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Poor Proust had only his madeleines to remind him of “things past,” but I have a feast of foods (albeit an odd feast) that have the power to transport me back in time. The smell of ratatouille cooking (home), the taste of instant mashed potatoes (school), wax lips (weekends), chopped liver on a cracker (one grandmother’s house), raw pie crust dough (my other grandmother’s house), and cake doughnuts. I don’t generally like doughnuts,  particularly not the puffy, glazed variety, but there was once a doughnut that I loved.

The doughnuts of fond memory were made by someone named Lila (at least the bags had her name on them), and were purchased during summer vacations in a remote corner of Northeastern Maine called Perry. The doughnuts, purchased at the sort of general store on Southmeadow Road in Perry, were of the cake variety. They were unglazed, un-yeasted, un-frosted and un-sprinkled, and came in four flavors: plain, chocolate, squash and cinnamon-sugar. They were sold, sometimes still warm, in a paper bag that said “Lila’s,” and were so good that they created a pinnacle of doughnut-hood that has never been surpassed in my life. The closest I come to reliving my halcyon doughnut days is at a cider mill we visit in the fall, which sells fresh, hot cake doughnuts along with cider. That’s a maybe-once-a-year proposition, though.

But I digress. My primal doughnut memories were triggered the other night by watching Alton Brown make them on “Good Eats.” They looked like the doughnuts I remembered, and I became obsessed with making my own. I bought a giant quantity of vegetable oil for frying, improvised a “doughnut cutter” using a drinking glass and the mouth of a soda bottle, and made some doughnuts.



Yeast Doughnuts

(Recipe from Alton Brown,

1 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 ounces vegetable shortening, approximately 1/3 cup
2 packages instant yeast
1/3 cup warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
23 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired. (Note: Alton made both chocolate and white glaze on the show, and both recipes are provided on the website. I just rolled mine in sugar and cinnamon).


One would think that given all the baking I do, I might have figured out that a recipe involving yeast would not result in cake doughnuts, but in the fluffy, puffy kind that I dislike. I did not figure this out, so I  fed most of the air-filled sugar bombs to the family, and found a recipe for unleavened, cake doughnuts that seemed closer to what I wanted.  (Alton’s doughnuts were absolutely splendid, by the way; just not what I wanted to eat).

I made the cake doughnuts next. I only have pictures of the “holes” because the actual doughnuts were eaten or given away before I could photograph them.


Cake Doughnut Recipe

(Adapted from Breakfast-and-Brunch

Cake Doughnuts Prep Time: 15 minutesChill Time: 2 hours

Frying Time: 45 minutes (for all the doughnuts)

Ingredient List:

4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart Vegetable Oil for frying
Kitchen Equipment Needed

1 medium mixing bowl
1 large mixing bowl
Deep Fryer or large 12″ deep frying pan or cast iron skillet
2 baking pans (for catching glaze drips)
2 wire racks (for cooling glazed doughnuts)


Step 1: In a medium mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Step 2: In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter. Add sugar and beat well. Add eggs and beat well.

Step 3: Add milk and vanilla and stir until combined.

Step 4: Slowly add flour mixture and mix until dough holds together. Roll into a ball.

Step 5: Cover and chill 2 hours.

Step 6: On a floured board, roll out doughnut dough to 1/3″ thick and cut with a doughnut hole cutter.

Step 7: Heat vegetable oil in pan or deep fryer to 365 degrees and fry until lightly golden brown.

Step 8: Drain on a plate lined with paper towel. (Note: the recipe came with directions for preparing a glaze, but I chose to roll my doughnuts in either cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar while they were still hot, and let them cool).


The second batch, while not exactly like Lila’s, were pretty darned close. I will continue to experiment and to hunt for recipes, but in the meantime, with my jug of oil and my improvised cutters, I can almost, almost transport myself back to the summer of 1972, the back seat of a station wagon on a dusty, dirt road, driving past a high meadow and eating a Lila’s doughnut out of the bag…..


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

13 responses »

  1. Hi Annie ~ Even though I love the yeast kind of doughnuts the best (but do agree that some can be too airy), your memories of the summer of 1972, have me craving a Lila variety doughnut. Plus, the fact that your version disappeared so fast that only the ‘holes’ were left to photograph, speaks volumes. junemoon

  2. junemoon, I’m glad you enjoyed the post, although I am not sure whether the unavailability of “wholes” (as opposed to “holes”) says more about the wonderfulness of the doughnuts or the greediness of those near and dear to me. I am actually trying to get in touch with someone still living in Perry, Maine who might be able to get me Lila’s recipe, because I am somewhat obsessed.

  3. Well, I have just the doughnut cutter for these recipes. Sounds like a great idea for some cool fall eve. You can probably pick up a cutter at the grocery for a few bucks.

  4. Barbara, I wish we lived near each other; maybe I could borrow it? 🙂 I am considering buying a cutter, although I may also (slavishly) follow Alton’s lead and buy a set of nesting circle cookie cutters which I can also use for other projects.

  5. Annie:
    Wow, oh Wow! My niece sent me this posting, and I just had to drop you a line. I have not made dougnuts in many years, but now that I have your recipie, I’ll give it a try…
    Because, I too remember Lila’s donuts as being the Best I ever had! I spent all my summers growing up on the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay, in the little town of Perry, on Shore road, and my fondness for Lila’s is, sadly, only a memory, but a memory that will always be with me!
    Occasionally we’d buy them at the “bakery” on US1, but usually we’d buy them at the Perry Farmers Union, along with some of the best, sharpest, cheese I can remember! I’d take a Lila’s Squash donut, slice it in half like a bagel, and line it with the pungent cheese. Ahhhhh….. If there is a taste to Heaven, it must be close to that!
    Thank you for bringing all these flavors back to my mind!

  6. Quoddybay,

    I’ve written to you privately because I had a million questions and didn’t think you’d necessarily want to tell the story of your life in my blog comments. I am SO glad you visited, and even gladder to hear from someone who remembers the Lila’s squash doughnut, the Holy Grail of baked goods. (Or, more accurately, fried goods). Viva Passamaquoddy Bay!!!!!

  7. oh course you know i have appropriated both donut recipes!
    now, i’m off to order a donut cutter too!

    love your blog!

  8. jayedee,

    Thanks so much for visiting! I’m glad the doughnuts appealed to you, and I am thinking of getting cutters myself while its still “doughnut season.” We spend a bit of each winter on St. George Island in Florida, and I love the “rural,” un-glitzy parts of the state. Your blog is pretty interesting too, but then I am always biased in favor of people who love animals.

  9. Actually, Perry is not in northeast Maine but is “downeast” or east. Northern Maine is many miles north of Perry in a county called Aroostook. Perry is in Washinton County but not all that remote.

    • Betty, I stand corrected. I am pretty familiar with both Aroostook and Washington County, but my last Maine summer was over 30 years ago, and I get muddled. Thanks for reading, and for setting me straight!

  10. I too remember Lila’s. I am the retired postmaster of Perry and live about 10 miles from there. Lila’s is no longer in business. Her last place of business is now a tack and feed store on US Rte l. But the owner is a neighbor of the family. We all grew up on Lila’s. Her molasses ones were great sliced, toasted in the toaster, and smothered with peanut butter.

    She and her husband had a dairy farm there many years ago. Typical hard working downeast family just trying to make a living.

    The Farmer’s Union is still there and they still have the best cheese around. He still cuts the meat for the counter. A truly downeast experience. It is still a co-op of people from the area and run by local folks.

    Things are still the same here. You know your neighbor and your neighbor’s neighbor.

    Brings back many good memories, and I’m not that old.

    • Abbie, I’m always glad to know how things are in that part of the world. I’m sure the Otises (from whom my parents rented our place on Boyden Lake) are long gone, but my brother took his family a few years ago and said that things looked pretty much the same. I remember two horses pastured on South Meadow Road that I was in love with, and church suppers with all kinds of pies, and the fact that I had to walk past the Pulk’s dog and it always scared the daylights out of me, and going into Eastport to get books out of the library…what a good place you live in. 🙂

  11. Reading all the comments of Perry Maine, passamoquoddy bay, a squash donuts brought great memories of our vacations to Eastport Maine where my mother was born and lived until she was 14.
    I loved vacations there and wished I could have lived there!
    I have been searching for those squash donuts since the last time we were there in 1999.
    Thank you for the great still through memory lane and a recipe for squash donuts!!


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