Optimist’s Donuts

Let’s kick off the New Year with a bit of optimism, a cuppa joe and nice, warm donuts you can fry up at home, courtesy of vintage donut cutters from QBO. Of course, you can use a cookie cutter or the rim of a drinking glass to cut the donut’s outer circumference, but for convenience and perfect proportions, nothing beats a purpose-made donut cutter. Although the hole may seem like a useless, whimsical design element, it’s there to ensure the dough cooks evenly, while the donut’s flat disc shape keeps its heavier side from constantly flipping down into the oil and becoming over-cooked. Clever! Donuts are either Cake (leavened with baking powder) or Risen (leavened with yeast). There are soft fried donut-like pastries consumed all over the world under many different names; basically, if a culture likes sweets, has a tradition of frying foods, and makes any kind of dough, they eventually end up making donuts.

At Queen B sales you’ll find donut cutters in with the cookie cutters because, well, they look the same. Like cookie cutters, donut cutters are made of tin, stainless steel or aluminum; with tin and steel constructed as open rings, like this square one, while aluminum cutters are given a solid top to help the softer metal hold its shape.

This round aluminum cutter with a painted wood handle dates from the 1950s, when bullet handles and that shade of green were popular. The hole cutter is easily removable with a slight twist, allowing you to also use the larger cutter as a biscuit or cookie cutter, and use the hole cutter to make extra donut holes from the scraps. Handy! Unfortunately, this feature means the parts can get separated so if you find one at a sale, dig around for the other, it’s probably there.

By today’s standards, these vintage cutters are small – 3″ across for the square one, slightly less for the round one. Dough expands as it fries, but not enough to make these homemade donuts ‘large’. That’s because, like many commercially-made foods, donuts have ballooned in size over the last 60 years (and it’s probably not a coincidence that many of us also have.)

The square version cuts efficiently with no scraps, and because it is a less common shape, there are multiple small bakeries across the U.S. who’ve made the [  ] donut their signature treat. The smallest cutter here with the bent-up handles was a promotion put out by Calumet Baking Powder. It makes mini-biscuits, or donuts when paired with a larger-size biscuit cutter. In the late 1980s the diet-conscious BAKED donut pan arrived, put out by multiple competing companies in either non-stick metal or silicon. They come in two sizes, either making 6 regular-sized donuts or 12 mini ‘donette’ sized treats, but alas, no donut holes!

If you want to make your own, here’s a simple fried cake donut recipe that doesn’t require the hours-long rising time of yeast donuts. Standard toppings are cinnamon or powdered sugar, but you can go nuts with toppings that were once considered exotic such as maple glaze & bacon bits. Just don’t go as far as Voodoo Donuts in Portland did when they ran afoul of the Food and Drug Administration by topping donuts with a Nyquill cough syrup-based glaze (they were told STOP OR BE SHUT DOWN.)

On that note, we will leave you with the Optimist’s Creed, motto of the now defunct Mayflower Donuts company: “As you ramble on through life, brother, Whatever be your goal, Keep your eye upon the doughnut, And not upon the hole!”  Happy New Year from all of us at QBO!