Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Brigham's Doughnuts-- regressing a recipe

As we learned from the previous post, Brigham Young's diet was not always typical of other early Mormon settlers. For this reason, his daughter Clarissa preferred to eat breakfast with him, since breakfast usually meant doughnuts. Other wives in the Lion House were not so fortunate. Likewise, we might imagine doughnuts were a rare treat in many more common homes. In the Lion House Cook Book we find the recipe for Brigham's buttermilk doughnuts, attributed to Emily Dow Partridge Young. The same recipe is also found in Winifred Jardine's Famous Mormon Recipes:

5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 melted butter
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg and sift together. Set aside. In large bowl Combine buttermilk, eggs, and sugar. Beat in sifted ingredients until well blended. Stir in butter.Roll or pat dough on floured board about 1/4 inch thick and cut with 2 1/2 inch doughnut cutter. Fry in hot fat until golden brown on both sides. Drain and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

The recipe carries several hallmarks of the settlement era: nutmeg was the common go-to spice for all occasions, much as the modern chef might use cinnamon today. Also, the use of soda and buttermilk suits the period. When chemical leavening was called for, it was soda or saleratus, activated with an acid agent, such as buttermilk. On the other hand, baking powder would not likely have been used in Brigham's era. Although baking powder (soda pre-mixed with tartaric acid and corn starch as a drying agent) was invented England in 1843, it was not widely produced or sold in America until the late 19th century. Further, with buttermilk and soda already in the recipe, the inclusion of baking powder is redundant. Jardine admits in a note to the recipe that it has been "modernized". We doubt that the modernization made this doughnut any more enjoyable.

To this end, we present for your gastronomical pleasure two doughnut recipes from original cookbooks of the era:

1 pint of flour,
1/2 a pint of sugar,
3 eggs,
1 oz. of butter,
1 cup of buttermilk,
1 large teaspoon of saleratus.

Beat the eggs and sugar well together, warm the buttermilk, stir while warming, to prevent a separation, rub down fine the saleratus, and stir into the buttermilk; mix whilst in a foam. If lard is used, use salt. [From The Housekeeper's Assistant, Boston 1845. The original text does not specify a cooking method, e.g. frying in lard.]

And here's another: "Three cups of sugar, three eggs, one cup of butter, one pint of buttermilk, one cup of cream, one nutmeg, saleratus sufficient for the buttermilk; mould with flour." [From The New England Economical Housekeeper, Cincinatti 1845. Again, no cooking method specified.]

We need not debate whether Brigham Young ate doughnuts, or whether doughnuts were a common food item during the Mormon settlement era. Instead, we might find a more interesting discussion about the technology represented in leavening from soda and buttermilk, or the even more pressing question as to why Winifred Jardine would feel compelled to "modernize" a classic recipe that would serve as a vital document of history. Please, share your thoughts!


Kenzie said...

Hey Brock.
I am glad that you finally got a new blog posted, it is good to hear your words of wisdom. Are these the treats you made at Cody's house?
I miss the kiln and working hard. I miss our chats and the fun times.
I hope all is well with you and your cute family.
My poinsettia is still alive from your Christmas program. :)
Take care and keep posting.


Brock said...

Hey Kenzie, thanks for checkin out my blog. Actually the thing we made with Cody was aebleskivver. Its a Danish pastry, like a pancake in spherical form. Eventually I'll write a blog about it. We had a ton of fun using his wood stove to cook on. See ya around.

Bryce I. said...

Congrats on being featured in the Tribune and Deseret News! (http://www.sltrib.com/food/ci_12884291?source=rv)

I can't wait to try the recipe! I just started a food blog (http://chowboard.blogspot.com/) so maybe I'll even get around to writing about my experience if I make them :)

GStaples said...

I know this is a little late for writing on donuts, but thought I would ask if you have ever tried, Sourdough Sam's? Best homemade donut I have ever made and eaten! They are a little lighter than this recipe. If you would like the recipe let me know.
I do like your recipe, it is basically the same I used to make before Sourdough Sams.
I enjoy your blog!