Thursday, October 20, 2005
Last night, someone at work (my part time job, mind you, and nothing glamourous--I'm the reservationist) brought me a doughnut fresh from the fryer, a little experiment by one of the cooks in pastry, drizzled with a little confectionary sugar glaze. It was, of course, delicious.
Doughnuts are a food that I can get really emotional about. When I was a kid, my father once drove me to a friends house on a snowy Sunday morning. Our Pontiac station wagon (the kind with the faux bois decals) couldn't make it up the back road, wheels spinning on the ice, so I offered to get out of the car and walk. After all, the house was just up over that rise, past a small pond and to the right, an old Vermont farmhouse.
Hours later, my friends mother called my dad to see when I was coming over. My father realized that he'd dropped me on the wrong country lane, where I had been walking, and walking, and walking. What he didn't know was that after I had walked for a few hours and it had started to snow a little old man pulled up in a Jeep. It was the first and only car I had seen since being dropped off, so I followed my 8 year old instincts and took a ride with him to his house where his wife, I swear to god, was making doughnuts. From scratch. It was like the best kid's dream, ever. I don't remember wanting to go home, but I do know that when my father finally arrived in a borrowed truck to rescue me, the old man's wife sent me packing with a brown sack of fresh sugar donuts, the grease staining the bag.
I only mention this story so that you will understand my stance on doughnuts. Despite years living in Boston, I've come to the conclusion that Dunkin' Donuts are NOT GOOD DOUGHNUTS. To me, a plain doughnut means a plain cake doughnut, unglazed, unsugared. The fluffy kind with sugar coating? That's a glazed doughnut, having nothing to do with plain doughnuts. My favorite of all, though, which are nearly ubiquitous in apple country this time of year, are apple cider doughnuts. The spicy, dense cake, when fresh from the fryer, has an outer crust that crunches slightly when you bite into it. So far, in San Francisco, I have found no traces of cider doughnuts. The closest doughnut shop, Happy Donut, must be a front for some other type of operation, because they give you a bags worth of donuts for the price of one. They are decent, super sweet, but no cider doughnut.
The origin of the doughnut is difficult to determine. Variations on the fried dough theme were popular throughout Europe long before the signature doughnut as we know it came to American shores. One of the first mention of doughnuts is in Washington Irving's "History of New York" published in 1809, where he describes balls of dough fried in hog's fat that resembled oversize walnuts (the nut in doughnut, presumbably). And a small plaque at a home in Rockland, Maine, identifies that spot as the birthplace of the doughnut hole (1847), the brainchild of a Maine seaman.
At any rate, one of my favorite spots for cider doughnuts is the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, in Waterbury, Vermont. Though you cannot order their doughnuts online (a freshness question, I'm sure, though I'd take a stale one of their doughnuts over many others) you can order their cider donut mix. I can't attest to the quality, but if you have a hood fan and a dream, I suggest you try it out.