Doughnuts play a central role in my life.
I’m not so proud that I can’t admit that there have been nights when I’ve gone to bed excited about the doughnut waiting for me in the morning.
Every Saturday morning for as far back as my increasingly dim memory can recall, I’ve bought doughnuts for our family. In recent years, we’ve expanded the concept of “doughnut” to include pastries, especially the cream horns, turnovers and cinnamon rolls from Baker’s Bench in Westbrook. If you haven’t yet had the chance to taste the cream horns, turnovers and cinnamon rolls from Baker’s Bench, do so immediately. They are the best in the world. Trust me. There was a test.
The term “doughnut” comes from Elizabeth Gregory in mid-19th century New England, the mother of a ship captain. She deep-fried globs of dough for her son, using the spices that he transported. She often incorporated lemon rind into the fried dough to ward off scurvy on long voyages. That’s the exact same reason I buy doughnuts and pastries every Saturday morning. Got to ward off scurvy during soccer practice. But she found that sometimes the center of the fried dough hadn’t cooked enough, which is disgusting, so she took to placing hazelnuts or walnuts in the center to avoid the goo. Hence: doughnuts, which was infinitely better than what “doughnuts” had been called when they first came to America: oily cakes. By the way, Mrs. Gregory’s son claimed to be the first to put the hole in the doughnut. Some say he did it to hang it on a spoke in the captain’s wheel. Cynics say he did it to skimp on ingredients. Either way, it works.
Some people say that doughnuts are bad for you. To them, I say shut up. A doughnut was a treat that remained accessible even during the Great Depression. Many were even sold with inspirational quotes, like “As you go through life make this your goal: Watch the doughnut, not the hole.” Come on, if that doesn’t make you tear up, then you’re just a nasty doughnut-hater.
Doughnuts greeted our soldiers in WWI and again in WWII. Although, sadly, doughnuts did not spark the nickname Doughboys. That nickname predated the rise (get it?!?) of the doughnut, having been bestowed upon foot soldiers by cavalry during the Civil War because of the glob-like buttons on their uniforms.
Doughnuts rule. But this is America and and that’s not enough for us. We need to know which doughnut is number one. Rest assured, we have scientifically determined which place makes the best doughnut in Maine, or at least the portion we can easily drive to.
At my law firm one day, a group of us were engaged in an increasingly tense debate over whether the rise (I did it again!) of the potato doughnut signaled the end of days. This led to an even more violent argument about which shop made the best doughnut. Tempers flared. Punches were thrown. Someone might have gotten sued. Then calmer heads prevailed and a competition was suggested. Our first annual doughnut-off.
Guessing that some of us (me) would not play fair in this competition, the more anal retentive members of my firm devised a matrix of a score sheet involving trigonometry and knowledge of the ancient language of Sanskrit and we set about to prove scientifically which doughnut was the best. Each of us could submit one speciality doughnut and one “regular” doughnut from each shop and then all would taste and vote. To avoid being sued (and to avoid the baleful glare of nutritionists everywhere), I won’t name all the shops we sampled, but there were many. It took weeks but finally we had a winner.
The Cookie Jar in Cape Elizabeth.
My favorite thing about The Cookie Jar is its doughnut hole. These aren’t munchkins. These are balls of cake coated in glaze that are bigger than a poodle’s head. Eat one and you’ll have such a sugar buzz that you lose the ability to modulate the volume of your voice. Eat two and you’ll shake uncontrollably. Eat three and you’ll black out, waking up weeks later in Cancun with no pants. It’s awesome.
Now, I know what you’re saying. Since The Cookie Jar was my favorite going into the competition, I must have cheated. There had to be voter fraud. Two responses: first, that’s hurtful; second, of course I cheated.
So prove me wrong. If you have a doughnut that is better, let me hear it. Actually, let me taste it. Just not potato doughnuts. Those really are the coming of armageddon.
To hear comedian Jim Gaffigan explain why everyone loves doughnut, click here.