What a joyous day is June 5 – Happy National Doughnut Day!! The doughnut or donut, as some spell it, is an American invention. Yes, the Germans, French, and Italians have their pastry, but our round shaped, iced, sprinkled, jimmied, glazed perfections we can claim as ours. The Greeks and Italians have respectively their deep fried dough confections that resemble doughnuts, – the loukoumades and the bombolini – but we have perfected the doughnut.
Now the doughnut has had a bit of an ‘up-do’ recently with a craze that started at donut bakeries in New York City. We started seeing maple glazed donuts with chunks of real bacon on top, or white iced round doughnuts with pomegranate seeds, or rose petals. Although some of these ingredients can get ridiculous, I do applaud the contemporary upgrade of the doughnut, trumping out the blight the Atkins diet created in the pastry and doughnut shop world for a bit. Now it seems American still want to have an outlet for their sweet indulgences, but with over-the-top gourmet ingredients.
And although there are disputed stories of the doughnut’s invention, they are generally credited to the Dutch immigrants. The first written reference is in Washington Irving’s History of New York in 1809 Irving described “balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or in Dutch olykoek. These ‘nuts’ of fried dough today might be called doughnut holes.
So of all the types of doughnuts out there, the Long John may be the one whose identity is widely mistaken. Sometime even doughnut proprietors daftly parade the Long John as something it’s not – an éclair. An éclair is a French long pastry usually iced in chocolate and filled with white cream. It’s made of a non-yeast leavened dough called in French – Pate a choux or ‘cabbage paste’. It’s called this because it’s the same dough used to make small cream puffs which resemble small heads of cabbage. The dough is made by making a rue, and turning it into a paste with eggs. It’s then piped out on a sheet into a long shape. It’s the water content of the eggs that steams off and causes the dough to puff, not a yeast leavening. The dough is then baked, not fried, like our Long John.
The Long John, on the other hand, is a long doughnut made of yeast dough and fried. It’s usually topped with chocolate and filled with white cream, or sometimes topped with maple icing. The round version of the Long John iced in chocolate and filled with cream is the Bismark. The jelly filled version, called the Berliner, which John F. Kennedy, comically claimed himself in a speech to the Germans of that city.
Who the first John was and when the name and shape of the Long John was introduced is somewhat lost to history. We do know that a John Blondell received the first patent for a doughnut cutter in 1872, so perhaps the Long John is a tribute to Mr. Blondell as a doughnut engineer.
So to masquerade a Long John as an éclair, in an attempt to uplift it, is a very unpatriotic, preposterous thing, and should be considered high treason. It’s amazing that during our recent hyper-patriotic times that, like Freedom Fries, all eclairs weren’t converted into Long Johns or at least renamed.
There’s one clear way to reveal a fake éclair – and that’s the fry line. All Long Johns will have, like any yeast-dough fried doughnuts a lighter line at the buoyant center of the doughnut where, it floats just above the oil level on each side when flipped. Because an éclair isn’t fried it won’t have this light fry line running all around in its middle.
To me the taste and mouth feel of the Long John’s yeast dough is more appealing than the crunchy, less chewy éclair. The éclair leaves a pasty coating in the mouth, while the smooth, fried Long John has a cleaner feel. My grandfather and uncle, both of whom were bakers, produced Long Johns and eclairs in their bakeries, but my favorite as a kid was always the maple glazed Long Johns, sprinkled with chopped nuts. I’d like to call that version of the Long John, the ‘Lumberjack,’ in defiance to the snobbery of the French éclair.