Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's Time To Eat the Doughnuts!

A "30 Rock" episode from a few years back really illustrated the show's pulse of the times when Alec Baldwin's character brought Jennifer Aniston's character up-to-date on the latest in New York. He said, "Welcome to New York. Let's see, we're using credit cards in cabs now, all the galleries have moved to Chelsea, and we're off cupcakes and we're back to doughnuts. Would you excuse me for a moment?" (He probably ran off to get some doughnuts.)

When cupcakes hit New York there was some dabbling around in it by all. When doughnuts hit, that was better. People can make a great cupcake in their kitchen, but a doughnut? Nope, when doughnuts were back in vogue Krispy Kreme was the one-stop shop. One tiny bundle of glazed "hot now" did the trick and gently wafted in memories of sugary childhood delight.

Krispy Kreme was key in this doughnut history, but the place that truly elevated New York doughnuts was Mark Israel's Doughnut Plant. Each time I visit the city, a stop at the plant is a fixed agenda point. I've tried several flavors including their Valrhona chocolate glazed, mango glazed, lavendar glazed (below left), and on this latest trip I experienced doughnut heaven in a coconut cream-filled with coconut glaze number (below right). Yayayaya.

(Still to try: the blackout, the tres leches, and the stellar crème brûlée doughnut.)

It's hard to give justice to these doughnuts, but I'll try. They're so good because they are light, spongy mostly yeast-raised puffs (they have some cake doughnuts too); everything's organic; and the toppings are seasonal, fresh and creative. The oil used for frying lingers in the dough just enough and takes the texture when you bite in to new heights. The doughnuts (except for the crème brûlée mini) are huge. The price for the quality you're getting is right too ($2.50?). And if you're dieting it's ok, you only live once.

I knew I was gonna miss the Doughnut Plant when I left NY, so imagine my surprise to discover LA has a long-standing famous doughnut culture of its own. A native resident first took me to Bob's Coffee & Doughnuts at the LA Farmer's Market. Omg these are doughnuts. Moist and fluffy, rich in flavor, with special shapes and glazes for kids. The coffee really works here too, with a bunch of varieties for $1 including a Kona blend from Hawaii (and free parking validation). Biting into a Bob's doughnut with a smooth cup of coffee while lounging outdoors in the farmer's market is pure heaven.

When the conversation in Los Angeles turns to doughnuts, which it often does, it's good to listen:

  • A professor introduced Spudnuts doughnuts to me when he brought some to a meeting. These babies are toothsome with just the right texture due to the addition of potato flour.
  • I'm not sure where I heard of Primo Doughnuts, but they came with high praise and the day I trekked to find them their street was being repaved so I had to carry on doughnut-less.
  • On mornings when I'm really lazy I'll just drive over to, that's right, a 7-11 and pick up the local-fave maple bar (long doughnut with maple glaze) or a mere glazed chocolate. Why not, it's a good doughnut! And because doughnuts are big in LA, even a measly 7-11 takes their doughnuts to better places than in other towns.
  • Once after a hike (you have to hike here due to all the doughnuts), an acquaintance said the best in town is The Donut Man in Glendora. Where? This place east past Pasadena, kinda far from home but not too far for a gastronomic road trip! The praise is for The Donut Man's way of stuffing fresh glazed fruit– strawberries or peaches–into doughnut shells. A wonderful thing! A foodie friend in town last April drove all the way out there with me so we could get our doughnut on. Alas The Donut Man is not open on Easter (we happened to drive out there on Easter). So like Primo's, will have to try again. Here's a little video of The Donut Man's doughnuts (from 1:13 note the maple bars) fyi.

Why is there such an affection for doughnuts? Maybe because they're so delicious, the perfect little package of soft and sweet, a quick homestyle dessert that tastes just as good when you buy them than when you make 'em at home. Come to think of it, most people don't make doughnuts at home. Our marker for what a good doughnut is most likely comes from an authentic experience at an old diner or doughnut shop. It's one of the few times I know that the best version doesn't necessarily come out of a home kitchen, which is ideal on a Sunday morning when I'm too sleepy to bake.

Until we eat again,


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