National Donut Day
A Tasty Bit of History
June 3, 2016 by Mark Dye
The donut might not have been created in America—it goes back to ancient Greece and Rome—but the modern donut as we know it has certainly become an American staple, with some 10 billion of them consumed each year. So why do they have the hole in the center? Where did National Donut Day come from? And where can you get some of the very best donuts in America?
We’re glad you asked …
From pastry to true donut
The history of how donuts got their hole in the center is debatable—though it does make for a good story.
Most attribute it to Captain Hanson Gregory, a Dutch sailor who used to receive solid donuts from his mother for his voyages. On the night of June 22, 1847, he was eating one of them when a storm suddenly started to rock his ship. Needing both hand to control the vessel, he stuck the pastry on one of the spokes of the steering wheel. And the center hole was born.
Turns out that hole also changed the taste—at that time, the center part of a donut was often under-cooked and doughy, so most people ate around the edges anyway. It turned out that putting the hole in it allowed it to cook faster while making it taste better.
National Donut Day
A story that is not up for debate is how National Donut Day became to be. It was World War I, and a young Salvation Army worker named Helen Purviance was sent to France to work with the American First Division. One day she and another worker, Margaret Sheldon, decided to roll out some dough and fry it up for some of the troops. The goal wasn’t necessarily to feed the troops, but to give them a touch of the homefront.
So the two women rolled the dough with a bottle (they had no proper rolling pin) and Purviance spent hours kneeling in front of the small frying pan, trying to keep the fire at even heat and the donuts cooking. It wasn’t long before a line of troops was in front of their door, all patiently waiting for that little taste of home. They made 150 donuts that first day, double the second day, and were soon making upwards of 9,000 donuts a day.
When some soldiers starting asking for holes in the center, the women came up with numerous ways to make creating such a confection easier, even employing a local blacksmith to create a donut cutter to speed up the process. Seeing how it improved morale, other Salvation Army workers began doing the same, and the term “Doughnut Dollies” was created.
It wasn’t until the Great Depression, however, that National Donut Day was created. It was done by the Salvation Army in Chicago as a fundraiser and a way to honor the “Lassies” of WWI. It is now celebrating its 78th year and is still a main fundraiser in Chicago.
Today, plain glazed donuts are still the most popular, but there are several places around the nation that turn these little circles of goodness into true works of art.
Blue Star Donuts - Started in Portland, Ore., and now with shops in Los Angeles and even Japan, their creations are based on the a brioche recipe from France—meaning it takes 18 hours before it’s ready to be cooked and topped with a wide range of options. One of their more unique varieties is a Crème Brûlée donut that has a vial of Cointreau stuck into it (so perhaps have just one, unless you have a designated driver.)
Leonard's Bakery - If you find yourself in Hawaii, you have to make a stop at this shop that opened in 1933 (more than 20 years before Hawaii was even a state). They are one of the few places you can find true malasadas, which are a Portuguese, hole-free donut that is filled either with chocolate, coconut, or custard, and topped with various coatings. Maybe not a “true” donut, but so very, very tasty.
Do-Rite Donuts - Chicago might be known for pizza and hot dogs, but you should really try their donuts, too! Do-Rite is unique in that they partner with various people (many famous) to create “collab” donuts that are as unique as their creators. One of their most recent ones was concocted by the band OK Go! and, per their website, is "an upside down brioche bullseye, dipped in dark chocolate and toasted peanuts then inverted filled with an espresso cream and glazed in vanilla bean and peanut bits." (If you’ve seen their videos, this complex mix shouldn’t surprise you.)
Hurts Donut - With locations in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, Hurts Donut has the center of the Midwest covered. Known for their Nutella-stuffed-and-sugar-topped special and holiday-themed specials, their “Fire in the Hole” donut holes (which are filled with jalapeño cream cheese and topped with a sriracha glaze) are rapidly becoming famous. They can also take care of your donut needs 24/7/365, as they never close and even deliver. (Full disclosure: I went to college with the founder and owner. And, yes, I get free donuts when I visit.)
Dough - This shop located in Brooklyn is one of the best in the five boroughs. It specializes in yeast-based dough and truly unique creations, such as the Hibiscus (featuring a sweet and tangy glaze made with dried Mexican hibiscus, topped with candied hibiscus flower). Then there is the Cafe au Laut—a donut made from roasted coffee beans, topped with a pecan brown sugar, and their special glaze. Coffee in a donut? Yes, please!
Hypnotic Donuts - Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the calorie count on the donuts at this shop in Dallas. Their claim to fame is the “Evil Elvis”: a donut topped with peanut butter, bacon, banana, and honey. If you like things a tad more on the sharp/spicy side, try the Mount Saint Hell Yeah (a super-cinnamon infused cinnamon roll with maple icing and crumbled bacon) or their Triple 6, which is a basic vanilla cake donut with a not-so-basic habanero and passion fruit icing.
It’s not often someone suggests you take advice from Homer Simpson, but for National Doughnut Day, it only seems fitting to encourage you to go out there and enjoy a tasty donut (or dozen).