Before we proceed, lets not discuss the spelling. The spellings are interchangeable, and any perceived difference in meaning isn't necessarily a real thing anymore. Here's a link which will argue all about that. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/is-it-donut-or-doughnut
Well there are a thousands of different kinds of donuts. Most cultures seem to have a version, and then regional and family versions therein. Generally they are a fried sweet dough, with some kind of coating or glaze and filling. Some have holes, some are holes, but it seems that a sweetened dough is the general consensus of what they are.
In New Zealand I’ve seen Sally Lunn’s which are probably more of a cakey version with thick pink or white icing served at lots of local bakeries, but they way they are presented, I’d still consider them a member of the donut family. But I'd never heard of these before and I thought someone said they were a Sally Lung. I thought Kiwis were insane, and definitely needing a lesson in donutry.
In England I’ve had something called a lardy cake in Gloucestershire, which was amazing, and is in fact made with lard, but definitely fits in that donut arena in my opinion. A sweet sticky bun with raisins / currants, very flakey and a fresh donuty taste.
Germany of course has its'crullers, which are almost like a choux pastry.
My grandmother who is Serbian made something for us called Krofne which was a free formed, almost runny batter served hot dusted in sugar. I loved them, the whole family did, but I think that is what really strikes a chord for me as to why donuts are so special to me. It's a real comfort food,
that screams out sharing, and family and happiness. Bringing in a box of donuts to work, instantly makes you the most popular person around. Sentimentality aside though, whatever your carb, and fat laden preference is, one thing a donut must be, is fresh! That seems to be key across all genres.
I've found that in England, NZ, and Australia, the more traditional seem to be the yeast raised donut, some are more an English stodgy cake, whereas in North America, you still get yeast raised doughs, but you will find a lot more cake donuts, made with baking powder / baking soda leavening agents. But of course more and more these days American style chains are spreading their fingers into other nations pies... or doughnut holes.
In Canada we have our beloved Tim Hortons, which is huge national chain, known equally for their terrible bulk filter coffee. (I'll be shot and my citizenship stripped unceremoniously for that) The big chains all have super fresh donuts that they pump out, which are chemically en pointe to appeal to all your senses. And that formula works, and people really seem to lose their collective shit at the massed produced American donut invasions that slowly spread across the more cosmopolitan cities around the world. But I have to say nothing beats a real donut, made with real ingredients, real passion and real love, and not feeding a giant corporation, in my opinion.
Canada and it's donut obsession also has some niche products like a Beavertail, which started out as a tiny shack serving hot freshly made "Beavertails" in Ottawa and was family run. A “Beavertail” is actually the intellectual property of one company in Canada. So when I sold them they were called Moose ears, but you get the idea. I "#beavertails" once, and got a polite lawyers letter in the mail box one day asking me to just not. I grew up with them, and they have very much grown into an institution. They had a shack outdoors on the ice in the winter on the Rideau canal,
which is the longest ice skating surface in the world, and we’d go skating, and part of the treat at the end of it was going to Hooker's Beaver Tails and getting a hot chocolate and a hot freshly cooked Beaver Tail, dipped in cinnamon and served with lemon. These days there’s a million toppings you can get and they have about 140 shops worldwide. A Beavertail is basically a flat wholemeal donut in the shape of a beaver's tail, freshly cooked and served hot. But like like all things that get huge, they're not quite the same anymore. The family sold it and it's a bulk manufacturing process now, worth a try and an institution nonetheless.
When I was growing up in Quebec, bakeries were still a huge thing. Still very much part of a French tradition and there was at least one in every neighbourhood. There was a bakery in a small town that we used to drive through to get to my Grandparents house in the Laurentian Mountains North of Montreal. We would always stop there, and they sold doughnuts by the plastic bag. These were essentially ring donuts, soaked in maple syrup... a bag full of them. They were amazing. I've never had anything like them before or since, but that place is long gone. So if you do know of anything like that, let me know!
What seems to be popular these days are very over the top Berliner style of donuts, like a jam donut or filled donut. Since we are on the topic of Berliners, here's a little donut oriented anecdote for you…. JFK famously said “Ich bin ein Berliner” – “I am a donut,” instead of “Ich bin Berliner” – “I am a citizen of Berlin.” You're welcome.
This style tends to be really artisanal and crafty these days. Popping up at farmers markets all over the land, filled with fresh cream, organic jams, Belgian chocolate ganaches. These are pretty special.I used to make these in my deli. We had all different kinds of speciality flavours. We were the first ones in New Zealand that I know of serving a range with a syringe filled with a complimentary flavour to inject. For example we had a lemon meringue donut with lemon custard and a syringe full of raspberry coulis, or a Snickers donut with a salted caramel injection a bit silly and gimmicky, but in the world of Instagram, you often have to be noticed to sell, but that’s where we live. Gimmicks outweigh substance so often.
But this helped us get known for our donuts and I have to admit it was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun being creative and watching people enjoy what you do.
When I was managing a large hospitality business in the UK, I had a pastry chef called Belinda, who wasn't trained, but everything she made was flawless. One day I saw Belinda standing at the porthole window into the dining room. I walked over and realised she was watching a customer. I said to her, "you're watching someone enjoy something you made aren't you? She just smiled and nodded, almost misting up. And that's why we do what we do.
That's the best part of creating things for people.
I have links below for my classic doughnut recipe, my Grandmother's Krofne, and my Beavertail recipe. I hope you have a go at making them and enjoy!! Buy from the little guys and support your local business. They're doing this because it's their passion.
My signature Doughnuts