The goodness of glaze

From being an all-American snack, the doughnut has captured hearts across cultures. SUSANNA MYRTLE LAZARUS finds out what makes the sweet treat an international favourite

Updated - May 15, 2015 06:28 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2015 04:37 pm IST



Warm, jam-filled and crusted with sugar — the memory of the first doughnut I had as a child is not something I will forget. The sticky sugar got all over my clothes and the sickly sweet jam left red lines around my mouth not unlike the Joker’s scars, but it also left me with a lifelong love for the sweet snack.

Over the past week, a lot of people in the United Kingdom have been sharing videos of their attempts to eat a similar doughnut without licking their lips even once (it’s harder than it sounds). And doughnuts of all shapes, sizes and flavours are selling by the dozen, as people are indulging their sweet tooth by telling themselves that it’s for a good cause: National Doughnut Week.

Started by an independent baker, Christopher Freeman, in 1991, the annual event was meant to raise money for various children’s charities. So far, over 14 million doughnuts have been sold as part of the fundraiser, from small-time bakeries to the chain stores like Krispy Kreme. (If you’re easily amused, look up those doughnut-eating videos by searching for #nationaldoughnutweek on social media platforms.)

While its predecessors can be traced back to ancient civilisations, the doughnut as we know it today is attributed to Elizabeth Gregory. The mother of a mid-19th century ship’s captain, she made a fried dough delicacy flavoured with nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon rind, and filled it with nuts at the centre in case the dough didn’t cook through: hence the very literal name. They really caught on during World War I, when women volunteers, catchily called Doughnut Dollies, distributed millions of them to homesick American soldiers. The advent of the first doughnut-producing machine in 1920 cemented its popularity by becoming a fast food staple. And of course, Homer Simpson made the pink-frosted, sprinkle-covered doughnut a pop culture classic.

I’ll admit it; I did not wait for the big brands to grace Chennai with their presence. I once asked a friend who had gone home to Delhi for the holidays to bring me back a selection from the Singapore-based chain, Mad over Donuts. She, bless her soul, obliged. For many years, the sugar doughnut was all we could get in our neighbourhood bakeries. Occassionaly, we would come across a batch coated in a barely-there chocolate glaze. A slightly better version was available at the bakery chains and coffee shops that began popping up all over the city. And now, we’ve got dedicated stores that are filled with the divine scent of doughnuts being baked or fried. With more international brands launching in the city, I sense many delicious outings over the coming months.

In spite of the variety of choices now available, one can’t help but be jealous of those in cities like London and New York, with their Matcha, salted caramel, creme brulee and bacon-flavoured doughnuts apart from cronuts, duffins and lamnuts (inspired by the Australian Lamington cake).

Not to mention the fact that the USA has set apart at least four occasions to celebrate the doughy confectionary: National Doughnut Day, International Jelly-filled Doughnut Day, National Cream-filled Doughnut Day and Buy a Doughnut Day.

The thought of all this sugar drives me to the nearest mall to scarf down a chocolate-covered custard-filled doughnut. But it’s not just for dessert or a snack in a nation that loves its sweets: have it with coffee for breakfast or cut one in half, and make a sandwich with your favourite filling for lunch or dinner.

And while we can’t compete with John Haight, the Guinness Record holder for consuming 29 doughnuts in just over six minutes, go ahead and pick one up today. It is, after all, the weekend.

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