Maple Syrup Doughnuts ★★★★

"Our Doughnut Girl." War Cry, November 9, 1918.
I've noticed a recent trend has been to celebrate various food holidays. Most of them seem pretty random, both in date and food, and I generally thought of them as a modern invention. So I was surprised to see that today, the first Friday in June, is National Doughnut Day and that the tradition dates back to 1938! Unfortunately this is a national holiday in the United States - But! This doesn't mean we non-Americans can't celebrate the history and tastiness of doughnuts! I have to say though, considering Canada is home of Tim Hortons and consumes the most doughnuts per capita, why do we not celebrate this holiday too?!

National Doughnut Day was created by the Chicago Salvation Army as a way to honour women who had served doughnuts to soldiers during World War One and to act as a fundraiser during the Great Depression (1930-1940s). During World War One, "huts" were set up in Europe by the Salvation Army which served baked goods, mended clothing, and provided basic supplies for writing letters. Women were chosen to run these huts so that they could "mother" the male soldiers. No doubt they provided a comforting presence. Providing doughnuts at the huts was the idea of Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance, two volunteers. Doughnuts became so popular that the women who served them became known as "Doughnut Dollies."

If you haven't had your fill of doughnuts today, fear not! You can also take part in International Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day (tomorrow! June 8th), National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day (September 14), and Buy A Doughnut Day (October 30).

Doughnuts themselves have an even older history, and are present in some sense on every continent - beignets in France, churros in Spain and Latin America, zeppole in Italy, paczki in Poland, dolcho in Africa, jam doughnuts in Australia, and sufganiyah in Israel. The unassuming doughnut can be traced back as far as Ancient Rome, where sweet dough was fried in oil. In the middle ages, deep-fried yeast cakes were invented in Northern Europe. There is a long tradition of these kinds of fried dough being eaten for breakfast or as fair food. Here in Canada we particularly love to eat Beaver Tails at fairs - yum!

Young woman with a cooking pot of
oliebollen (oliekoecken) by Aelbert Cuyp, c. 1652.
It is generally assumed that the Dutch (thumbs up for my ancestors!) were responsible for introducing the doughnut to the New World, in the early form of their recipe, called oliekoecken (literally, oil cakes). These sweet balls were traditionally eaten during the winter holiday season, which isn't surprising, as they contain many of the typical ingredients in Christmas fruit cake, such as almonds, cinnamon, ginger, currants, raisins, and citrus zest.

Anthropologist Paul R. Mullins determined that the first cookbook to mention doughnuts (by that name) was published in England in 1803. By the mid-1800s doughnuts became popular in American cookbooks and were so ingrained in the local culture that they became a staple in the American kitchen.

If you'd like to read more about the doughnut, particularly in the Canadian context, I highly recommend Steven Penfold's The Donut: A Canadian History.

As you might imagine, there were a ton of recipes to choose from for today's theme. I really had a hard time choosing. I was going to make a recipe for Dutch Krullen (Crullers) from the 19th century, but then I remembered another recipe...A few days ago I bought this book which caught my eye, Handwritten Recipes by Michael Popek. The book includes recipes written on scraps of paper, which Popek found slipped inside various books at his used book store. One of the recipes included in the book is for Maple Syrup Doughnuts. I cannot verify the time period of this recipe, but it was found in a book published in 1953. A brief internet search didn't turn up much, except for this recipe from Cooks' Woods, which is practically identical.

Original Recipe:
Maple Syrup Doughnuts
1 cup Maple Syrup
2 Eggs
3 tbl shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp soda
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp Vanilla
2/3 cup sour milk
Flour to make workable dough. Mix ingredients as stated adding enough flour to make dough workable. Pat out on floured board to 1/2 inch thickness and cut with doughnut cutter. Fry in hot fat, heated to 370 degrees.

The Verdict:
This recipe doesn't specify any kind of sugar or glaze to go on top of these doughnuts, although that is often included in other recipes I've read. I'm not sure if this is because they are not meant to have a glaze, or if it was considered standard practice and didn't need to be included in the recipe. Anyway, these doughnuts are not very sweet. They are good plain, but don't really taste of maple (mostly nutmeg) and are barely sweet. I brushed some maple syrup over the tops of some of them and I think it really improved them, but of course it wasn't "authentic". That said, these aren't bad at all, and Mr. Man and Little Y and I all enjoyed them plain.

It also took me a bit of time to get the temperature of the oil (I don't have a thermometer) and the timing right, but I always expect the first few batches to be a mess anyway. However, this recipe is pretty forgiving, and even when overcooked the doughnuts were edible.

The texture of the doughnuts was dense and bread-like, especially when overcooked. They will sink to the bottom when you first put them in the oil, but will come quickly to the surface and float. They need to be flipped over at least once and should be cooked to a golden brown, as in my photographs. Any darker and they will be edible, but very dense. They cook very quickly.

Modernized Version:
3 tablespoons SHORTENING
Pinch of SALT
1 teaspoon BAKING SODA
1 teaspoon BAKING POWDER
1/2 teaspoon NUTMEG
1 teaspoon VANILLA
2/3 cups SOUR MILK (use buttermilk or milk with a splash of lemon juice in it)
~5 cups of FLOUR

1. In a large mixing bowl, blend together the maple syrup and shortening. Add the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the flour. Mix well and slowly add the flour until it becomes a thick dough which can be rolled out. I used about 5 cups, I think.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll or pat out the dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Use a doughnut cutter or two different sized circle cutters to cut out doughnut shapes.
3. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan (a couple inches, to deep fry the doughnuts) and cover a plate with paper towels. Fry the doughnuts in the oil, turning at least once and cooking until golden brown. Remove to the paper towels and let cool. If desired, brush the tops with maple syrup or dust with powdered sugar.


"Doughnut." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 May 2013. Web. 06 June 2013. <>.

Olver, Lynne. "Doughnuts." The Food Timeline. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 June 2013. <>.

"National Donut
Day." Donut Day USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2013. <>.

"National Doughnut Day." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 June 2013.

"Oliebol." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 May 2013. Web. 06 June 2013. <>.

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.


  1. Hi Anje,

    We celebrate many edible celebrations on my blog each month, as a matter of fact, I did a post for National Doughnut Day a while back. I'd love to include the link to this post on my blog if you don't mind. Here's the link if you would like to check it out first.

    Thank you so much for sharing this historic view of Donut Day and of course the Maple Syrup Doughnut recipe.

    P.S. I've been "lurking" here often but I don't usual comment:)

    1. You are most welcome to link me!
      And I always love to hear from lurkers :)