"Donuts have a somewhat labyrinthine -- and, at times, shady -- past. From when they arrived in America, doughnuts have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps -- and, thanks to a rather ragtag bunch of characters, they are now one of the most iconic American pastries. In fact, Smithsonian.com notes that "in its democratic methods, its optimism, and its assorted origins, [the doughnut] does seem rather quintessentially American."
Donuts have become the poster child of everyday indulgence thanks to a melting pot of influential characters, historical happenstance, and sweet tooths -- and many, many pans filled with hot oil. Dutch settlers introduced doughnuts to the U.S. when they ended up in Manhattan, then known as New Amsterdam. They called these doughnut predecessors "olykoeks," or oily cakes, which were fried in pork fat. Formed by dropping dough off the end of a spoon, their name evolved to "oliebollen," or oily balls, thanks to their irregular round shape. Unlike today,oliebollen were traditionally enjoyed during the Christmas season, and each cook had his or her own, individualized recipe.
So why don't we indulge in coffee and an "oliebollen?" Besides the fact that, no offense to the Dutch, "oily balls" is not an especially catchy name, there are a few theories. Some speculate that the term "doughnut" could refer to the nuts the desserts were often stuffed with, or the "knot" shape into which they were sometimes tied. We assume the "donut" abbreviation came out of pure, old-fashioned laziness -- and the American love of shortening every word in sight."
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