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doughnuts recipe

Learn about this recipe from our historic foodways staff, then try it at home

Doughnuts, pretzels, coleslaw, and the treats that became “cookies” are all of Dutch origins. These yeast-leavened bits of dough were dropped from the end of a spoon to form irregularly shaped balls. The Dutch served these at Christmas and other special occasions.

18th Century

Dry half a pound of good brown sugar, pound it and mix it with two pounds of flour and sift it; add two spoonfuls of yeast, and as much new milk as will make it like bread; when well risen, knead in half a pound of butter, make in cakes the size of a half dollar, and fry them a light brown in boiling lard.

— Randolph, Mary. “The Virginia Housewife”

21st Century


  • ½ pound of light brown sugar
  • 2 lbs. all purpose flour
  • 2 packages of active dry yeast
  • ½ lb. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Lard, peanut or vegetable oil


  1. Heat the milk in a sauce pan until lukewarm(100 degrees, no more). Add a spoonful of the sugar, and the yeast to the warm milk.  Let the yeast ‘bloom’ (or get foamy) for at least 10 minutes. When the yeast is foamy, add several handfuls of flour to make a pancake-like batter and the rest of the sugar.
  2. Break the butter into several pieces and mix into the remaining flour with your fingers. Make the butter the size of peas.
  3. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes. When the yeast mixture is bubbling and foamy, pour into the flour and mix with your hands. Knead together until combined. Add more flour if necessary to make the dough firm. Place the dough in a greased bowl.
  4. Cream a piece of butter between your hands and rub it all over the surface of the dough to prevent a crust from forming while it rises.
  5. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and place it in a warm place to allow the dough to rise, approximately one hour. It will double in volume.
  6. When ready punch down the dough and reform it into a ball. Pull the ball apart into eight or ten equal sections. Pull these sections apart to form little dough balls, ½ inch thick.
  7. Place the doughnuts on a floured cookie sheet and cover with a damp towel for 30 minutes.
  8. Heat the oil to 365 degrees in a Dutch oven or deep fat fryer.
  9. Fry the dough balls in batches, four at a time. Turn the doughnuts after a minute to achieve uniform color.
  10. Drain on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for twenty minutes before serving.

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