We’ve run a few good recipes for Maine potato donuts over the years, but this particular one was inspired by a very old Yankee story, circa 1937, which was just three years after the magazine was founded. Called “Aroostook’s Hundred Recipes,” the article does, indeed, offer a full hundred dishes from Pearl Ashby Tibbetts, whose byline reads, “Mrs. Tibbetts is the busy wife of a very busy country doctor in Bethel, Maine.”
Among Tibbetts’s recipes are such gems as Puff Balls, Fried Shoestrings, Maine Chowder and Potato & Peanut Loaf. But among them, Potato Donuts stood out to me today. Maybe it’s the weather.
The original recipe reads:
Cream 2 tablespoons butter with 3/4 cup of sugar and one teaspoon soda. Add two well beaten eggs, 1/4 cup sour milk and one cup warm mashed potato, salt, nutmeg. About 1 1/2 cups of flour will make an easily handled dough. Not too stiff. Fry in deep fat.
I tried the recipe with contemporary ingredients and found the donuts passable, but gummy and heavy, lacking leavening and enough fat to make them tender. A few small changes later, they were good to go.
Maine Potato Donuts
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Hands-on time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Makes: About 16 donuts
Notes: The drier your potatoes are, the lighter your donuts are apt to be. Therefore, I like baking or microwaving them, rather than boiling. I also like to run the spuds through a potato ricer, which gives them a fine and fluffy texture. However, if you happen to have some leftover mashed potatoes from yesterday’s dinner on hand, feel free to use them, as long as they’re not overly seasoned. As for your cooking fat, I find that melted vegetable shortening is best, producing a crisper crust.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup lightly packed mashed russet or Yukon Gold potatoes (see Notes)
1/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the counter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Vegetable shortening or vegetable oil for frying (see Notes)
Cinnamon sugar, for dusting
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a standing or handheld mixer until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until glossy and pale yellow.
Add the potato and buttermilk and beat until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and beat just until evenly mixed. Do not over-mix. The dough should now be fairly easy to handle, but still sticky.
Generously dust your counter with flour (the recipe is calibrated so that the dough can absorb this flour without getting dry). Turn the dough out onto the counter and flip to coat with flour.
Gently press the dough out with your hands to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut into rounds using a donut cutter or two biscuit cutters (a large and a small). Gather the scraps and gently press out again as needed to use up all the dough.
Fill a Dutch oven with oil or shortening to a depth of 2 1/2 inches. Set over medium heat and bring the temperature to 375° (check with a thermometer). Working in small batches, cook the donuts in the oil, turning once, until puffed and golden brown on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes per side. As you fry, you may need to reduce or increase the heat to maintain a reasonably steady temperature. Check it periodically with the thermometer.
Transfer the cooked donuts to paper towels to drain. If desired, toss them in cinnamon sugar when they are cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Want to taste potato donuts without having to fry them yourself? Visit The Holy Donut in Portland Maine, where they make potato donuts in nearly 20 different flavors, from maple to mojito to chocolate sea salt.