Doughnuts and Fritters

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Doughnuts and fritters are essentially pieces of bread or pastry dough that are fried in oil rather than baked. Doughnuts have a moist interior and little or no crust, while fritters are usually fried until crisp.

The word doughnut was coined in the United States in the 19th century to name what the Dutch called olykoeks, portions of fried sweetened dough. Their great popularity flowered in the 1920s, when machinery simplified the handling of the soft, sticky doughs, which are rich in sugar, fat, and sometimes eggs. There are two main styles: yeasted doughnuts are light and fluffy, while cake doughnuts, leavened with baking powder, are denser. Light, yeasted doughnuts ride on the oil surface and must be turned, which leaves a white band around their circumference where the oil surface cooks the dough less thoroughly. Doughnuts are fried at a moderate temperature, originally in lard and now usually in a hydrogenated vegetable shortening, which solidifies when the doughnut cools to provide a dry rather than oily surface.