In 1998 Jesus appeared at a Tim Hortons in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Crowds gathered
to inspect the Christ-shaped apparition on the wall, but no one seemed particularly surprised that the Son of God had selected a donut shop for his appearance. Such is the esteem in which we hold our favorite fried delight.
And for good reason. For the purposes of this roundup, we limited eligibility to the true-blue, honest-to-God donut: nothing served with coulis or confit; nothing that the average cop wouldn’t recognize at a glance. That meant no funnel cakes, fritters, or beignets; no foie gras-stuffed treats like those at Portland, Oregon’s Le Pigeon; and also no Dunkin’s, Tim Hortons, or Krispy Kremes. Sorry, folks. Standards. As the philosopher Homer Simpson once asked, “Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?” The answer to that is: No.
Doughnut Plant, New York City
Crème Brûlée Donut
Think of this masterpiece (right) as a Boston creme on crack or as an American take on the oh-so-civilized crème brûlée. Doughnut Plant’s Mark Isreal—whose grandpa Herman perfected his pastry recipe in 1934—uses fine yeasty dough injected with vanilla custard and tops it with a burnt-sugar crust. Deploy this cholesterol bomb the next time you have company—and do your damnedest to resist licking the plate.
ALSO TRY: Tres Leches donut
Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, MI
Served up from a spartan aluminum trailer planted outside this famed roadhouse, the traditional Dutch-American recipe is rich with molasses and nutmeg, touched off with notes of bright lemon zest and a scattering of muscovado sugar from sunny Barbados. These treats are a tropical wonder, the antithesis of what we associate with the Midwest (cold winters, Big Ten football, Laverne & Shirley). If there’s such a thing as a masculine pastry, this is it.
ALSO TRY: None! This is the only choice.
Fractured Prune, Ocean City, MD
Black Forest Donut
Free-associate Germany and you come up with lederhosen, narrow mustaches, Angela Merkel, and Black Forest cake. Which would you most want in donut form? The Black Forest donut at the Fractured Prune (named for Prunella Shriek, an injury-prone 19th-century Ping-Pong champ) is a neat twist on the original, transforming the traditional cake into a donut with sticky raspberry glaze, plentiful chocolate chips, and coconut shavings. Nontraditional? Perhaps. Easier to pronounce than Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte? Ja!
ALSO TRY: French Toast donut
Psycho Donuts, Campbell, CA
Most of us recall summer camp as a time of communal showers, uncharitable shorts, and flea bites. Even the best part—s’mores—was imperfect: The chocolate never melted; the cracker crumbled; the marshmallow attracted wasps. So thank heavens for central California’s donut lab, which moved on from an ill-advised attempt at a “sushi donut” to make this beauty, with its oozing blend of chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker all nestled atop a pillow of dough. Tastes
even better than a capture-the-flag victory.
ALSO TRY: Key Lime Pie donut
Glazed Donuts, Chicago
Maple Bacon Donut
Exploiting 21st-century food trends to the fullest, this Windy City outfit uses only local ingredients. So, fittingly for a donut from the Hog Butcher for the World, this one is flecked inside and out with chunks of premium bacon and dripping with maple glaze. It tastes like a lumberjack breakfast dipped in a fryolator. On the small side, but its density means it’ll tame an Oprah-size hunger.
ALSO TRY: Oatmeal Chocolate Stout donut
Dynamo Donuts, San Francisco, CA
Spiced Chocolate Donut
Meet the Sarah Palin of donuts: hot, sassy, and polarizing. It’s crispy on the outside and dusted with sugar, but one bite reveals a fluffy, brownie-batter-rich interior. At Dynamo herbs and spices are everything, and with this one the “spice” part is too good to give away. Think Mexican hot chocolate, with an emphasis on the Mexican. Not a donut for the faint of heart—or stomach, for
that matter. Kind of like Palin herself.
ALSO TRY: Candied Orange Blossom donut
Dreesen’s Famous Donuts, East Hampton, NY
According to Alec Baldwin, people head for the Hamptons not for the beaches, parties, or polo, but for Dreesen’s signature treat. The classic cake donut is an unadorned ring of risen dough flecked with nutmeg. Not too sweet, not too dense, it’s the food equivalent of black lingerie: simple, classic, and eternally appealing.
ALSO TRY: Powdered Sugar donut
Top Pot Doughnuts, Seattle, WA
Pink Feather Boa
What’s not to love about a donut that looks like the cartoon version of itself? Top Pot’s pink-frosted beaut, decked out in coconut shavings, summons the phrase “desert island food.” Better yet is its interior, a puffed cake yellower than Montgomery Burns. It’s like a delicious nuclear meltdown in your mouth! Excellent.
ALSO TRY: Apple fritter
Stan’s Donuts, Westwood, California
Peanut Butter and Fresh Banana Donut with Chocolate Chips
A cross-section of Stan’s donut reveals its complex infrastructure: feather-light dough, molten core of peanut butter and banana chunks, pale banana icing that hardens to a crisp and tastes of marshmallow, a judicious scattering of chocolate chips.Unsurprisingly for a third-generation donut maker like Stan Berman, he’s created the most addictive combination since the speedball.
ALSO TRY: Blueberry Crisp donut
Sweetwater’s Donut Mill, Kalamazoo, MI
Imagine a Jackson Pollock ripoff painted by a leprechaun in the shape of a pastry. That’s a fair description of the Grasshopper from Sweetwater’s, which serves a whopping 50-plus varieties. This sucker combines a ring of chocolate cake with scoops of cool mint-chip frosting, sprinkles, and splashes of fudge. Score one for the leprechauns.
ALSO TRY: Snickers donut