I’ve been very fortunate to be able to start traveling again and visit new places after spending most of the past two years hunkered down in Brooklyn. Recently, I headed to Northern California and was able to make a stop at Donut Farm in Oakland, the East Bay’s premiere vegan donut shop.
Founded in 2006 by Josh Levine (a local legend known for founding the iconic punk venue 924 Gilman Street), the shop has grown over the past decade and a half from a daily wholesale business serving local eateries and coffee shops to a few brick and mortar locations of their own. The first official retail location opened in the SF Ferry Building in 2010 and a few years later they opened a spot in Oakland which has become the home of their Organic Vegan Donuts. There is also now a store in LA as well.
Arriving at the Oakland location, the giant sign out front gave off the feel of the stores punk ethos and roots (the font, in particular, reminded me of Sebadoh) and inside, you’re greeted with a DIY vibe. With racks, trays, and kitchen supplies galore, there is no hiding the magic and energy that goes into creating these treats. The store is very much down to business and wastes no time with fancy designs or decor.
Traditionally, Donut Farm is a vegan cake shop, but dabbles in yeast treats on the weekend. On my visit, I loaded up on a dozen selections ranging in flavors like Chocolate Cookie, Matcha Green Tea, Philz Coffee, BLM Blackberry, Maple, Salted Caramel, and Cinnamon Sugar. The round, petite, vegan options were bold and buzzing with flavor. The hardened frosting gave each bite a marvelous crunch and elevated the extreme, vibrant flavors to a new level. Each one packed a hefty punch that left you satisfied to the fullest extent. Perfectly chewy and moist, it was hard to pick a favorite, so instead I marveled at all that was in front of me.
It’s always hard to rank such vast varieties, but it does feel safe to say these are the best vegan donuts I’ve ever come across and my only disappointment was that I wasn’t able to try even more options.
Holidays can bring out the best in donut shops. Moving away from the usual menu, holidays can be a great chance for places to show off or experiment with new, out-of-the-box recipes and creations. Exploring new freedoms and the ability to break the mold, I love to see what chefs come up with when they’re not limited to their typical array of ingredients. While they didn’t come up with the idea themselves, Fan Fan Doughnuts decided to celebrate Purim this year by combining donuts with the traditional Jewish treats, hamantaschen; or the doughnutaschen as they call them.
Typically, I’m a fan of cake donuts vs yeast. I prefer the dense, chewiness of a donut full of rich, thick textures instead of the light, flakey, more pastry-like qualities of their yeast counterparts. Fan Fan specializes in yeast, however, but in my opinion, they’re making some of the best in the city so it’s always worth a visit. This could be due to the fact that their production size is much smaller than some of the other chain-like places in the city such as Dough or Doughnut Plant, which gives them greater control of their quality.
Using their yeast creations as a foundation, the doughnutaschens are triangular in shape, covered in a confectionary sugar, and then filled with with either a salted dulce de leche, chocolate hazelnut praline, or pineapple-lime jam. On my visit, I opted for the dulce and a chocolate (I snagged two other non-themed donuts as well, of course) as fruit is generally not up my alley when it comes to donut flavors.
The base for the doughnutaschens were as fresh as could be, their flakey and airy crusts melting with buttery goodness in each bite. The flavor was rich and delectable and had the sense of the freshest croissant giving it the ultimate pastry vibe. The fillings were also nearly flawless with the dulce de leche having a smooth and creamy, frosting-like taste as opposed to the supreme crunch of the chocolate hazelnut praline (Nutella flavors were plentiful here). The toppings were perfectly nested in the dough so each bite felt in control and not overflowing. The combo was a perfect pairing of differences and gave me a great sense of the dexterity of the baker.
I love the chance to try new things, especially from places already close to my heart. Now, I’m already looking forward to the next year’s Purim so I have a chance to try these again!