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Krondl scored the best book assignment ever: he got to travel around the world sampling the fried doughs of various cultures, and then across our own glorious nation, where the doughnut was perfected. Then he spent several weeks in his kitchen testing and sampling doughnut recipes. "I've been swimming in fat, so to speak," he says, "both saturated and unsaturated. I gained ten pounds. I weighed more than I've ever weighed. It's one of those occupational hazards."
Such bravery and self sacrifice!
The history of the doughnut, Krondl found, sort of mirrors our own. "It's the sweet snack of the United States," says Krondl. "We talk about Mom and apple pie, but Americans don't eat that much apple pie. And the cupcake . . . there's not much to say. Whereas doughnuts have been here since Day One. The English, the Germans, the French, everyone brought their fried dough with them. Like all immigrants, it became generally American. It's loaded down with cultural stories."
Throughout the 20th century, the production of the doughnut became ever more mechanized, reaching its apotheosis in Dunkin' Donuts, where the doughnuts are not actually made on-site, but rather shipped in from a bakery. "And now, in the 21st century," he continues, "there's more attention to artisanal, homemade food, this nerdy culinary culture."
Plus, unlike pie (even the hand pie), a doughnut is a food a single person can eat alone, on the go. What is more American than that?
If there's anything Krondl considers a cardinal doughnut sin, it's expecting people to eat doughnuts that are not freshly-fried. "Day-old gourmet doughnuts are not worth eating," he proclaims. Then he considers for a moment. "Well, it depends on how desperate you are."
Let it be known that Krondl once ate about 15 freshly made miniature doughnuts to figure out whether he liked then because they were good or just because they were fresh. He let a half dozen more sit out overnight and then tasted again before he could definitely conclude that the doughnuts were not that good, but that freshness concealed a multitude of sins.
In the course of his research, Krondl tasted a wide variety of exotic doughnuts, though not Voodoo Donut's Pepto-Bismol doughnut. (There is a law against putting medicine in food, but Krondl believes it would have run its course anyway: "There's only so much weirdness people will put up with.") He also did not try the original cronut, since he believes forcing people to wait in long lines for a limited selection of baked goods is "fundamentally sadistic." (Hello, Doughnut Vault!) He tried a vegan doughnut made with mushroom extract that tasted fruity, and a pork belly-filled, coconut-topped doughnut sandwich that tasted like southeast Asia (sweet and savory and fat), but his favorite was the creme brulee doughnut at Cartems Donuterie in Vancouver, which, he says, managed to have a burned sugar glaze not only on all outside surfaces, but inside as well.
That is the cutting edge of doughnut technology, friends. But Krondl predicts that strides will be made in the arena of gluten-free doughnuts. "They used to make doughnuts out of rye flour in New England," he says. "It's a little heavier, like French or Polish rye bread. There may be a world of non-wheat-based doughnuts to be explored."
If you're going to attempt to make doughnuts at home, Krondl recommends you start with his apple cider doughnut, or maybe a basic cake doughnut, since some bakers find yeast intimidating, and to fry the doughnuts in solid fat, either lard or Crisco, because it's less greasy than vegetable oil. Also, the doughnuts hold up better. Though he's included in his book a recipe for baked doughnuts, he considers them an aberration. "It's like low-fat bacon," he says. "Why?"
"There's something happy about the circle," he muses. "It's like a happy face."
Krondl himself is spending National Doughnut Day doing more interviews about the book, but he urges everyone to celebrate by getting a good dozen doughnuts from a respectable artisan doughnut place. "Spend the few extra bucks," he urges. "With the proviso that they're fresh."