Cycling for sweets: Tour de Donut offers the perfect incentive for bicycling

Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Tom Harte imagined a way to train for the Tour de Donut. (Photo illustration by Fred Lynch)

Last weekend, like many other enthusiasts, I followed closely the progress of one of the greatest sporting events in the world, and certainly the most remarkable contest in the field of cycling.

No, I'm not talking about the annual Tour de France, but another bike race that for nearly 20 years has been running concurrently with it and is, to my mind, far more thrilling: the Tour de Donut.

The Tour de Donut follows a hilly 30-mile course through the pastures and cornfields of south-central Illinois. At each pit stop riders are offered doughnuts from the local bakery and for each one they wolf down, five minutes is subtracted from their time. Thus, the very first Tour de Donut champion back in 1989 clocked one of the slowest times of anyone in the race, but when it was adjusted for his having consumed 15 doughnuts along the way, he won the yellow jersey. This year a rider who ate 20 doughnuts actually ended up with a negative time.

Now I haven't been on a bike since I was a child, but here's a race I think I might have a shot at, particularly if gobbling up a mere dozen or two doughnuts is all I'd have to do to win.

I take a back seat to no one in my love for doughnuts, not even Homer Simpson. And I'm not alone. The doughnut is our most popular baked good after bread and, as the Oxford Companion to Food points out, one of America's culinary emblems.

To be sure, the Dutch have their oliebollen, the Poles their paczki, the Lithuanians their spurgos, the French their beignet, the Israelis their sufganiyah, the Italians their zeppole, the Spaniards their rosquilla, the Portuguese their malasadas, the Danish their aebleskiver, the Greeks their loukoumades, the Indians their jaleki, the Mexicans their churros and the Germans their Berliner (the jelly doughnut that some grammarians insist JFK was technically referring to when he announced at the Berlin wall that he was one).

But none of these is properly a doughnut. That's because with few exceptions, they're not shaped like a doughnut. A true doughnut, at least for purists like me, is shaped like a ring with a hole in the middle -- just like the universe, I might add. Though originally doughnuts were merely fried balls of dough that looked like nuts (hence the name), today their defining characteristic is the hole, a uniquely American innovation (as is the custom of dunking, originated at New York's Lindy's restaurant when the silent film star Mae Murray accidentally dropped a doughnut in her coffee and her escort followed suit).

Granted, the petrified remains of fried cakes with holes in them have been found in the ruins of Pompeii, but as Sally Levitt Steinberg, granddaughter of the inventor of the doughnut machine, observes in her exhaustive treatise on the subject, the hole was not a central component of the doughnut until it arrived in America. Before then doughnuts with holes were a novelty, not the dominant form they are today.

Though not everyone agrees, the residents of Clam Cove, Maine, will tell you that the doughnut's aperture was the fortuitous brainchild of local sea captain Hanson Gregory, who was fond of steering his ship with one hand while eating a fried cake out of the other. Needing both hands to steer his vessel when a violent storm came up, he impaled a cake upon the wheel and created the doughnut hole.

Even so, I'm sure Captain Gregory would endorse the familiar maxim I shall keep in mind as I train for next year's Tour de Donut: "Keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole."

Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding

If you think Krispy Kremes can't be improved upon, wait until you try them in this recipe inspired by Paula Deen.

Ingredients:

24 Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts

1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk

2 cans (20 ounces each) pineapple chunks, undrained

2 cups raisins

1 cup coconut

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Cut doughnuts into cubes. Combine remaining ingredients, pour over doughnut cubes, mix thoroughly, and let stand until most of liquid has been soaked up. Transfer mixture to a greased 9-by-13-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for about one hour or until center is set.

Listen to A Harte Appetite Fridays at 8:49 a.m. on KRCU, 90.9 on your FM dial. Write A Harte Appetite, c/o the Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699 or by e-mail to tharte@semissourian.com.

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