I have been desperate to find something non-political to write about. So I was thrilled to find this article by Phil Edwards, Have Donut Holes Gotten Smaller? This Compelling Vintage Chart Says Yes. But I guess I should be clear: we are no talking about “donut holes” — the delicious spherical pastry that is cheekily said to be the part missing from a regular donut. We are talking about the entire shape of the donut. In the image on the left, you will see that a donut looked more along the lines of a pretzel in surface to volume ratio in 1927, and more like a bagel just two decades later.
This is an important issue. Why? Because I’m not that fond of donuts. And this all comes back to the surface to volume ratio. I like more surface area. The less surface area in a sweet, the more gummy and the less delicious. One of the few Seinfeld episodes I’ve seen is “The Muffin Tops.” In it, Elaine opens a bakery that only sells muffin tops, because that is the best part. It’s true: that is the best part. But the episode made no sense because they were baking whole muffins and then throwing the rest of it away. But clearly: I am not alone in wanting a high surface to volume ratio in my sweets.
So why is this happening? No one really knows. People have their theories, of course. But in order to understand what is going on, you have to understand why donuts have holes in them at all. It’s all about even cooking. If they didn’t holes, there would just be a muck of uncooked dough in the center. Over time, as processes became better, the hole wasn’t as necessary. And I suspect that the manufacturers liked the idea that they could create more donuts in the same amount of space.
But I think the best bet for why donuts changed can be seen in the 1934 classic, It Happened One Night. In it, Peter (Clark Gable) shows Ellie (Claudette Colbert) how to dunk a donut in a cup of coffee. And it requires breaking the donut in half. So I suspect that it really all does come down to the way that donuts were consumed. As Edwards noted, “As donuts became a treat, their shape may have changed to accommodate that, making them less about holding coffee and more about holding sugar, jelly, and even chocolate.”
It’s also true that donuts themselves seem to have changed. Now they are less often the cake donuts of old and these weird “glazed” and “sugar” and “chocolate” donuts that don’t even taste good apart from their coverings. If you ask me, the best donut is the plain old fashioned. And you will noted of them that the holes are still quite big.
Recently, I was buying some ice cream. I’m pretty picky about ice cream and usually stick to Häagen-Dazs or, when I can find a flavor that isn’t totally bizarre, Ben & Jerry’s. Well, I grabbed a pint of Dulce De Leche, but I noticed something. You see: I’m pretty blind and generally out of it when it comes to interacting with the real world. But my sense of touch is very great. And I noticed this “pint” was small. And sure enough, I looked on the label and it said “14 ounces.” What a con! Luckily, Ben & Jerry’s is still producing proper 16 ounce pints. So I purchased a pint of Americone Dream, which is delicious.