett’s back yard on Leonard Street, which I promptly ate, and I have never once gone on a hay ride. What I do remember is sleeping over at Sheila’s house in middle school, and her saintly father trudging out for fresh doughnuts for us girls on Sunday mornings. He brought back boxes of freshly glazed doughnuts, crunchy with sheets of sugar. And cloud-like jelly doughnuts, adrift with billows of confectioners sugar. Ah, bliss.
What are ritual foods if they don’t make us time travel to happy moments? Much has been written about the chic and delicate French Madeleines, but what about the humble jelly doughnut? Every one of us who has ever eaten a jelly doughnut can remember oozed jelly on our shirtfronts – not exactly transformational. Jelly doughnuts are the cosmic pratfall of sweets compared to the Madeleine – not the stuff of French literature. The Madeleine moment, as evoked by the taste of a delicate cake-like cookie, is fleeting. Jelly doughnuts bring to mind an entire holiday. It is a raucous family celebration. Jelly doughnuts cover us with joy.
During the Civil War the ladies of Augusta, Maine sent soldiers of the Third Volunteer Regiment off to war with a feast of fifty bushels of doughnuts, as was breathlessly reported: “Never before was such an aggregate of doughnuts since the world began. … The display of doughnuts beggared description. There was the molasses doughnut and the sugar doughnut – the long doughnut and the short doughnut – the round doughnut and the square doughnut … the straight solid doughnut and the circular doughnut, with a hole in the centre. … It was emphatically a feast of doughnuts, if not a flow of soul.”
Fried dough has been around forever. Every culture has experimented with shapes and flavors and methodology. Doughnuts arrived in New Amsterdam in the form of “oily cakes”, courtesy of the Dutch settlers. Later, a ship captain’s mother made deep-fried dough cakes, which could be stored for a long voyages, and she flavored them with cinnamon, lemon rind and nutmeg. She added nuts to the center of the cakes, dough nuts. Her son, the sea captain, claimed to have invented the doughnut hole; they were a busy, innovative pair. Today, in the United States alone, about 10 billion doughnuts are made every year. Wowser.
Here is an amusing video about fried dough and doughnuts: Doughnut History
Popular traditional foods for Hanukkah are brisket, latkes, kugel and jelly doughnuts, or sufganiyot. The doughnuts help us to remember the miracle of the oil that burned miraculously for eight nights. Today, Hanukkah celebrations feature both commercial and homemade jelly doughnuts — tributes to that single cruse of oil that lasted eight days. What a miracle!
Give me a good store-bought doughnut. I love watching doughnuts being made, don’t you? There is comfort in driving through a town and seeing a HOT NOW light on in a store front window. But I can’t serve Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the holidays. I can only scarf them down on road trips. Luckily, once again, I have fallen in love with fantastic Instagram reel and will be making my own: Homemade Jelly Doughnuts I hope you do, too!
“Donuts! Is there anything they can’t do?”