Doughnuts, Olive Kitteridge’s Grandmother’s

Doughnuts, Olive Kitteridge’s Grandmother’s

Elizabeth Strout:
Olive Kitteridge’s Grandmother’s Doughnuts


During most of the book Olive Kitteridge, the reader sees Olive in her later years.  We have glimpses of her earlier life when she is cooking and cleaning (and often pretty fed up with doing so), and we see beans and hot dogs served, and understand that the culinary life of her family is straightforward, with few frills.  In her fierce and imperfect way, Olive loves her son and husband, and tries to take care of them while also tending to her students that she taught for somany years.  Life frequently tires her out, which means – often – grabbing something to eat that gives a quick boost.  By the time we see her at her son’s wedding, in her nice new dress that she made, she admits to herself that she is larger than she wants to be, but she “is not about to give up the pleasures of food at this stage in the game.”

This “food” is often something sweet, and frequently a doughnut.  She goes out for doughnuts with her husband, she swipes an extra brownie at Marlene Bonney’s house, she makes applesauce from the last of the season’s apples, she happily eats an ice cream sundae while visiting her son.  These things comfort her, and for any of us that have a sweet tooth, we can understand that.  For much of the book, Olive is at the point in her life where she is no longer cooking.  And, as she suffers one loss after another, it seems that for awhile she is sustained mainly by a diet of Dunkin’ Donuts.

The reason that I included this doughnut recipe is because I imagined Olive’s collection of recipes that would have been compiled over the years, and I thought – as with many women and their recipes – there are certain things that would be passed down from generations before.  Where did Olive’s love for doughnuts come from?  Her grandmother, I decided, would have made doughnuts.  My own aunt sometimes made doughnuts, and they were unbelievably good.  These days we are all (and rightly so, big sigh) concerned with healthy food, and doughnuts don’t make the top of the list. But Olive, until the very end of the book, is not too concerned with her health.  The pleasure she received from her grandmother’s doughnuts, doughnuts she no longer makes by scratch, but buys at Dunkin’ Donuts instead, are presented to you here for that occasional “day-off” treat.

Olive Kitteridge’s Grandmother’s Doughnuts


Note: To make sour milk, add one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to one cup of milk, and allow to stand for ten minutes.  Or, you may substitute buttermilk for sour milk.

To shape the doughnuts, use a doughnut cutter, which can be purchased for a few dollars at a kitchen store.  If you don’t have a doughnut cutter, use a 2 to 3-inch round cookie cutter. Cut out the smaller inner circle using a smaller cutter.

3-1/2 to 4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sour milk (see note)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Cinnamon and sugar (optional)

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together 3-1/2 cups flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  2. In a large bowl of a mixer, mix sour milk, eggs, and 1 tablespoon oil on medium speed.  Add dry ingredients and mix on medium-low speed until just combined.  Add additional flour as needed to form dough that can be easily handled.  Cover mixing bowl and chill for up to two hours, if necessary.  If the dough can be managed, chilling won’t be needed.
  3. While dough is chilling, prepare to deep fry:  Pour about 4 inches of oil into a heavy, deep saucepan with straight sides.  (Leave two or three inches between the oil and top of pan, so oil does not bubble over.)  Heat oil to 355° – 365° F.
  4. Remove dough from refrigerator.  On lightly floured surface, roll dough in small batches to a thickness of ¼ inch.  Cut shapes with doughnut cutter (see note).
  5. Place several dough shapes in hot oil.  Brown on one side, then flip over and brown on the other (about 3 minutes total).  Drain on paper towels or brown paper bags.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Optional:  For sugar and/or cinnamon doughnuts, place dry doughnuts in a paper bag, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and/or ¼ cup sugar and shake well.

Yield:  About 2 dozen 3-1/2 inch doughnuts