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Old-Fashioned, Self-Turning Doughnuts with Recipe

In Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, Farmer Boy, it's obvious Almanzo loves his mother's doughnuts. He even fills his pockets with them before heading outside to work.

Mother Wilder liked her doughnuts to turn over by themselves so she twisted them. Mother kept a fresh supply in the doughnut jar for snacking. 
Homemade doughnuts do not stay fresh for long. You’ll want to enjoy these the same day—or even the same hour—you make them. (They also freeze great!) Old-fashioned doughnuts aren't as sweet as the doughnuts from most bakeries.

Mother made self-turning doughnuts. If you want to make the round doughnuts (or doughnut holes) you can still use this recipe, just use a doughnut cutter or a glass paired with a bottle cap to cut the dough--or biscuit cutters.

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Self-Turning Old-Fashioned Doughnuts Recipe

Helpful/Needed Equipment:
oven mitts
large pot
slotted spoon
kitchen thermometer (instant or candy)
paper towels
32-48 ounces shortening (or vegetable oil)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg
½ cup buttermilk* (see below for a buttermilk substitute)
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
½ cup sugar
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
What to Do:
1. Scoop the shortening into a large pot or deep fryer over medium heat. Slowly adjust the temperature, if needed, to keep the temperature between 365° and 375° F (185° and 191° C) while cooking. It takes time for the shortening to melt and to reach this temperature. Do not use high heat. Monitor the temperature.
2. Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a bowl. Set aside.
3. In large bowl, beat the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and sugar together.
4. Quickly stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of flour if mixture is too sticky to handle.
5. Sprinkle flour on a large, clean work surface. Place the dough on the flour. Knead the dough a couple of times.
6. Check the temperature of the oil. Adjust the heat to keep the oil between 365° and 375°.
7. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly sprinkle it with flour. This will be where you set the doughnuts before frying them. The parchment paper or sprinkled flour will prevent them from sticking to the cookie sheet.
8. With a well-floured hands (or a floured rolling pin), flatten the dough until it is between ¼ and ½ inch thick. With a floured knife, cut dough strips that are about 6 inches long and 1 inch wide.
Roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick. Then cut strips that are 1x6 inches long. 
9. Take a strip of dough and roll it into a 10-inch rope. Holding it in the middle, twist the ends together to create a sort of braid.
Twist each "dough rope."
Pinch the ends together and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat this for the rest of the doughnuts. You can also make doughnut holes with scraps of dough.
Place dough ropes on a floured surface or parchment paper while the oil and wait for the oil to warm.
10. Combine the ½ cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon together and set aside.
11. Carefully slide one doughnut off a large spoon and into the melted shortening. After about two minutes, it should be brown on both sides.
• The doughnut may not turn over by itself if it isn’t twisted enough. If it is browned on the bottom, you can flip the doughnut using a large spoon.
• If it takes longer than three minutes to cook, your shortening is not hot enough.
12. Use tongs or the slotted spoon to remove the doughnut from the melted shortening. Dip it in the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Then place it on a plate covered in paper towels.
13. Continue cooking doughnuts. You can cook a couple at a time but do not overcrowd the pot.
14. Ideally serve the doughnuts freshly made.
You may like trying some plain doughnuts, too. 
Old-fashioned twisted doughnuts inspired by
 Laura Ingalls Wilder's
Farmer Boy book.

* You can purchase buttermilk, but I always make my own. To make buttermilk for this recipe, place 1 ½ teaspoons of white vinegar in a measuring cup. Add milk to fill to the ½ cup line. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes before adding the buttermilk to the recipe.

I hope you enjoy this self-turning doughnut recipe inspired by Farmer Boy. It's just one of 75 activities included in my book The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chatper Guide (Chicago Review Press, 2020). It's full of history, activities, and fun for readers of all ages.

 Happy Trails! ~ Annette

 Annette Whipple is a nonfiction children's author. Learn more about her books and presentations at

1 comment

  1. Thank you! As soon as we read about her donuts I knew I would need to find and try the recipe! Can’t wait to make these with my boys!