American Classics

Lost classic desserts from our wide and varied past.

American Classics: Potato Doughnuts

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[Photograph: Alexandra Penfold]

Legend has it that Maine sea captain Hanson Gregory put the hole in the doughnut so to speak. Variations on the story abound, but my favorite version has Captain Gregory impaling the fried pieces of dough on his ship's steering wheel for easier snack access. Whether that's true or not is left to the ages, but what's undisputed is Maine's long standing love affair with the doughnut.

I've seen my fair share of unusual doughnuts in Down East bakery cases. We're talking cake doughnuts in flavors like squash, zucchini, molasses and...potato. Potatoes are Maine's top crop so I suppose it shouldn't be terribly surprising that they've found their way into baked goods.

Still, as I was flipping through my dog-eared 1967 copy of the All-Maine Cooking by Ruth Wiggin and Loana Shibles, I did a double take when I spotted potato doughnuts. Made with mashed potatoes in place of a portion of the flour, potato doughnuts tend to be a bit lighter and fluffier than your typical cake doughnut. I spied an early recipe in Mrs. Owens' New Cook Book and Complete Household Manual published in 1899, but it wasn't until the 40's when brothers Al and Bob Pelton commercialized the "Spudnut" and the potato doughnut craze swept the nation. There are still a few independently operated Spudnut shops scattered across the country, true doughnut devotees should really try making potato doughnuts at home.

Soft and tender, with a hint of spice, these doughnuts lack the heaviness that often accompanies cake doughnuts—you'd never guess that they're spud powered. This recipe is well worth flagging for post-Thanksgiving leftover repurposing and Black Friday morning shopping fuel.

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Potato Doughnuts »

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About the author: Alexandra Penfold is mild mannered children's book editor by day, food ninja by night. Never one to skip dessert she's the Brownie half of Blondie & Brownie and a Midtown Lunch contributor. You can follow her on twitter at @blondiebrownie.

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