As the pandemic continues to rage on, finding new donut shops has become challenging. It’s not as easy to get across the city and make safe journeys to new shops and try their treats as it once was and this has forced me to explore finding new donuts in unsuspecting locations. Recently, I stopped by a local coffee shop for a large iced coffee and was pleasantly surprised to see donuts in their pastry case. I am not a regular at this shop, but stop by from time to time if I happen to be on the block and this was my first time seeing donuts in the store. I asked the man behind the counter about the selection and he told me that they were from Royal Crown Bakery & Cafe in Staten Island. Naturally, I got one to go.
In the case was a rather basic looking chocolate sprinkled and one that appeared to having some kind of filling as well as some frosting, I was informed it was a Nutella donut and it was just as good as it sounded. Now, to be fair, it’s bit hard to properly judge this donut as I can only assume it was fresh, day-of, as the man behind the counter told me he was actually from Staten Island and picked them up on his way to work rather than getting wholesale delivery. Regardless, the donut was pretty good and it was exciting to actually find something new. On appearance, this was a plump, yeast donut with a slab of Nutella on top along with some powdered confectionary sugar (without the Nutella on top, it’d be easy to think this was a classic jelly donut). The texture itself was rather dry and was not as chewy as I had hoped, but the Nutella filling really brought it up a notch. This was filled to perfection and every bite had the perfect amount of that chocolate-hazelnut goodness that makes Nutella improve almost any dessert it touches. So much so that I had to question as to whether I was really enjoying the donut or if Nutella is just that good. I’m not sure this one was actually as good as it sounded, but it was still a nice surprise and satisfied not just my typical donut craving, but my longing for something new as well.
As with so much else, holiday traditions looked slightly different this year. Typically, I try to get in the festive mood with seasonal treats from around the city, but that was not an easy task in 2020. Although I am still fortunate enough to have many options near me, paying visits to all of my favorite local shops before Christmas was still a challenge and I did not hit my deadline. However, the wonderful people at Doughnut Plant didn’t cut their festivities short based on calendars this year and I was still able to drop by and pick up some of their excellent Christmas-themed treats a few days after the special day.
Since I was already behind schedule, I did miss out on their Hanukkah treasures this year (one day I will finally try their epic Menorah donut and sufganiyot filled pastries) and I opted out of the Coconut Snowman since I’m generally not a fan of that flavor. Even with these exceptions, I was not disappointed and Doughnut Plant came through with a stellar selection. Every year I look forward to the Mint Christmas Tree donut so that was first on my list. Molded perfectly to shape, it has a mint green (in color and taste) outer shell (lined with little sugar-glazed lightbulbs) and is filled with a dark chocolate pudding much like their outstanding Brooklyn Blackout. Doughtnut Plant are masters of their craft when it comes to the interior of their donuts, and perhaps it’s the fact that it’s only available for a short time each year, but I always think this might be their absolute best in both appearance and taste. The year-long wait did not disappoint. Other seasonable favorites included a Cranberry (again, the inside has bits of actual cranberries in the dough) which has an incredible, vibrant glazed color and a Gingerbread which was the perfect replacement to my lack of cookies this year.
Even when everything about 2020 has felt so abnormal, it was great to still have Doughnut Plant serving up their traditional holiday classics to bring a sense of normalcy to the end of the year.
Just before the official end of the season and with what seems to be the first winter storm on the horizon, I hit up Dun-Well Doughnuts and tried their Apple Crumb donut for one last taste of Fall.
Now technically, Winter doesn’t officially begin until December 21, so I am still a few days within season to enjoy a lovely Fall themed doughnut here in the North East. As we’ve written about previously, nothing quite captures Autumn like an Apple Cider donut and while that wasn’t on the menu at Dun-Well this past weekend, their Apple Crumb is nothing to shrug off. It doesn’t have the fried crunch and consistency of a cider donut nor is it coated in that lovely cinnamon sugar powder, but the flavor on this guy is just as pure and enticing as our other Fall favorites. With a sugary top, this creation is definitely more like a traditional crumb cake in texture and consistency and that is what, perhaps, makes it so great. It’s still the delicious and chewy texture like you can expect of any treat from these local vegan heroes, but there is a little something extra to it that gives off such subtle notes of your typical crumb cake that you can find all across the city. Once again, this donut is perfectly sweet and optimally flavored to not overpower or seem in any way fake. It’s a great way to add some variety to an already plentiful and abundant assortment of cider donuts one can find in the area and served as the perfect send-off to the season.
When Autumn hits full swing in the North East, I love to take trips out of the city to get a little break from the concrete and steel and enjoy nature. I love to partake in viewing the changing leaves, picking apples, getting lost in corn mazes, and hitting up farm stands for the freshest seasonal treats. It’s been a little more difficult to make casual trips this year, so when my cravings hit, I made my way to Peter Pan in Greenpoint to snag some local, Fall favorites.
I’ve mentioned several times, but Peter Pan’s classic, no frills approach is always part of their charm and when it comes to Fall favorites, this might be where they’re at their best. Classic flavors always line the shelves at the Greenpoint landmark such as Marble Crullers, Red Velvet, Boston Creme, traditional glazed, as well other frosted standards covered in sprinkles. Still, arriving in this time of year and seeing Pumpkin, Apple Cider, and Apple Fritter gives such a sugar rush of excitement.
Pumpkin and Apple Cider are two of their most basic donuts and in appearance, there isn’t anything all that special about them. However, it becomes clear upon first bite just how intoxicating these two creations can be and how flavor can really sum up the season. Apple Fritter isn’t as much a seasonal exclusive, but still fits right in with the overall vibe. The Pumpkin and Apple Cider are traditional cake donuts, deep fried, and covered in a sugary glaze. Each bite is intensely sweet, but not overpowering, and deeply satisfying. The fritter is a bit larger in overall volume with chunks of apples directly in the dough. The cinnamon sugar inside forming a perfectly gooey glob of goodness. As winter looms and global conditions spark concern, donuts are often my go-to distraction. A sweet relief, delicious distraction, and enjoyable escape. A perfect tasting to celebrate the season.
A few weeks ago, Jason sent me a link that Dunkin’ (formerly, and always in my heart Dunkin’ Donuts) was dropping something new for Halloween this year… a spicy ghost pepper donut. I laughed it off as we both found it strange. Somehow in the past week, this treat has become near meme level in its consumption. A friend of ours tweeted at us and asked for a review, my employee sent me a picture of him eating one, and another friend in Massachusetts went to a few Dunks to get his hands on one as well. What I thought was a really dumb marketing gimmick had actually taken off for the fast food chain. So, after spending over an hour in line to vote early in NYC, I grabbed one for myself to finally get a take on this weird, possible disaster of a donut.
I’ve stated before that as a Massachusetts native, there will always be a soft place in my heart for Dunkin’ and how their version of the Boston Creme was a staple of my childhood, but this was really pushing it. Regardless, I did my best to try it with an open mind. If anything, trying this gave me more faith that a regular donut from Dunkin’ isn’t as bad as I remember and doesn’t taste as mass produced as I expected or remembered (I’ll save my thoughts on Krispy Kreme for another day and still have not made my way to their new monstrosity of a store in Manhattan). The donut is a traditional Strawberry frosted yeast donut and that part actually tasted pretty great. It was light and fully, not too greasy, and the frosting didn’t taste like pure sugar. It was a pleasant surprise. The Ghost Pepper that tops the donut in sprinkle form is obviously where it falls apart. To me, this wasn’t spicy, but rather the sprinkles (or whatever they are) had more of a Pop-Rock like sensation that tasted like a heated cinnamon candy, nothing spicy whatsoever. Sure, it gave the donut some extra texture, but either this thing really is lacking heat, or I had a dud. From the beginning, I knew the hype would be hard to live up to and I felt pretty right by the end. Cool in concept, but severely lacking in execution and not worth going out of your way to experience. Stick to the Boston Creme.
Last weekend, Fany Gerson opened her new donut shop, Fan-Fan Doughnuts, in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in the former site of the original Dough. As one of the founding chefs and long-time partners of the NYC staple, she announced her split from the innovators at the start of the pandemic and had planned to open her new spot in Clinton Hill. However, like practically everything else, COVID put a wrench in her plans, but Gerson powered through and after a few twists and turns, her latest creation opened for weekends only in her old location.
Taking everything she learned via her tenure with Dough, Gerson no longer considers herself a donut novice and has put her experience to the test to create some incredible new concoctions. These yeast donuts have a similar vibe as Dough, albeit smaller and more manageable in size, with a light and airy dough acting as a solid vehicle for some wonderful, advanced flavors that range from classics like Mexican Brown Sugar, Traditional Vanilla, and Belgian Chocolate to stunning creations like Yuzu Meringue, White Coffee (which has an insane espresso cream frosting), and Raspberry Black Currant. There is also a Boston Creme in the style of a Long John (aka a fancy eclair) that is topped with cocoa nibs and a Sea Salt Caramel that if full of gooey goodness. It seems like each week will have slightly different menu line-ups with a few regulars gracing the menu and the plan is to expand their offerings once they sell enough to buy a second fryer.
In just their second weekend, there was already a good amount of hype surrounding the store and line was pretty decent in length for the majority of the morning. For now, it’s take-out only and there is a small counter which displays their daily selections as they rapidly stuff brown cardboard boxes with these delectable treats to get people in and out as quickly as possible (they’re also cash and Venmo only, for now). While the line is not speedy, the wait is definitely worth it and I can’t wait to see how they transform over time with new flavors.
This weekend saw the return, once again, of Doughnut Plant in New York City. After closing at the start of the pandemic, the iconic local chain reemerged at the start of the summer before having to close down again as they battled to keep their numerous locations open and stocked with delicious goods. As Jason and I have both written about, the virus continues to impact small, local businesses and the restaurant industry has suffered tremendously, which is why we take every opportunity we can to support them through this time.
Earlier this week, Doughnut Plant took to social media to announce a pop-up style return set for this weekend at their flagship spots in Brooklyn and Queens with a reduced, albeit spectacular, menu. In their best efforts to reduce cost and use their resources strategically, this weekend’s menu consisted of a few cake classics (Wild Blueberry and Carrot Cake were there, so my wish had come true) as well as their sensational seasonal favorite, Apple Cinnamon. Maybe it’s the limited availability or the hype that I had built up in my head waiting for this day to come, but it’s quite possible that the batches from this weekend were the best ever. Biting into the Apple Cinnamon was like tasting Autumn in full glory. The decadence was rich, the texture perfect, and it somehow exceeded all expectations. While I wish they could be open every day, I know the logistics in these circumstances must be an absolute nightmare so I will wait patiently and for as long as needed until they can return to their full standards, but I’ll gladly welcome another pop-up as well. Whatever comes next for this institution, I’ll be there ready to give it my full support!
Throughout the summer, Long Island’s North Fork Doughnut Company has been partnering with Sail Away Coffee for local deliveries around the area and even into the five boroughs (well, at least to Brooklyn). Pairing six canned coffees with six fresh donuts is a hard combo to pass-up and I usually jump at the chance to place an order for the weekend.
NoFoDoCo specializes in big, craft, artisanal donuts that do a great job of combining classic flavors with fun new inventions. Everything from classic glazed, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, to things a bit more adventurous like Samoa, Boston Creme, and Black Raspberry Jelly to new extremes like Tiramisu, Brown Sugar Bacon Pecan, and Pop Tart populate their menu, which changes on a weekly basis. The yeast beasts are quite filling and while not as dense as cake donuts, they’re more filling and packed full of flavor.
The Cereal Killer was a real highlight this go around. Covered in a strong vanilla frosting and then topped with a ton of Fruity Pebbles, it had wonderful textures and a perfect amount of sweetness. Despite its size and volume, it wasn’t too overwhelming and managed to leave me feeling perfectly full (I still tried the others). The crunch of the cereal was the perfect added bonus (something that Donut Pub here in NYC also nails exquisitely) and really enriched the entire experience. Each bite had the perfect amount of cereal and the vanilla icing held them nicely in place to prevent a mess with each mouthful. Even with a name like Cereal Killer, this one won’t destroy the roof of your mouth, but leave you wanting more.
Let’s be honest, Cape Cod is known for lots of great food and as a native New Englander, my memories of visiting the Cape are mostly filled with lobster and clam chowder. Returning as an adult these days, it’s become quite apparent to me that local donut shops (that are specifically NOT Dunkin’ Donuts) are hard to come by the further you head out down the Cape. However, Hole in One Bakery is a local mini-chain (of sorts) that offers up some delicious baked goods and proves to be a solid option for donuts when in a pinch.
With a few locations up and down the Cape, I popped in to their Eastham joint just before closing to snag their remaining options for the day. This spot lands on the classic, old fashioned style donuts spectrum, but they do seem to have more crafty, artisanal options during the day that I was bummed to have missed. I went straight for their Cinnamon Sugar donut and it was delicious, old-time delight. Wonderfully chewy dough brought home the old school charm and it was beautifully dusted in a cinnamon sugar powder that enhanced every bite. Perfectly coated, excess powder never fell off the donut or covered my mouth, which is always a great highlight when enjoying this style. Their plain option was rather dry and not too flavorful, but would probably be best paired with a hot cup of coffee (not really my vibe). Even at the end of the day, the cinnamon sugar tasted amazingly fresh and was a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
The local charm of the shop and ability to nail a classic was enough to satisfy me and leave me intrigued for future visits.
There’s no doubt that this pandemic has brought unforeseeable changes to so many aspects of our daily lives. Seemingly overnight, our world was turned upside down. Restaurants in particular have really felt the hit brought on by shuttered doors and operating on delivery alone is proving to be not only a health risk, but virtually unsustainable.
In early Spring, the beloved Doughnut Plant closed in order to better understand how to operate safely in our new climate and in May, they slowly began to reopen their stores for delivery and pick-up. Sadly, they’ve now announced that they’ve closed once again, and now through at least August.
Owner Mark Israel took to Instagram to write a lengthy post on the difficult decision to wind down operations and the future of their stores.
“Small businesses need help and more support. Restaurants have lost more revenue and jobs than any other industry. Fixed expenses have remained the same but as we all know, business is down. NYC in particular has been hit hard: people have left and people are staying home (including tourists). Doughnut Plant doesn’t want to be part of the problem — landlords and property management companies are also bearing the brunt of the pandemic. By temporarily suspending operations our goal is to have a long-term solution with our property managers, not be another “number” shuttering its doors. Later this month Congress will consider their final coronavirus response bill for 2020. We know that the federal government is in the position to provide bakeries, cafes and restaurants the support necessary to help countless businesses survive. Time is running out. Your support these past months has helped, but there is more that needs to be done. Tell Congress to support your local coffee shops, cafes, bakeries, restaurants and employees. Tell Congress to pass the Blueprint for Restaurant Revival.”
We stay away from politics in the Donut Club, but helping our favorite stores stay in business is beyond politics and a critical duty as connoisseurs. Learn more about the Blueprint for Restaurant Revival and, if possible, please do what you can to support these crucial businesses and jobs for countless people.