Basic Batch Donuts – Milford, MA

One perk of traveling is trying local cuisines in a new setting and while a donut shop isn’t necessarily some place new for me, I’ll never pass up the opportunity to go to a regional shop. On a recent visit back to my home state of Massachusetts, I headed to the southern part of the state for a Neil Young concert and was able to also double dip on pleasure with a stop at Basic Batch Donuts in the town of Milford.

What originally began as a pop-up experience back in 2017 transitioned into a full-time affair in October of 2020 (a remarkable feat considering the state of the world at the time) and has since become a wonderful addition in a state dominated by the Dunkin’ chain. Founded by a couple who lost their jobs in the pandemic, one of them has an actual degree in pastry baking and it’s no surprise that she’s put those skills to use, creating some marvelous confectionary treats made by hand with passion and purpose.

Each month the shop whips up a new menu with as many as six additions to their growing list of flavors. On my visit, I opted for my usual Boston Cream (an obvious choice when in the home state and a great constant in which to judge their standards) as well as a Biscoff Cookie Batter cruller. The later was a soft, fluffy, and moist treat, a french cruller style donut dipped in cookie butter glaze with biscoff cookie crumbs and swirls of white chocolate glaze that melted in my mouth with each bite. An excellent option if you happen to see it on the menu, the cookie crumble topping added excellent texture to the airy dough that had a slight crisp, making it a nearly perfect treat.

The classic Boston Cream was also quite good, albeit not quite as fresh tasting at the cruller, but the custard filling made up for what was lacking in the dough. I also tasted the Fruity Pebbles, something that’s becoming more of a standard these days, and was impressed with this option as well.

The quaint shop had lots of other delectable looking baked goods as well like handmade pop-tarts, cookies, cinnamon buns, and fritters as well as some good coffee. It’s inspiring to see such a thriving environment with excellent offerings blossom post-pandemic and come into their own as a (hopeful) favorite of the neighborhood and community. Here’s to hoping they make it for the long haul and continue to offer creative flavors in addition to their super-friendly service.

Scores:
Biscoff Cookie Batter cruller: 9/10
Boston Cream: 7/10

Cloudy Donut Co. (Brooklyn)

Often, the hardest part of being a self-prescribed donut critic is finding the content to review. While New York has no shortage of donuts, finding the newest spots became a challenge during the pandemic and even though there are plenty of legacy places deep within the boroughs I still need to explore, I was excited to learn of a new shop that recently opened in Brooklyn Heights.

Cloudy Donut originated as a shop in Maryland which opened in 2020 and not only survived the pandemic, but somehow thrived! Amassing a major following on TikTok for their stunning creations, the founders recently expanded their operations to a New York storefront in October of 2022 and are now selling their vegan creations Friday-Sunday at their Brooklyn Heights location.

Previously, Dun-Well Doughnuts has had a pretty firm lock on the top spot for vegan donuts in the city, but Cloudy is looking to give them a run for their money. However, being the top vegan donut spot in NYC isn’t their only goal, the founders have previously stated that they’re looking to bring about reverse gentrification to the neighborhood as they’re the first Black-owned business (ever!) to open in Brooklyn Heights. Shop operator Zewiditu Jewel told Brooklyn Magazine this past fall that Cloudy “loves to reverse gentrify. It’s this ideology that we come in as a Black business to affluent neighborhoods, for visibility not only to Black people but also to places that maybe aren’t used to seeing Black business owners.”

So, what about the pastries themselves? With over 40 flavors in their repertoire, Cloudy posts a new line-up each week that showcases what will be available in their stores each weekend. When I paid a visit this past Saturday morning, I opted for S’mores, Brown Butter Chocolate Chip, Pistachio, and Maple Butter Pecan. My only regret is not bringing a friend to try more.

From the onset, S’mores had intrigued me the most with its hazelnut and chocolate combo giving strong Nutella vibes as well as a perfect marshmallow directly on top. However, it was the Brown Butter Chocolate Chip that really won me over with its crumbled cookie topping combining with what seemed like cereal milk frosting for a next-level sweet treat that never overpowered and allowed each flavor to balance the others with sublime dexterity. The Maple Butter Pecan was another strong contender and while the Pistachio was nowhere near bad, it’s probably the one I wouldn’t try again.

Given its rotating line-up, the trek to Brooklyn Heights seems well worth it and allows for a lot of new orders upon each visit. In particular, I look forward to returning in the spring when they plan to have Nitro cold brew on tap. Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of that cereal milk frosting and start to plan my next trip as soon as something intriguing pops up on the menu. With such strong varieties, that wait shouldn’t be too long.

Scores:
S’mores: 7/10
Brown Butter Chocolate Chip: 9/10
Pistachio: 6/10
Maple Butter Pecan: 8/10

Dun-Well Doughnuts – Snack Attack

After operating for over a decade, Dun-Well Doughnuts is practically an East Williamsburg institution these days. Making their incredible vegan donuts in-house daily, they’ve partnered with vendors to sell their lovely treats around the city and at various events, but nothing beats making the trip to their original storefront and getting a fresh creation.

Dun-Well specializes in rather standard flavors like chocolate peanut, blueberry, maple, and vanilla sprinkle, but they also take things up a notch with their “pie” style donuts. Instead of a traditional filled donut (although they have those too in the forms of Boston Creme and classic Jelly), the “pie” donut leaves the filling on the surface and fills the usual hole of the donut with a dollop of something delicious. To start off 2023, they’ve introduced their latest sensation, The Snack Attack.

Taking inspiration from all of the best snack options, Dun-Well has thrown together their version of a “kitchen sink” style donut and the results are massive. Pretzel bits, potato chip crumbs, chocolate frosting, a sprinkling of salt, and a hunk of deliciously smooth and creamy peanut butter make this one of their all-time best creations. The crunchy/chewy textures and the sweet/savory flavor combos made every bite such a delectable experience, each more satisfying than the last as the flavor profiles popped with freshness.

It’s unclear if this was just a weekend special or if it’ll find a permanent spot in their collection, so here’s to hoping we’re graced with this magical donut again soon.

Snack Attack: 9/10

Peter Pan + Edith’s – The Coffee Tahini Donut

From @edithsbk on Instagram

I love a good collaboration. Two (or many) great minds coming together, bringing the best of what they have to offer, and creating something even greater than the sum of their parts is a dream. Often, collaborations can go too extreme, but when each party plays their part just right, the results can be divine.

For over fifty years, Peter Pan has been serving up some of the best donuts in North Brooklyn. Their old school charm and classic varieties have made them a neighborhood staple for decades. They even landed in the latest Spiderman movie as the workplace of MJ (played by Zendaya). Edith’s is a newbie, one that popped-up during the pandemic and has quickly become my go-to spot for breakfast and lunch. While Peter Pan relies on long-standing traditions, Edith’s is all about innovation with their fantastic approach to the classic New York style Jewish deli counter seen through the eyes of the ever-changing Williamsburg landscape.

A partnership between the two never crossed my mind, but last week when they started to tease a collaboration, I knew something special was headed my way. Resulting in something truly heavenly, the classic sour cream donut from Peter Pan’s is used as the base and has been mixed with Greek Coffee and Tahini glaze to create something totally out of this world.

The standard cake donut is still dense, chewy and full of flavor, but it’s elevated with the not-too-sweet glaze courtesy of the brilliant minds running Edith’s kitchen. There’s a bit of a crunch from the glaze and the extra drizzle on top really sends this one to the next level. It’s an all-star collaboration that almost feels too good to be true, but in the words of the iconic Joni Mitchell, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” and this one is here for one week only, so don’t miss out.

If you’re in the city and have time (these have been selling out before 11:00am), you must do everything you can to get to Edith’s and try one for yourself. Personally, I made it my mission to go first thing on Monday as to not miss out and I’ll be back again before the week ends.

Score: 9/10

Doughnut Plant – Wonder Wheel

As I’m sure you know by now, this summer has been a hot one. The NYC region has felt the brunt of extreme temperatures over the past few weeks and as delicious as donuts are, they don’t really help to beat the heat. Luckily, Doughnut Plant has things covered with their new creations known as Wonder Wheels (yes, a tribute to the iconic Coney Island ride). Wonder Wheels take mini donuts and use them as the cakes of ice cream sandwiches to make for the ultimate summer treat.

This weekend, even as temperatures took a slight dip, I hit up the plant to finally try one of these cool treats. I opted for the Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate and was incredibly impressed with my decision. Covered in a hard, chocolate shell, the treat was a perfectly frozen goodie that provided much needed relief from the heat. Beneath the chocolate surface was a cake donut and peanut ice cream which included fresh, Georgia peanuts in each bite. It immediately tasted like an old classic, but I’m sure the other flavors make it feel like the real Doughnut Plant experience.

The soft, cake donut was a perfect balance for the ice cream and gave every bite a wide array of flavors and textures. As the ice cream and hard chocolate melted around the donut, everything began to compliment each other in new ways and really heightened the entire experience. It’s hard to think of something else hitting the spot on a hot day quite like these treats and I can’t wait to go back to try other flavors.

These are pricey goods and treating a whole family to them on a hot day may not be what you’re looking to do, but I can confirm that they are indeed worth the cost and when the sun is blazing down, ice cream and donuts are a perfect way to beat the heat.

Score:
Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Wonder Wheel: 8/10

Fan Fan’s 2nd Annual Chocolate Doughnut Festival

Brooklyn’s rising doughnut sensation, Fan Fan Doughnuts, brought back their chocolate festival for a second year in a row and partnered with Guittard chocolate for the special event. Following last year’s “around the world” theme, this year was dedicated to “nature” and the special donuts were as remarkable as ever and really showcased that Fan Fan is indeed a step above the rest.

For the week of May 18-22, Fan Fan had their entire menu dedicated to chocolate creations (both in traditional doughnut form as well as their specialty fan fan treats) inspired by nature and in addition to their sublime flavors, one quick scroll through the shop’s Instagram page will also unveil the beauty in each of their donuts (some of which look too good to eat). I made it on the last day and was overwhelmed, but extremely satisfied with my selection.

It took a lot of self control to not just ask for one of everything, but I ended up narrowing my options down to four excellent choices: a Campfire (their take on s’mores with smoked vanilla, malt, toasted marshmallow, brown butter walnut) and a Mocha Mountain (coffee cream, chocolate caramel ganache) fan fan, plus a Starry Night (chocolate caramel) and a Queen Bee (brown butter-honey).

The Queen Bee and Starry Night were truly impressive yeast donuts that were perfectly fried on the outside, giving a slight crunch with each bite, and were deliciously chewy inside. The chocolate was strong, rich, and densely full of flavor making every bite pretty spectacular. The white chocolate garnish on top of the Queen Bee was even better than I expected and the texture was a perfect companion to the softness of the fresh dough.

The two fan fans I ordered (their long, crueller-esque creations) were both top notch and the Campfire was one of the best donuts I’ve ever had, period. The smoked vanilla and malt cream filling was absolutely unreal and the brown butter walnut elevated it beyond imagination. Coming in closely behind, the Mocha Mountain was another fantastic concoction. The chocolate caramel ganache was rich and smooth and the simple sugar over the dough instead of a frosting really brought out the flavor and the texture of the sugar was an extra enhancement.

Now, with this year’s festival in the books, Fan Fan announced they’d keep some of the flavors in rotation on their regular menu for those who missed out and asked for favorites as suggestions on their Instagram. No matter what makes the cut, it’ll truly put them at the top of the best in Brooklyn.

Scores:
Campfire: 10/10
Mocha Mountain: 9/10
Starry Night: 8/10
Queen Bee: 9/10

Donut Farm – Oakland, CA

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.

My assortment

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.

Fan Fan Doughnuts’ Doughnutaschen

Image from Fan Fan’s Instagram

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.

My order: Chocolate Churro, White Coffee, Chocolate Hazelnut Praline, Dulce de Leche

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!

Super Nice Coffee and Bakery

In a city like New York, there are an unlimited number of places to grab coffee and a pastry. Whether it’s a local bodega, neighborhood roaster, city staples, or a massive chain like Starbucks, the city has no shortage of caffeine and sweets waiting for you around every corner.

One such place exists up in Harlem right off Lexington Ave tucked away on a casual side street. On East 117th, you’ll find Super Nice Coffee and Bakery, a spot that truly lives up to its name. Opened by Danny Macaroons, the shop is stocked with a wide variety of pastries and other sweet treats as well as a robust coffee menu.

Their current set up is only window service for now, but there is still a full menu and when I dropped by on a Sunday afternoon, I had full range of options including cake, yeast, and vegan donuts. While not known exclusively for donuts, that was obviously the point of my trip and still I was enticed by almost every other food item in the display case.

I opted for a Maple Pecan and a Fruity Pebble for the my yeast choices, a Cider Glazed Apple cake and a Mexican Chocolate old fashioned. The yeast were delightful, each one light and chewy with a perfect airy quality that tasted incredibly fresh. The frosting was evenly spread, and not over done and the pecans and cereal bits were applied with balance and composure. The Cider Glazed Apple perhaps seems most appropriate in the fall, but it was still delicious as a New Year treat. Again, the glaze wasn’t too thick and really complimented the moist and perfectly spiced interior. The Mexican Chocolate was rich in flavor and packed more of a punch than Dunkin’s Ghost Pepper Donut, but was a bit too crunchy and well-done. The flavors were still top-notch and luckily compensated for the overall texture and it’d be worth giving it a second shot given the quality of the others.

New York has some of the best speciality, artisanal donut shops in the country (maybe the world), but there are also places that will have a special treat on the menu as their sweet treat amongst other savory options, and then there are spots like Super Nice, a spot that has a little of it all.

Kane’s Donuts – Boston, MA

When we seek out new donut shops to visit, support, dine at, and eventually write about, chains don’t usually make the cut. Personally, I love to find local small businesses at home in New York City or when I’m out on vacation that satisfy my cravings. Usually, there is a Dunkin Donuts, a Krispy Kreme, a Tim Horton’s or other massive chain that is sure to sell donuts no matter where you are in the country. Usually, these places aren’t very good and the idea of visiting a chain can spoil the appetite.

Jason has mentioned it before, but there is, however, a rare gem in existence that fits somewhere between the fast food donut options and the local hot spot. In Massachusetts, these tend to be a bit more common and on a recent trip, I checked out Kane’s Donuts to satisfy a craving. Established in 1955, Kane’s has three locations (two in Saugus, MA and one in downtown Boston) today and a great back story. Always family-owned, the mom and pop shop always had fresh donuts ready to serve throughout the day in addition to cups of coffee for the hard working New England town. Current owners, Peter and Kay Delios bought the original shop decades ago and opened the new locations all while keep the family affair in order.

Now, the small chain is one of Massachusetts’ most prominent donut retailers and their impressive menu keeps lines forming at all locations. On a Sunday morning, I headed to the Route 1 location in Saugus which doubles as their main kitchen for their wide variety of yeast donuts (the gluten-free kitchen is at the original spot). “Donuts are love” was the phrase plastered all over the walls and there was a joy and excitement in the air the moment I walked in.

For the occasion, I ordered a dozen donuts from across the menu. Highlights included: Boston Creme, Double Apple Cider, Lemon Poppy, Strawberry Frosted, Maine Blueberry, Maple Bacon, Chocolate Glazed, Creme Brulée, and Maple Pumpkin. Each one seemed to be better than the next. The insides were moist and full of flavor and the outer glazes and frostings were applied perfectly, never excessive and always distributed with near perfection.

The seasonal flavors hit the hardest and the Maple Pumpkin in particular still lingers on my tastebuds. The interior a wonderful blend of pumpkin spices with a dense chewy bit coated with a delicious maple glaze. The two flavors together were an out of this world experience. The Double Apple Cider was another strong contender and the Maine Blueberry was delectable, light, airy, and bursting with flavor.

It’s always fun to find new small business to support and even better when they sell your favorite goods. Seeing a shop be able to navigate the complexities of not only running multiple locations, but keeping the product in peak form as well is almost more rewarding. As I paid for my order and carried the giant box out the door, I heard the person behind the register great the customer behind me. A little boy and his mom were there to grab an order and the employee immediately recognized the family as regulars and brought the small, local charm to the front and center of the experience. The perfect icing, or in this case perhaps… frosting on the cake.