Happy National Doughnut Day! Is there anything more wonderful than a doughnut? It's every gluttonous vice combined into one — fried things, sugary things, sprinkle-y things, things that you just cannot stop eating. And from the most sinfully delicious Krispy Kremes to the fancy, Williamsburg-born concoctions we've seen pop up in recent years, much like God's children, each doughnut is beautiful and unique.
But then the cronut came along, and changed everything. All this madness got us thinking — how did it all begin? And how on Earth did we end up in this crazy situation where people will pay $40 for a combined croissant-doughnut miracle? Join us, friends, on a sugary ride through the history of doughnuts. It's more illuminating than you might think.
Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza; Illustrated by Zhang Qingyun
Early 19th Century
The doughnut is born. Introduced to the New World by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam as round, hole-less olykoeks or "oily cakes." Thankfully, Washington Irving soon publishes his History of New York, dubbing the goodies as "doughnuts" for the first time, which is great, because ordering a frosted "oily cake" would just make us feel bad about ourselves.
Elizabeth Gregory, mom extraordinaire, makes a big batch of the glorious confection for her ship-captain son, Hanson, to enjoy on his voyage. Finding the center raw and gooey, Hanson takes a round pepper box and stamps out a hole in the center. Upon returning home, he runs to the kitchen and shows mommy his new trick. She pats him on the head and tells him to use his inside voice.
Now a popular movie-theater snack, the demand for doughnuts is on the rise and bakers struggle to keep up. Russian refugee Adolph Levitt invents the world's first automated doughnut machine in New York City. NYC promptly goes nuts. Sound familiar?
The doughnut becomes a depression-era favorite, since even the widely impoverished masses can afford this little luxury. First featured at the Chicago World’s Fair, the doughnut soon goes Hollywood. Clark Gable famously teaches Claudette Colbert how to dunk, in an iconic scene from the classic film It Happened One Night.
During WWII, homesick American soldiers are treated to a taste of home. Red Cross volunteers called Doughnut Dollies hand them out to the wounded and even make deliveries to men in the trenches.
Though no one knows exactly when or where the stereotype began, many believe the mysterious relationship between cops & doughnuts started like this: Previously relegated to foot-beats, police now cover larger parts of the town in patrol cars. Coincidentally, Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme shops begin to dot suburban American neighborhoods. With no other place to grab a cup of coffee and a bite to eat while working late shifts, the officers naturally gravitate toward the doughnut shops. (We don't blame them.)
Homer Simpson, the world's most beloved doughnut-fiend first appears on The Simpsons. If there's one thing he likes more than beer, and sitting, it's this all-American breakfast food. It is a glorious moment for both baked goods and television. As Homer says, "Mmm, doughnuts. Is there anything they can’t do?"
Mark Israel opens The Doughnut Plant in NYC, starting with his grandfather's recipe and taking things to new heights with the introduction of artisanal doughnuts. Here you could find the signature crème brulée doughnut, rosewater frosting, and even a Japanese hybrid square doughnut filled with homemade jelly.
Krispy Kreme gets a cameo on Sex & The City. Suddenly, cosmos are out and maple-glazed oily cakes are in. The brand gains a resurgence of popularity, and, as with the giant-flower-pin, this episode means doughnuts are on their way to becoming the latest must-have accessory.
While the entire Boston-metro area is on lockdown during the post-bombing manhunt, several Dunkin' Donuts are asked to stay open to serve the public and armed forces. This city, forever associated with the brand, loves their Dunks more than ever.
Finally, we arrive at the birth of the Cronut, the crispy love child of the doughnut and croissant. Nationwide mayhem ensues once again. That is the power of the doughnut. What's next?