1. HEAT oil in deep fryer or 2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat. to 325°F.
2. SEPARATE crescent dough into 4 rectangles. Firmly press perforations to seal. Stack 2 rectangles on top of one another. Fold in half widthwise to make tall stack. Repeat with remaining 2 rectangles.
3. Use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to cut 1 round from each stack; use 1/2-inch biscuit cutter to cut small hole in center of each round. Reroll remaining dough to cut a third doughnut.
4. FRY the doughnuts in hot oil 2-1/2 minutes on each side, or until they are a deep golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Cool 5 minutes.
5. CAREFULLY SPLIT doughnuts in half. Place pudding in decorating bag fitted with a tip, and pipe half of the pudding onto bottom half of each doughnut. Top each with some of the caramel sauce; sprinkle with salt. Cover each with top of doughnut.
6. MIX powdered sugar in small bowl with enough milk to create a spreading consistency. Spread on tops of doughnuts. Drizzle with additional caramel sauce.
Although dough was fried in oil as far back as ancient Rome, food historians generally credit the invention of deep-fried yeast doughnuts to Northern Europeans in Medieval times.
The word doughnut refers to the small, round, nutlike shape of the original doughnuts—the hole came later. “Donut” is an American phonetic rendering from the 20th century.
Doughnuts were introduced to America in the 17th century by Dutch immigrants, who called them oliekoecken, oil cakes (i.e., fried cakes). In the New World, the doughnut makers replaced their frying oil with lard, which was plentiful and produced a tender and greaseless crust.
Other immigrants brought their own doughnut variations: the Pennsylvania Dutch and the Moravians brought fastnachts to Lancaster, Pennsylavnia and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, respectively; the French brought beignets to New Orleans.
By 1845, recipes for “dough-nuts” appeared in American cookbooks; chemical leavening (baking powder) was substituted for yeast to produce a more cakelike, less breadlike texture; and inexpensive tin doughnut cutters with holes came onto the market.