Category Archives: About Donuts

Doughnut vs. Donut

Since it’s still going to be de facto winter for a while, I thought I’d ease us into doughnut review season with an explanation of why I don’t use the vernacular spelling, donut, and decisively prefer “doughnut.”

Fifth Grade

Scene: Mrs. Wiener’s English class. We had a small in-class spelling bee and I was sure I had it in the bag. Primarily concerned with the harder words towards the end, I wasn’t focused on the boring initial rounds of easy ones.

It was my turn. Doughnut.

“D-O-N-U-T,” I spouted.

I think, deep down, I knew better, but the popular short spelling came too easily. I was out.

That traumatic experience is part of why I always spell “doughnut” in its full, and, in my opinion, correct form. But there’s more to it than that.

D-O-U-G-H-N-U-T Origin

You can find one of the first written definitions of the word “doughnut” in Washington Irving’s 1809 satire History of New York, as he describes treats served at high-class tea parties:

balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks—a delicious kind of cake

You can tell from the passage that at this point in time, doughnuts more closely resembled what we now call a doughnut hole, so the “nut” refers to it being a small round lump rather than the ring-shaped fastener that’s meant to be mated to a bolt (holes aren’t mentioned until around 1861, so the common speculation that “nut” is a variant spelling of “naught” or zero in reference to the hole seems off). It’s funny how it still works with the modern form of this pastry, though.

The contraction “donut” first appears around 1870, but its rise in use coincides with the founding of the Massachusetts-based chain Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950. Correlation is not causation, but the strength of this enduring brand is hard to dismiss.

Nowadays, the full spelling is used more often outside the United States while it seems like most Americans have embraced the abbreviated version.

Language Evolves. Get Over It.

Theodore Roosevelt: A Few Shots at the King's English

Simplified spelling is as American as, well, the doughnut itself. So why do I cling to the old spelling? I empathize with spelling reform, but ultimately, I believe that it’s more important for words to convey meaning than be easy to spell. Whatever you want “nut” to be—the chunk, the fastener, the reference to emptiness—the “dough” is unambiguous: a thick paste of flour. It’s the foundation upon which this dessert is built.

Secondly, are we really going to allow silly restaurant chains to meaninglessly change our language? If the folks at Olive Garden start writing UNLIMITED BREADSTIX everywhere, here’s hoping we’re strong enough to resist.

And finally, there’s more at stake here. One of my major complaints with the current trend of artisanal doughnuts is the narrow focus on toppings. Innovative frostings and glazes are fun and they’re often the first thing you taste as you bite down. But that enjoyment is fleeting if it’s followed by a dry, overly dense, aftertaste-ridden pastry. The dough is vital. Let’s not obscure its role in the experience.

Our Favorite Donuts

Since we’re planning to eat them whenever possible in our reviews, we thought we’d take a moment to talk about our favorite donuts and what we like about them so much.

Duc’s Favorite – Glazed Yeast Doughnut

I generally like uncomplicated foods and I appreciate it when someone perfects a very simple product. Without a lot of different flavors distracting your palate, you can really taste when the dough has nothing interesting going on, or the glaze is too sweet, or the fry oil is too old.

Your standard glazed yeast-raised doughnut is straightforward and unpretentious. I like fluffy, moist innards. I like it when the glaze is smooth and non-tacky. So, for instance, you can run your finger over it without getting sticky, but it’s not so dry that it’s hard and crunchy. The plain sugar glaze tends to produce a thinner coat than the frosting-type doughnut toppings, allowing you to really taste the dough. A truly balanced doughnut.

Laurel’s Favorite – Old Fashioned Donut

In its very nature, this donut is least donut-like of all the donuts. I think that’s why I like it so much. It’s more like a piece of cake that’s deep-fried and submerged in frosting, which fills the valleys of the donut crust like a flood overtaking a small village. I find that it frequently has much more flavor than other donuts, with vanilla often taking center stage, which of course, no one should ever complain about.

Apparently, this kind of donut is called a Sour Cream Donut in many places in the northeast, which is just as well because the more interesting the dough, the better the donut, and sour cream is a great additive. The introduction of sour cream brings a rich fullness, and when met with a bright, fluffy cake, this donut can be killer.

What’s your favorite donut?
Convince us why your favorite donut is better than ours and we’ll include it in our reviews. Check out this incredibly ridiculous list of donuts!


What’s going on?

We are Duc and Laurel (read more about us here). We work together at a software company, where the self-inflicted punishment for causing any type of temporary harm in a codebase is to bring the company donuts. So we… eat a lot of donuts.

Duc has always sought out donuts. He finds them to be the perfect combination of fluffy and moist, sweet and sticky, soft and crisp. Laurel appreciates these elements of donuts too, but with much less zest. She has a great overall appreciation for food, and thinks that at their best, donuts sure can deliver. But at their worst… Damn! They are not worth eating.

We thought we should probably find all the places in Ithaca that make donuts, and ascertain, once and for all, where is best.

How will it work?

We will each rate the donuts on a 5-point scale. There are just two categories: texture and flavor. The scores of both will be added together, and our individual scores will be averaged together to create their official ranking score (out of 10). As we taste all the donuts in Ithaca, we will end up with a definitive ranking based on these scores.

Why are we doing this?

Because it sounded like a fun thing to do.

Is that it?

I think that’s it.