The Power of Doughnuts, a Classic Recipe and Fave Shops

Celebrate National Doughnut Day with an homage to the brave folks it honors and enjoy a day-brightening treat
Classic cake doughnuts

Adobe Stock/Bert Folsom

Doughnuts can have the power to lift spirits even on the darkest days. The Salvation Army and the U.S. military believed in the power of the doughnut and a show of goodwill that prompted the establishment of National Doughnut Day, which takes place June 4. You may be surprised to hear that there’s more to this “holiday” than just visiting your favorite doughnut shop to grab a treat in honor of the occasion.

YMCA volunteers make doughnuts for the troops during World War 1

Photo: National WWI Museum and Memorial

During World War I, 250 volunteers from the Salvation Army served near the front lines in France to support the American Expeditionary Forces by providing writing supplies, stamps, meals and warm doughnuts. These volunteers, who came to be known as “Doughnut Lassies,” connected soldiers to the comforts of home despite limited resources. They often had to get creative and use whatever they could find to make the doughnuts, according to the National WWI Museum and Memorial, rolling the dough with shell casings, and cutting holes with baking powder cans and coffee percolator tubes. Because these women risked their lives to fry millions of doughnuts during WWI, National Doughnut Day was established in 1938 to honor their service. The doughnut making continued after WWI to bring just a little taste of home and a day brightener to soldiers during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Find more on Baking During a Time of Crisis here. If you would like to learn more about the “Doughnut Lassies,” also check out this post from the Smithsonian.

Whip up your own batch of treats with their classic recipe below, or stop in your favorite doughnut shop or scroll down to try a new place from our list of 32 delicious options.

A WW1 soldier enjoys a doughnut made by the “Doughnut Lassies”

Photo: National WWI Museum and Memorial

The Doughnut Recipe

Get a taste of the classic recipe the “Doughnut Lassies” made for the troops. This easy recipe makes plenty to share, but could always be halved if needed.

Makes 4 dozen

5 cups flour
2 cups sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 ‘salt spoon’ salt (see Editor’s Notes)
2 eggs
1¾ cups milk
1 tub of lard (see Editor’s Notes)
powdered sugar, for dusting

  1. Combine all ingredients (except for lard and powdered sugar) to make dough.
  2. Thoroughly knead dough, roll smooth, and cut into rings less than ¼ inch thick.
  3. Drop the rings into the lard, making sure the fat is hot enough to brown the doughnuts gradually. Turn the doughnuts slowly several times.
  4. When browned, remove doughnuts and allow excess fat to drip off [and place on paper towels].
  5. Dust with powdered sugar. Let cool and enjoy.

Editor’s Notes:
• The ‘salt spoon’ is equivalent to about ¼ teaspoon
• For the lard, you can substitute a neutral oil such as canola, vegetable or sunflower oil to fry the doughnuts. Today, “1 tub lard” may be 16 ounces. You need a pot large enough to safely accommodate about 2 inches of oil to fry a few doughnuts at a time so that is about 4 cups of oil, depending on the size of your pot. Heat oil to about 375°F. The doughnuts cook in about 2 to 4 minutes per side.


Fave Donuts and Coffee

The combination of a donut and a cup of coffee is a perfect pairing. The Minnesota Monthly editorial team chose 32 fan-favorite establishments known for their sweet treats and delicious coffee to participate in the inaugural Donuts & Coffee Challenge this spring. Discover the winner and find links to all of the delicious local options to help you celebrate National Doughnut Day and any day to come.


Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.