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  • Writer's pictureTarah Cantrell

Easy Victorian Donuts!

This beginner recipe for donuts has been remixed for the 21st century cook, but it still retains the same Victorian charm and spice, as well as a history that feels so American and cozy, that I just had to share it!

While frying dough is an ancient tradition that shows up in many cultures across the world, modern donuts--the ones with the holes--are very much a product of the Victorian-era United States, and the particular recipe from which I have derived my own seems to be a descendant of those made by Elizabeth Gregory, the mother of a ship captain, whose own enchanting donut recipe helped ward off scurvy with lemon peel and literal nuts in the center where the hole should be. Gregory's delicious treats were most likely derived from Germany, where donuts were originally savory and often filled with meats and cheeses.

The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook was printed with the intention of bringing together a broad range of cooking skills and recipes to suite the American palette during the Gilded Age, and so a generic donut recipe passed down from its Germanic ancestor pastry kin sounds about as American as the hamburger to me. It's also just as delicious!

My own recipe draws on Fannie Farmer's recipe, which most was mostly influenced by those recipes across the Boston area similar to Gregory's, brought over a generation earlier. This modern take has two main differences: more spice and better-for-you cooking oil, should you choose that route to culinary success. That said, you can also use lard for frying just like I did in the video and it will taste just that much more delicious.

If you're ready to dive into the pot and fry up some easy, puffy treats, look no further:

Donuts the Old Fashioned Way

Yield: approx. 12 large donuts and holes or 24 small, cut donuts

Active Time: 30-60 minutes

Cook Time: 4 minutes, or 2 minutes on each side


1 cup sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 eggs

1 cup milk

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

3 1/2 cups flour + more for stiffening and rolling out dough

vegetable oil, canola oil, or lard for frying


2 mixing bowls

measuring cups

measuring spoons

mixing spoon


baking sheet

parchment or cooking spray

rolling pin (optional)

ruler (also optional)

knife, cup and piping bag tip, or pastry/donut cutters

large pot

slotted spoon or skewer

paper-lined plates

drying racks


Part 1: Make the Dough

  1. In the smaller of two bowls, cream half the sugar with the butter, then cream the other half of the sugar until mixture is light and fluffy.

  2. Combine eggs with butter sugar mixture, one at a time.

  3. Add milk to the mixture until a smooth batter begins to form.

  4. In the larger bowl, sift together the first portion of the flour with the baking powder, salt, and spices.

  5. In the larger bowl, fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture until a sticky dough forms.

  6. Once the dry mixture is fully incorporated, move on to the remaining flour.

  7. Combine remaining flour with the mixture until it is able to be touched without sticking and rolled out. (Don't worry; you can't easily use too much flour at this stage!)

  8. Flour your work surface.

  9. Lightly knead and roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.

  10. Cut and shape the dough as desired.

  11. Continue to lightly knead and roll out remaining dough until all is used.

Part 2: Fry the Dough

  1. Pour or scrape cooking oil of your choice into a large pot on medium high heat.*

  2. Use enough cooking oil that the donuts sit at least an inch above the bottom of the pot when floating.

  3. Allow the oil to come up to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintain this temperature throughout the frying process.**

  4. Using a slotted spoon or skewer, drop the donuts into the pot, ensuring they are not too crowded.

  5. After 2-3 minutes, flip the donuts so that they cook evenly.***

  6. After approximately 3-4 minutes, each donut should turn golden brown on both sides and be transferred to a paper towel or linen/cotton lined plate to drain before cooling on an additional rack or plate.

  7. Top the donuts with powdered sugar and enjoy. These donuts are good warm or cold and freeze wonderfully!

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Have you ever tried to deep-fry something at home? If so, how did it turn out?

Let me know in the comments below!


*Lard is best for flavor, but both canola and vegetable oils lend an airier texture to the donuts. Choose whichever is most readily available and diet-friendly for you.

**If you don't have a candy thermometer, wait until the oil is fully melted and shimmery but not smoking, then drop a donut hole into the oil to check for readiness. It should take the donut hole 2-3 minutes to puff up, cook fully, and become golden brown. If it does not alter its shape when added to the oil, then the oil is not ready yet. If it smokes or becomes brown in under a minute's time, then the oil is too hot and may need to be discarded and replaced if it is smoking.

***Wait only 1-2 minutes for the holes or 2" or smaller cut donuts, then flip them so that they cook evenly.


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