How to make Donuts 

I love doughnuts. When I crave one, however, I usually go to one of the excellent doughnut shops in my area, rather than make them myself. It was exciting to try this delicious recipe for spiced, sweet donuts fried in butter when friends were visiting earlier this summer. We were all delighted with how they turned out.

 I hope this recipe for “How to make Donuts” will entice you into the kitchen. Today I’m also inviting you to a virtual baking competition: the second, annual The Great Rare Books Bake Off, a friendly contest between the sister libraries of Penn State University and Monash University. There are twelve intriguing recipes to try out; six from the collection of each library. An engraved pie pan trophy will be awarded to the library that receives the most social media posts featuring photos of your baked goods tagged with its hashtag: #BakePennState or #BakeMonash. The competition runs 5-11 September 2021 so you have lots of time to read the recipes, shop for ingredients, and get baking. All the details are on the site linked above.

As the Penn State lead baker, I encourage you, Cooking in the Archives readers, to give these donuts a try and cast your vote in #TheGreatRareBooksBakeOff If doughnuts are not for you, there other recipes to choose from. Last year, I updated a lemon tart recipe and I’ve also helped with some of the early twentieth-century recipes: Suffrage Angel Cake (new this year!), Cinnamon Buns, and Lamington Cake. I might give the Pavlova recipe a try next week, too.

Thanks to the hard-working digitization staff at Penn State Libraries, I’ve been able to spend time with images of Christian Barclay’s manuscript recipe book even though I haven’t been able to visit Eberly Family Special Collections to consult it in person recently. Her recipe with instructions “How to make Donuts” (61v) is one of the many culinary and medicinal recipes in the volume. Here is the information about the manuscript that my Penn State Libraries colleagues wrote up for our Bake Off site:

This donut recipe comes from a handwritten recipe book kept by Christian Barclay from 1697-1723, which includes cooking recipes, home remedies, instructions for dying cloth various colors, and two pages of marriage and birth records of her children with Alexander Jaffray. The recipe book is part of the Robert Barclay of Ury family papers and maps, 1685-1835 collection.

I have a few more recipes from Barclay’s manuscript on my to-cook list and I’m also hoping to transcribe it with future students as a part of my “What’s in a Recipe?” undergraduate research project.

The Recipe

How to make Donuts 

Take one english pint of flour take 3 eggs

taking out 2 of the yolks, beat it with 

suggar, till they be like a thin sirup

grate a little ginger, & 2 or 3 cloves &

nutmug among it, take as much butter

as eggs, & as much milk as eggs and

butter both, put the butter & milk to 

the boyll together, then pour it in

among the flour, stirring it with

a spoon, then put in the eggs still

working it up like paste, roull it out

with a roulling pin, like a cake,

cut it in what form ye please, have

a pan boylling with a good deall of

butter, so putting them in the boylling

butter little & little, let them

boyll till they be crisp, then take 

them out if ther be butter enough

to color them ye may put in

& take out till the butter be

quite broun.

Some modern doughnuts are leavened with yeast and have an open, light texture while others get their rise from bicarbonate of soda and have a denser, cake-like texture. Barclay’s donuts puff-up slightly from the eggs during frying, but are unlike either modern yeasted or cake doughnuts. The flavors, however, are spectacular. The blend of ginger, clove, and nutmeg spices with the rich, sweet dough, and butter frying medium makes for a truly delicious treat.

Updated Recipe

Makes 24+ 2-inch (50 mm) donut rounds.

3 eggs (one whole egg and two egg whites)

¼ cup (50g) sugar

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg

1 cup (250g) milk

17 tablespoons (238g) butter, divided – 9 tablespoons (125g) butter for the dough, 8 tablespoons (113g) for frying 

2 cups flour (272g), plus additional flour for rolling out dough

Optional: powdered sugar for serving

Separate the whites from the yolks of two eggs. You will use one whole egg and two egg whites for the batter. 

Whisk together the eggs, spices, and sugar. Set aside.

Melt butter and warm milk together in a saucepan or the microwave until the mixture begins to bubble.

Measure out the flour in a large bowl. Pour the hot butter and milk mixture and stir to combine. Then add the egg mixture and form into a soft dough.

Put the dough on a floured surface and flatten with your hands and/or a rolling pin to approximately ¼ inch (1/2 cm) thickness. Cut the dough into rounds or strips that will fit in your frying pan or skillet. (I used a 1 inch (50mm) pastry ring to cut small, circular donuts.)

Heat butter in a sturdy frying pan or skillet until sizzling. The butter-level should be high enough that the thin donuts are almost entirely submerged.

Fry the donuts in butter until golden brown and crispy. Flip the doughnuts so that both sides brown. Depending on your stove and pan, this should take approximately 1 minute for each side. Not all your donuts will fit in the pan at the same time. Do not crowd them and instead cook in approximately three batches. 

Consume your donuts immediately. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving if desired. 

donut held in hand over plate

The Results

Sweet, lightly-spiced, and buttery, these donuts were delicious straight from the frying pan. My guests and I devoured the first batch while I was still frying the others. There were no leftovers.

6 thoughts on “How to make Donuts 

  1. This is very different from my experience, as you are using butter as the fat to fry the doughnuts. I’m sure that is delicious, and was what was used under some circumstances. Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville, NJ has been doing a lantern tour of the historic Johnson-Ferry House for many years, usually an evening in December. People would buy tickets and meet at the Delaware River, and then walk, in the dark by lantern light (no flashlights!) to the house on the hill. We would be making doughnuts over the open hearth with the help of candlelight and serve them (public health officials, please close your eyes!) to the public. It is an immense challenge to deep fry doughnuts in the dark by candlelight over an open fire. But this is how our ancestors did it and so do we. If you are an 18th century lady doing this job, you learn a lot of things that the 21st century woman does not know. We used vegetable oil–not what would have been used back in the day–and brought it to a boil in a cast iron deep sauce pan. We tested the temperature of the oil by dropping a small quantity of doughnut dough into the oil and seeing how long it would take to turn brown. As I recall 5 seconds was about right. We used the wonderful recipe for Oly-koecks from Peter Rose’s “The Sensible Cook” (1667 Dutch). They are a yeasted dough stuffed with brandy-soaked raisins and citron and deep fried in oil till they are brown. Then we rolled them in powdered sugar (confectioner’s in our case–knowing that was not what would have been used). We have served as many as 100 guests touring the historic site in a three hour time frame. It is a daunting task, I can tell you. .

    • Mercy, thank you so much for sharing this! Please let me know when the lantern tour happens again. I may also have to track down the Oly-koecks recipe, too.

      • I’ve been making these for years. As a side note, I have become friends with Peter Rose (a lady who was born and raised in the Netherlands) and whom I will be visiting over the weekend. She will be so pleased to hear you are using her recipe. Here is her interpretation of the 17th century recipe: Lansing Recipe for Oly-koechs. 1 3/4 cups raisins, 1 cup citron, 1/2 cup brandy, 3 packages dry yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, pinch sugar, 8 tablespoons butter, 2 cups milk, 1 cup sugar, 3 egg yolks, 3 egg whites, stiffly beaten, 6-8 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and oil for deep frying. I soak the raisins and citron in brandy overnight and then drain them and mix the rest of the dough the evening before I am going to make the doughnuts. (We are also making them in an unheated 17th century historic site so that affects and limits the rise of the dough.) While the oil is heating over the fire, we form the doughnuts. We take a piece of dough about 2 tablespoons in quantity and stuff it with maybe a teaspoon of raisins and citrons forming a tight seal around the filling. They rise while the oil is coming to a boil. You can tell the temperature of the oil by the size of the bubbles surrounding the doughnut. Big bubble=hot oil. Tiny bubble=oil not hot enough. Middle sized bubbles=add more heat. I have been known to hide a digital thermometer under my linen apron, but you really don’t need it after you get your senses accommodated to the process. Eighteenth century cooking is sensory if nothing else. It’s not about time and temperature. Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll try to remember to let you know if they have a Lantern Tour this year. Last year the Covid pandemic caused it to be cancelled. Mercy

      • Thank you for this recipe, Mercy! I hope you have a wonderful visit. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a Lantern Tour someday soon.

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