The Molasses Donut










Go to the Stop Thinking and Cook Facebook page, “like” us, and you should see the poll question that is going to start the drive for The Molasses Donut as the Official Maine State Breakfast Food! We need to be the first state with a donut in the middle of our license plates or, at the very least, let’s ring a couple of the downeast treats around the lobster’s claws or the chickadees’s tail.

Molasses is in our roots; it was the sweetener of choice for the colonists. I’ll admit that using it for rum rather than donuts stirred up a bit more passion in our ancestors for the product but, hey, in most circles, we don’t drink rum for breakfast so, the donut it is for our Maine State Breakfast food.

Yes, it can happen!

I was working in the Ellsworth School District the year Larry’s Pastry Shop closed its doors, putting an end to molasses donuts in the office on Fridays; it was a day as dark as blackstrap. When I came to work in the mid-coast, my new central office staff directed me to their favorite morning stop; Willow’s in Rockport.  It was like I had found home again, in a paper bag full of molasses donuts. I have heard that doughnuts come in other flavors. My son was raving about a donut shop near his house in Portland that makes potato donuts. I asked him if they made molasses donuts and he didn’t even acknowledge my question, he went on and on about this potato donut. What is wrong with this younger generation? I am sure potato donuts are delicious and I will give eating and making them a try but, for this Mainer, the coffee and cream soaked chunks floating in my mug will always be molasses.

Now, I won’t eat just any molasses donut. I am particular and always follow my “Is it worth it rule?” Greasy or tough doughnuts are squirrel food. There are several key areas in donut making – oil and the frying temperature, the amount of flour and the texture of the donut, and, of course, the flavor. I’ve been known to look past an oil soaked paper bag but I never take more than one bite out of a donut that is only colored by the molasses and not flavored by it.

Below are two family recipes; one is in the hand of my grandmother and the other, I believe, from her mother. The first version uses both sugar and molasses and is very good but, the second recipe, what my mom called “the war recipe”, is my favorite because it contains only molasses, due to sugar rationing in WWII. Rationing had a profound effect on the household and that history is reflected in our heirloom recipes and family stories. I am sure there are plenty of favorite molasses donut stories and recipes out there and I would love any readers to share them with me.

Also, add your favorite donut shop that serves the future State of Maine Breakfast Food, to the Google map, linked at the end of this post, so we can travel the state this summer and always know where we can get a little paper bag filled with molasses donuts and memories.

Molasses is a key ingredient in our Maine cooking heritage so I’ll be tagging these recipes into a collection of sweet and savory dishes that use molasses.


Molasses Donuts, The War Recipe

1 cup molasses

2 Tbs. melted lard (I use butter)

1 egg

1 cup sour milk (1 cup whole milk with 1 Tbs. vinegar added, stir and let set for a few minutes)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg and cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ginger

Flour – enough to handle good – about 3-1/4 and a little more to roll

Canola oil for frying


In a bowl with a wooden spoon, mix the molasses and butter together.

Add the egg. Mix well to combine.

Mix the soda in the sour milk.

Combine 3 cups of the four, salt and spices.

Alternate four mixture and sour milk mixture into the molasses/butter mixture.

Add flour as needed to make a soft dough. Do not make the dough too stiff – too much flour makes a tough doughnut.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for donuts in the morning.

Heat 4 inches of oil in a heavy pot to about 350 degrees.

Roll out 1/4 of the batter to about 3/8 thickness and cut into donuts; keep remaining dough refrigerated until ready to use.

Slip the cut donuts into the hot oil, they will puff, flip when golden brown and cook on the other side.

Make sure the oil is hot enough to sizzle but not so hot it browns too quickly.

Drain on paper towels.

Makes 1-1/2 to 2 dozen donuts.


Refrigerating the dough makes it easier to handle without adding too much flour, which will make the donuts tough. My mom always made the dough at night and cooked off the doughnuts in the morning – I’d like to have one of those mornings back to do again.

I did quite a bit of research on the oil for frying and settled on canola oil. You will find information that tells you not to use it but my doughnuts turned out great, not greasy and not hard. My grandmother used lard and my mother used Crisco and the reason is that solid shortenings are less likely to create grease on a food that is to be served room temperature. Oil soaks in to the food and can make it soggy and greasy, where solid shortening tends to stay on the outside and creates that rather firm texture as they cool. I find if you keep your canola oil at the correct temperature while cooking and drain on paper towels, the donuts turn out great!
















Click on the “larger map” and sign into your google account to edit the map – search for or add the address of your favorite molasses donut location and save it to the map.

For mobile users, click here!