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Where is the place that doughnuts were invented?

Doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar. Photo iStock/Getty Images Plus
Doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar. Photo iStock/Getty Images Plus

Delectably sweet, squidgy and sugary, is it any wonder Herts is keen to lay claim to being the birthplace of the doughnut? We find out why it’s no ideal boast…

Twixt optimist and pessimist,

The difference is droll...

The optimist sees the doughnut;

The pessimist, the hole.

Author unknown

Whether they come with holes or without, we’re certainly prepared to take the optimistic view that the doughnut – that delicious, bready, sugar-dusted treat - originated right here in our own county. And that optimism isn’t merely based on our own craving for one with a welcome mug of tea, it comes down to evidence. In 2013, local historian Dr Heather Falvey, secretary of the Hertfordshire Records Society, caused quite a stir with her discovery of a particular recipe reproduced by Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale, wife of Dr Thomas Dimsdale, famous for his work with smallpox, who lived in Hertford around 1800. The recipe was contained in a book that Dr Falvey went on to publish: The Receipt Book of Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale c1800. The recipe for ‘dow nuts’ was attributed to a local farmer’s wife ‘Mrs Fordham’, and its discovery seemed to debunk the widely held theory that the first doughnut was invented by an American in 1847.

Great British Life: Doughnuts... a delight orginally dreamt up in a humble Hertfordshire kitchen?Doughnuts... a delight orginally dreamt up in a humble Hertfordshire kitchen?

‘Although I saw the doughnut recipe in the Baroness’s collection when I was working on the book, I didn’t think anything of it,’ Dr Falvey recalls when we catch up with her, ‘But in 2013, New York food writer Michael Krondl made enquiries about Hertfordshire's connection with the doughnut’s invention.’

The US food writer was researching the history of the doughnut for his own book The Donut – History, Recipes and Lore and had also come across the mention of doughnuts in William Hone’s The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information (1828). Says the 19th-century book: ‘At Baldock … Shrove Tuesday is long counted of by the juveniles, by whom it is known as Doughnut Day, it being usual for the mothers to make good store of small cakes fried in hog’s lard.’

However according to Dr Falvey, it turns out that Hertfordshire’s link with the doughnut goes back even earlier. Published 50 years before the Baroness’s recipe, William Ellis of Little Gaddesden, near Hemel Hempstead, refers to fried dough cakes in his book The Country Housewife’s Family Companion. Printed in 1750, it includes a recipe for a ‘cushion’ or ‘nut’ that resembled a modern beignet and certainly sounds like a precursor to the doughnuts we enjoy today.

Great British Life: Michael updated the recipe Photo Michael KrondlMichael updated the recipe Photo Michael Krondl

It’s not only Hertfordshire folk and the Americans who have staked claims to being the doughnut’s creator. A Dutch equivalent named Oliebollen (literally ‘oily balls’) dates from 1667, and an even earlier form of doughnut was made in medieval times by Arab cooks, who would fry small bits of yeasted dough covering them with sugar syrup once cooked. ‘They are a portable, filling food, so it is not surprising that various cultures came up with a similar foodstuff, quite possibly independently of each other,’ says Dr Falvey.

Although we will concede that the ring-shape is an American invention, Hertfordshire can still lay claim to the original doughnut recipe – at least according to Michael Krondl. ‘I’m reasonably confident that the New England doughnut originates in England and the only place anyone has been able to find references to it prior to 1800 is in Hertfordshire,’ he says. ‘What’s interesting is that, these days, jam doughnuts created from a German recipe seem to be more popular in the UK. These originated in Central Europe under a variety of names, Krapfen being the most popular in Austria and Bavaria.’ Born in the Czech Republic, Michael has a soft spot for them. ‘I’m also very fond of cider doughnuts (made, as their name suggests with cider as a key ingredient), something you probably won’t find outside of New England,’ he adds.

For further information on early doughnut recipes, contact


Great British Life: Krispy Kreme's thousand pound doughnut sprinkled with 24-carat gold. Photo Facebook/Krispy KremeKrispy Kreme's thousand pound doughnut sprinkled with 24-carat gold. Photo Facebook/Krispy Kreme

A-hole there!

Although the story varies, the invention of the hole in the doughnut is attributed to Dutch sailor Captain Hanson Gregory, whose mother sent him to sea with a batch of her delicious goodies, spiced with her son’s cargo. At some point in 1847, Captain Gregor realised he couldn’t steer in stormy waters and eat his doughnut at the same time, so impaled it on the spokes of his helm between bites when he needed both hands on the wheel.

A hole lot of doughnut

When American actress Renee Zellweger needed to put on weight for her role as the heroine in the movie Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason she turned to doughnuts. But it wasn’t just a couple that she needed daily to get her from a size 6 to a size 14 in three months. Zellweger told The Daily Mail, ‘one doughnut doesn’t do a thing; you have got to eat 20 a day for at least five weeks to see any results.’

There’s no place like dough (mmm…)

To boost morale and offer a taste of home, Salvation Army volunteers served doughnuts to American troops fighting in France during the First World War. Perhaps this is why US soldiers became known as doughboys…

One billion and counting

Canada is reported to be the number one doughnut consuming nation in the world – apparently, its population chomps through 1 billion annually.

Too rich to eat?

In 2014 Krispy Kreme unveiled a doughnut worth £1,000 at Selfridges in London. Taking three days to assemble it was filled with Dom Pérignon vintage 2002 champagne jelly, topped with a white chocolate lotus and sprinkled with 24-carat gold and edible diamonds.


Whether from the US, Hertfordshire or elsewhere, the one thing we all surely agree on is that the best doughnut is the freshest doughnut. Here’s our guide to some of the best to be found in the county…


Still glowing after a recommendation on the pages of the Financial Times, no less (but of course long familiar to Hertfordshire’s gourmands) comes Culture, the artisan bakery in Tring High Street. It’s built its reputation on sourdough but also specialises in delectable doughnuts. A regular fixture is its vanilla-filled offering, with rotating ‘specials’ tiramisu, pistachio, rhubarb and custard, mulled wine jam, and stracciatella - an Italian chocolate and cream ice cream flavour filling. They certainly sound special to us!

Great British Life: Delicious doughnuts from The Pudding Stop in St Albans. Photo The Pudding StopDelicious doughnuts from The Pudding Stop in St Albans. Photo The Pudding Stop

The Pudding Stop

With four branches in the county, The Pudding Stop is well equipped to feed the need of even the most devoted doughnut fan. Says the company’s Jonny Shepherd, ‘We’ve been making doughnuts for about 10 years. The secret is a long slow bulk fermentation which helps develop flavour in the dough and makes them super light. Each one is coated in sugar then jam-packed with filling until it bursts.’ Regular flavours are custard, Nutella or seasonal jam, with specials throughout the year including flavours such as rhubarb and custard or blueberry cheesecake.

Cinnamon Square, Rickmansworth

It may be best known as the home of the Cinnamon Square Bun, but this award-winning artisan bakery creates delicious doughnuts to add to its mouth-watering selection of bakes. Its new raspberry doughnut is light and fluffy and has been baked rather than fried. It’s described as ‘jaw-droppingly good’ and is available individually or in a box of four.

Great British Life: Days Bakery raspberry jam filled doughnuts are freshly made each dayDays Bakery raspberry jam filled doughnuts are freshly made each day

Days Bakery, Ashwell

Made in its Ashwell bakery, Days’ doughnut menu includes chocolate, classic jam and iced varieties freshly fried each morning. Founded in 1741 and thus believing itself to be one of the oldest bakeries in the country with seven branches in Herts today, the team know exactly what they’re doing. ‘Doughnuts are still one of the bakery’s top sells,’ says operations manager, Simon Hatcher. ‘Customers love the sweet doughnut taste contrasting with the tart raspberry.’


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