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In The Family
Who Served the First Doughnut In America?

Hint: It starts with the Dutch word for “oily cakes.”

Though the doughnut seems like a quintessentially American invention, it’d be more honest to describe the fried delight as a confluence of several foreign cultures converging on American shores. Fried cakes of dough date back to ancient Native American cooking traditions, but the first American doughnut that we’d recognize as a doughnut hit New York City (then New Amsterdam) in the 17th century, when Dutch colonials started cooking olykoeks, literally “oily cakes.” These proto-doughnuts were exclusively yeast-risen and flavored with nuts, dried fruits, or citrus zest, and were pancake-shaped without the modern doughnut’s signature hole.

It wasn’t until 1847 that an American named Hanson Gregory took credit for creating the first toroidal doughnut, a shape that cooks more evenly without a raw doughy center. When he showed the trick to his mother, she stuck walnuts in the center of the dough balls to act as spacers, which were then removed post-fry to form a whole. Hence the name: dough nut.

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.