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A small cake of sweetened dough fried in hot fat, the smothered in sugar. They comes in rings, when they are unfilled, or as solid 'buns', when they are generally filled - in Britain usually with jam.
Although the fillings vary throughout Europe - apple in Denmark (for example)
Doughnuts were traditionally tossed in the air for children to catch on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before Lent began.
It's thought, that they were introduced to America by the Dutch in the early 19th century - when New York was still New Amsterdam, and they have become part of the American image. See Mardi Gras