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!

Boxer Donut (new location) – Nyack, NY

Boxer Donuts sign

This past weekend, I finally visited the new location of Boxer Donut in Nyack, NY, just across the Hudson River. Boxer is a great story of suburban SMB donut success. It previously was known as Gypsy Donut, then about five years ago, employee Eric Brown acquired the business and gave it the current name. Then this past December, Boxer moved into a new, larger location across the street. Oh and in between, they also launched a donut bus!

Upon arriving on Franklin St. in Nyack, the first thing I noticed was an old Gypsy Donut sign still on a wall at the corner. It was a great reminder of the history of the business (the boxer dog evolved into the current human boxer logo) and how far it has come. Part of me hopes it stays there forever. I was excited to walk up to the new shop and see a line down the street – it was a signal that the business is doing well.

Old Gypsy Donut sign (now Boxer Donut)

Inside, there is much more seating than in the old location, including a counter with stools, some small tables and a couch area. The buildout of the new space looks great, and it was encouraging to see a full kitchen in the back. In fact, the Boxer team has been adding some savory additions to the menu, including biscuits and sausage gravy when I visited and cornbread donuts with a queso glaze this past Super Bowl Sunday.

New Boxer Donut location at 17 N. Franklin St., Nyack, NY

I had ordered their Valentine’s Day special box (a steal for $20), which included a number of flavors like vanilla, strawberry and chocolate frosted with sprinkles, strawberry jam filed and passion fruit curd filled donuts. It was a great specialty box and all the flavors were enjoyable. My favorite was the strawberry jam filled (the vanilla “O” in “Love”).

Valentine’s Day box from Boxer Donut

Overall, I am so excited to see the success and recent move of Boxer Donut, and it was great to check out the new spot. It’s a frequent pit stop for large bike groups, so just keep that in mind when visiting. Definitely worth a visit and even a special trip – try the marbled old fashioned donut (my favorite) if you go!

You can follow Boxer Donut on Facebook and Instagram, or check out their website.

Doughnut Project – Apple Cider Doughnut

Across the country, temperatures are falling and Autumn truly feels all around us. In the Northeast, the new season brings us tons of changes to our local food menus and as you can probably guess from our coverage here, apple is the main agenda item. While pumpkin has become over-consumed and used to flavor way too many products in recent years, apples remain a constant favorite and one that has not been played out.

As someone who grew up in the region (ok, technically New England and Massachusetts in particular), the cooler temperatures and crisp air always bring me back to apple orchards and their delectable desserts. Apple cider donuts, however, have become a recent holy grail. Typically, I prefer my apple cider donuts to be direct from the farm stand, but living in the city makes that more of a challenge. Luckily for me, the best donut shops in the city usually make a pretty excellent version that I can pick up and eat within the concrete jungle (vs a picturesque orchard).

Much to my enjoyment, The Doughnut Project has partnered with The Raw Sugar Company this year to elevate their apple cider donut to a new level. Coated in a sparkle of sugar, the doughnut has a subtle crunch with each bite until you hit the soft chewy inside. The raw sugar is also a nice contrast to the usual powder or glaze that you’re most likely to find with other shops and local farms. The dough is perfectly fried and there is a lovely crispness too which adds to the excellent texture of the yeast dough. Inside, however, is where the surprise lies. Each donut contains thin slices of apples as well. The sweetness of the fruit and extra crunch are stunning additions to the treat that give it an added feature which elevates the whole experience. The small slivers give a little extra texture to every bite and reinforce the distinct taste. The contrast of the apple skins and the dough make for a wide variety of pleasures and for some stunning flavors.

The collaboration between The Doughnut Project and The Raw Sugar Company continues through November and is one of Manhattan’s best options for the seasonal sensation.

Score:
9/10

Edith’s – Baharat Spiced Apple Cider

In the pandemic, Edith’s , an Israeli deli/grocer opened a permanent location on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg. Offering a variety of breakfast and lunch sandwiches, pastries, and a smattering of other delicious goods, the tiny shop is a bustling weekend destination that constantly has crowds pouring outside its doors. After earning a great reputation as a neighborhood hot spot, when I saw that they’d be serving apple cider donuts this weekend, I couldn’t wait to try them!

Fresh for the day, the donuts were served warm and it was advised to get there early to pick them up before they ran out. I got my bag and immediately felt the warmth of the dough and hurried back home as quickly as possible to enjoy them before they cooled. A slight sugar glaze coated the entire treat in an incredibly thin layer that never fully hardened to the point where it would break off on each bite, a problem for many other glazed donuts. These were so soft and chewy and the addition of baharat, a Middle Eastern spice blend that can consist of black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, coriander and paprika, gave it an extra bit of flavor to separate it from so many other local varieties. I also really appreciated the glaze vs a powdered sugar, another nice differentiator on Edith’s part. The donuts were plump, dense, and incredibly satisfying. Each bite an intense burst of flavor that perfectly executed the assignment.

Announced in partnership with a neighbor, the donuts are benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and 20% of the weekend’s proceeds will go to the cause. Hopefully these, or other donuts, can start to become a staple at Edith’s as a sweet offering in addition to their excellent savory sandwiches.

Score:
9/10

Glazed Over Donuts – Beacon, NY

Despite our love and passion for finding new, exciting donuts in and around New York City, it’s not often that we get to find and explore new opportunities together. This was a bit easier when we worked together, but ever since the pandemic hit and work changed, we mostly keep each other posted via texts. However, on a lovely Sunday afternoon in August, we were able to schedule a trip up to Beacon, NY to try Glazed Over Donuts, a place consistently ranked as one of the best in the Hudson Valley.

Situated along the bustling Main Street in Downtown Beacon, Glazed Over is a pretty popular spot (or at least it was on this particular Sunday) and it’s setup is pretty unique. Instead of being greeted with a usual menu or display case of options and flavors, Glazed Over does something pretty different.

Upon entering, you’re greeted by a bin of clipboards and pens so you can select your order and hand it over to the cashier when you’re ready to order and pay. It seems simple, but it’s a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s your first visit and you’re not prepared (a rookie mistake on our part). 

With the exception of the “Donut of the Day,” everything from Glazed Over is made custom to order. On each clipboard, there is an order form to complete and select your options. Everything starts as a “naked donut” (which essentially means a plain vanilla cake donut) and you select a glaze, a topping and a drizzle.

Glazed Over Donuts

Marc: I felt pretty unprepared here and the growing line behind us made me choose quickly, but I went for a chocolate glaze with pretzel toppings and a salted choc-caramel drizzle for one and a maple glaze with a graham cracker topping and no drizzle for my second. Jason, what about you?

Jason: Yes, I felt a lot of stress upon entering, and the order form didn’t help!  It felt like we were about to play Yahtzee or Clue or something.  And it took me a minute to see the “Donut of the Day” board, at which point I felt relieved!  I also had my partner and child with me, and we eventually figured out that one family order form was better than three.  We ended up with two “Donuts of the Day” plus a chocolate donut with Oreo topping and raspberry glaze.

Marc: We both generally favor the actual quality of the donut vs its general appearance. Overall – how’d you feel about the taste? 

Jason: I was really into them, honestly.  Being made to order adds a freshness that I’m not used to, and I thought they tasted great – a light donut with really high-quality toppings.  I didn’t realize that they are smaller donuts though – not really “minis” but not full-size either – or I would have ordered more.  Did you know they were on the smaller side?

Marc: I was also unaware, but luckily ordered two for just myself and felt ok. I think if the line hadn’t started to grow, I would’ve put a little more thought into mine, but for a first visit, I felt pretty satisfied. Plus, it’s a great excuse to go back now that we know the process.

Score:

Jason – 9/10, definitely worth a visit but maybe do a little pre-work or don’t be ashamed to step out of line to check the “Donut of the Day” and work on your order.
Marc – 8/10, I got pretzels on my chocolate caramel donut and they were a little stale, but the freshness of the dough really made up for it.

Doughnut Project – Maple Crueler

As the great Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe once said, “less is more.” Now, while he was talking about minimal approach to artistic design, his logic can also be applied to donuts. Doughnut Project, the all women-run and owned shop located in the West Village, makes some of the best donuts in the city and they range from simple classics to stunning collaborations with other brands that result in eye-catching creations of the most unique varieties.

While these collaborations and other novelty donuts are indeed excellent, I think Doughnut Project best succeeds in their most simple creations. Their take on a Boston Creme, aptly called a Manhattan Creme, is glorious, the Maple Bacon bar is also nearly perfect, but to me, nothing can beat their Maple Crueler. Everything from the appearance to the taste is about as good as it gets and one of the best takes on such a classic as I have ever tasted.

The outside is exceptionally flakey with a perfect crunch to reveal an incredibly soft and chewy interior where the flavor bursts with each bite. The crispiness is absolutely ideal and rich with freshness that can only be topped by the magnificent flavor the fills your mouth as soon as you bite into the treat. It’s a perfect, twisted ring that is drizzled with sugar to such a high-level degree that it looks as if every single donut is made to be Instagram-worthy. However, while so many of their other donuts are a bit overboard in appearance (luckily they’re never overboard with taste and execution), this one is picture perfect in its simplicity.

It’s easy to gawk at the latest creation that feels more like it was made to be photographed rather than consumed as a meal, and while those creations are sure to get a lot of likes (online and otherwise), the Maple Crueler is almost better just by being so delicious and unassuming. It’s the kind of reassurance that gives Doughnut Project the added confidence to go above and beyond with some of their more out-there options. They can take risks with more adventurous concoctions since they’ve already perfected their standards. The Maple Crueler is a masterpiece.

Score:
Maple Crueler = 10/10

Doughnut Plant – Cacio E Pepe

Yes, you read that title correctly. For better or worse (verdict at the end, of course), I tried Doughnut Plant’s new Cacio E Pepe donut. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “but why?” and you’re not wrong to ask that question. I too was not initially intrigued by this donut, but after several friends DM’d me posts about it on Instagram, I told them all I’d try it out and report back.

Well, I’m here to say that as different and as unlike a donut as it tastes, it was much better than expected. However the key factor is that you can’t think of it as a donut. Instead, it’s an extremely savory and satisfying pastry (perhaps like a croissant) which serves a different function than a sweet treat. I’m not sure it’s something I’ll ever crave regularly, but it’s a fun and unique way to enjoy one of my favorite foods.

To start, this is one of Doughnut Plant’s sourdough donuts, which means it’s a giant yeast pastry with an extra crispy-ness to it that gives it a nice, subtle crunch upon each bite. The sourness of the dough is an incredible match for the savoriness of the cheese that is crumbled on top and, like so many of their other exceptional donuts, this one has ingredients (in this case, pepper) mixed right into the dough which gives each bite a heightened sensation. The flavors on this one are perfect and you’d almost think you’re eating a lovely appetizer from a hip Italian restaurant rather than a donut shop. When you get right down to it, it’s a soft, flakey pastry that’s super fresh and perfectly topped with grated cheese – you’d almost want a dab of olive oil to really take it to a new level. It’s not something that I’d necessarily pair with my afternoon coffee or look towards as a sugar-rush pick-me-up (there is no trace of sweetness), but it’s a satisfying snack that really finds its own groove.

A wonderful novelty donut and something different and exciting, a nice differentiator from the Plant’s typically sweet line-up, the Cacio E Pepe can spice up a spread and add some funkiness to platter of otherwise sugary treats. While I don’t plan to order it on a regular basis, I can say that it opened my mind towards the thought that donuts can be served beyond a breakfast or dessert offering, and that gourmet, savory donuts as a new kind of treat would be a welcome addition to my future snacking habits.

Score:
7/10

Top Donut – Lowell, MA

Over the past year, I’ve been pretty confined to New York City so branching out for new donuts has been a challenge. Jason has been great about getting out to places in the suburbs and neighboring towns in Connecticut, but I’ve stuck to mostly local places in Brooklyn. As the summer progresses and it feels a bit safer to travel, I’ve been lucky to spend a few weeks out of the city and explore new donut options in my home state of Massachusetts.

Top Donut (based in Lowell, MA) has a few locations in the surrounding area and is a wonderful, old school local brand that is full of minimal charm. This isn’t a craft-style shop, but one that feels more similar to the grab and go fashion of Dunkin. The flavors aren’t fancy, but rooted in classics. Wonderful glazed, powdered, and frosted options filled the shelves and the classic diner-style vibe of the shop made it feel very home-run and basic (in a good way). While I love the excitement and variety of my New York stores, the minimal and effortless vibes of Top Donut were a pleasant change of pace.

I opted for my classic suburbs order of a Boston Creme (a no-brainer in Massachusetts) and a chocolate cake donut with a butter-crunch coat. The Boston Creme was perfectly crispy and the cream was smooth and rich, but not too thick. The frosting was perfect and not over-powering as well making for the perfect balance of chocolate and custard. A top tier choice and one of the best I’ve had. The Chocolate Butter-Crunch was also stellar and perfectly proportioned. The cake donut itself was rich, moist, and full of flavor that was only enhanced by the nutty crunch on the outside. I also detected a hint of cinnamon which amplified the flavor. These two were a stellar combination that satisfied a craving and made for an overall excellent experience.

Score:
Boston Creme: 8/10
Chocolate Butter-Crunch: 8/10

Rise Doughnuts – Wilton, CT

Rise box

It’s been just over a year since Rise opened, so it’s about time that I wrote about them! Rise has become nothing short of a phenomenon – opened during the pandemic in a schoolhouse turned restaurant turned donut shop, Rise has captured the attention of both Wilton residents and donut fans all over the Northeast US.

The origin story of Rise is an interesting one – chef Hugh Mangum, along with his partner and children, started and run the business together. Mangum is famous for his other-than-donut culinary work – he’s the founder of Mighty Quinn’s BBQ and has appeared all over Food Network as a Chopped competitor and regular judge on Beat Bobby Flay. Rise began as an at-home experiment with sourdough starter, then transitioned to a Sunday pop-up at Parlor in Wilton, then to a temporary home at The Schoolhouse at Cannondale on weekends, and soon will move to its own dedicated space, still in Wilton.

And the donuts are quite the experience. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Rise three times since they opened, and the 45-minute trek from the NYC suburbs to Wilton has been worth it every time. At the Schoolhouse, Rise has only been open Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday mornings, and only until they sell out. So getting there at open is pretty key, and there is always a line waiting, even when I’ve arrived 10-15 minutes early.

Rise donuts are yeast-based, and just full of flavor. What always catches my attention are the icings, fillings and flavorings because they truly reflect great culinary skill and always pop. Rise also produces an apple fritter, which they sometimes pivot to other fruits like roasted pineapple and peach. I tend to focus on the donuts, I think because I’m spoiled by the apple fritter from MAD Donuts and have trouble accepting others. Donut snob, I know.

These are some of the great donut flavors I’ve tried in my visits to Rise:

Brown butter vanilla bean – A Rise staple, it’s a perfect glazed donut. Light, not too sweet and full of vanilla flavor. You’re fine just getting a bunch of these.

Aztec cinnamon – This is my favorite Rise donut, also a staple of the menu. It’s like a jacked up cinnamon sugar, wildly intense in flavor with crunchy cinnamon bits on top. Others have said the flavor is too strong, but I love it (I learned from this article that they add a touch of cayenne for balance and kick). Definitely at least give it a try.

Dark chocolate sea salt – Maybe the perfect chocolate donut? I am saying perfect a lot, but I think they’ve done it. I usually find chocolate iced donuts way too sweet, and even though I relished them as a kid, I tend to avoid them as an adult. But the mix of dark chocolate and savory sea salt delivers a great balance here. Goes great with cold brew. If you are skeptical about chocolate donuts, give it a try; and if you love them, this should impress.

Boston cream – OK, this is not my jam but everyone I know loves it. Rise takes a unique approach to this classic, using their vanilla whipped cream as the filling instead of the traditional custard. My family adores this donut, and I’ve heard other great feedback about it, so I am a supporter. It takes a lot for me to vouch for a filled donut.

Blood orange – I’m often wary of citrus anything, but I really liked this seasonal menu item. The icing was really bright and flavorful, and cut through the other sweetness. This flavor is not always available, but I really enjoyed it and generally recommend their fruit glazes.

Roasted blackberry – I begged the team at Rise to feature this on a Sunday (when I tend to visit, but the menu is usually more limited compared to Saturdays), and when they did, I made the trip to check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. Like the blood orange, the blackberry was fresh, biting and delicious. I could have gone for a little more intensity in flavor, but I’m still all-in on any of their fruit options.

The “rise” of Rise Doughnuts has been a great story for so many reasons – it’s a business built during the pandemic, a true family business bringing together parents and kids, and proof that craft donuts can be successful outside of big cities. It also has an interesting “cult” following – Rise has no website and for a long time didn’t even appear on Google Maps – it exists almost exclusively on Instagram. In this GMA video, Mangum said, “people want to be the ones that discovered their favorite band.”

I highly recommend checking out Rise if you are in the area or can make the trip. They are currently open Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays until they sell out, and soon will be moving to their new location at 28 Center Street in the heart of downtown Wilton.

#FritterFriday #RiseTribe