Isle of Wight doughnuts


Preparation info

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Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Fritters are another example of how people baked sweets without or before the wider use of the oven.

The first reference and recipe for Isle of Wight Doughnuts appeared in Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton in 1845. She explains that when the ‘doughnuts are made in large quantities, as they are at certain seasons in the island, they are drained upon very clean straw’. This tells us that these doughnuts were indeed popular on the island, although the first time they appear in a newspaper is 33 years later in the Portsmouth Evening News of May 1878, in an advertisement for a confectioner in Portsmouth (which is close to but not actually on the Isle of Wight) advertising the sale of ‘The Isle of Wight Dough Nut’ in their shop.

The Isle of Wight Doughnut must have been around much earlier as Rosa Raine mentions remembering them from her childhood in her book, The Queen’s Isle: Chapters on the Isle of Wight, published in 1861. Raine writes that they are peculiar to the island and that she was given these buns as a child. She tells us they are locally known as ‘birds’ nests’ and when torn open they are filled with a ‘little cluster of plums’, which would’ve been raisins.

Eliza Acton uses lard in her pastry and for frying, and while I enjoy using lard when I can use home-made lard or an organic brand, I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Feel free to use butter for the pastry and oil for frying.


  • 15 g (½ oz) dried yeast
  • 300 ml (10½ fl oz) lukewarm full-fat milk
  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) strong white bread flour
  • 50 g ( oz) dark brown sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • 30 g (1 oz) lard or butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 5 g ( oz) fine sea salt
  • currants
  • lard, beef tallow or oil, for deep-frying
  • icing (confectioners’) sugar, for dusting


Add the yeast to the lukewarm milk and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready for use. Combine the flour, sugar and spices in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and put the lard or butter on top. Pour in half the yeast mixture and start kneading. When the milk and lard or butter are completely absorbed, add the rest of the yeast mixture. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then let it stand for a few minutes (at this point the dough will be very wet). Add the salt and then knead for 10 minutes, scraping the dough off the dough hook and side of the bowl if needed, until the dough has come together in a smooth and elastic dough that is not too dry but also not terribly wet.

Cover the dough and set aside for 1 hour until it has doubled in quantity. Meanwhile, cover a baking tray with baking paper.

Briefly knead the dough and divide it into 16 equal pieces. Take a piece of dough and lightly flatten it on your work surface. Put a couple of currants in the middle, then pull the outer parts in like a purse and gently squeeze the dough together like a dumpling so that it can no longer split open while rising. Turn the dough over so the squeezed ends are on the bottom. It should be nice and smooth on top – if not, flatten it and start again. Place the doughnuts on the baking tray and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.

Heat the lard, beef tallow or oil in a deep-fryer or a deep flameproof casserole dish to 180-190°C (350-375°F). Use a slotted spoon to carefully immerse the doughnuts in the hot oil and cook in batches until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towel while you cook the remaining doughnuts. Serve dusted with icing sugar.