Persian Donuts Are The Cinnamon Roll Spin-Off With An Unexpected History

Persian rolls, or donuts, are not a ubiquitous treat. There's not a ton of information about them online, nor are there many places to find them. But people who live in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where this pastry was created, as well as a sprinkling of other places, like Maine, know the truth: Persian rolls are a delicious, irresistible treat, like a combination of two already perfect pastries: the donut and the cinnamon roll. 

Because of their name, Persian donuts might be misconstrued as a Middle Eastern creation. However, the real history is that in the 1940's, a man named Art Bennett — who owned a Thunder Bay bakery called Art Bennett's — dreamed up this treat and branded it for American World War I General John Joseph Pershing because the general happened to stop by while Bennett was mid-dough-making. In honor of Pershing, Bennett dubbed his donut-meets-cinnamon-bun mash-up a "Persian."

That bakery, now called Bennett's Bakery, is still going strong today. And it's one of the few places people can go to find these Persian donuts. The recipe is kept secret, but basically, this is a deep-fried cinnamon bun with icing. You can find chocolate, but a pink berry icing is traditional – and is what people who grew up eating these delicacies have nostalgia for. Hot and crispy on the outside, airy, doughy, and cinnamon-spiced on the inside, and covered in creamy berry sweetness, Persian rolls are like one of the best donuts you can get in the U.S. combined with a fresh homemade cinnamon roll.

How to find and enjoy Persian rolls

The rarity of Persian donuts is part of what makes them special, and anyone with a sweet tooth and sense of adventure may want to plan a visit to Thunder Bay, Ontario, just to try one. The city really goes all in on their hometown delight, too, selling them at local events and even hosting Persian donut eating contests on Canada Day.

While the recipe has stayed under wraps as far as bakeries selling them go, some intrepid home bakers have worked on recreating Persian roll recipes that anyone can follow along with if a trip is not in the cards. If you've ever tried making your own donuts, a Persian donut recipe won't be all that unfamiliar. It involves making a dough with yeast, bringing out the deep fryer for that crisp finish, and mixing up a smooth, sweet icing.

If you do make Persian rolls, you can obviously enjoy them as is, or you can try another Thunder Bay tradition, which is to cut one in half, toast it, and then add both the icing as well as butter on top. It's best to toast the halves on a frying pan, and if you put just a dollop of icing on beforehand, the outside of the halves will get all nice and caramelized. It's a decadent breakfast or dessert option that might very well make Persian donuts a go-to in your baking rotation — right alongside these 15 other donut recipes that will satisfy your sweet tooth.