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The Wisdom of 100 Donuts

November 30, 2015

Anyone remember The Best Dozen series I took on a while back for All Over Albany?

Over a year ago I embarked on a perilous journey. It was one where I decided to eat a dozen donuts from eleven local donut places. The original goal was to update an old survey AOA had conducted of the local donut landscape. But I foolishly told AOA Greg that the only way of finding the best donuts was by eating them all. And surprisingly, he agreed.

I regretted the project pretty much after the third bite on the first day. Oh. Dear. God. What did I get myself into? Completing the assignment was a sheer test of my willpower and resolve.

In the end, I made it to all the donut shops in the immediate vicinity, but there were still other places an easy drive away that weren’t included within the evaluation. It’s taken a long, long time until I could even consider looking at a donut again, and I’m glad to say that I’m now in the clear.

But let me tell you something. Old habits die hard.

Last week, I went to the Donut Dip in West Springfield, Mass. Twice. Once on Wednesday returning from Rhode Island. Once on Sunday returning from Connecticut. It’s mighty convenient to be near the crossroads of 90 and 91.

The Donut Dip was one of the shops that came up in conversation when people heard about The Best Dozen. The implication was that the Capital Region had some fine places, but this old-fashioned outpost was really a cut above.

And I totally get it. The place is wonderful. The rich elastic crumb of the yeast raised shells is magnificent. But the cake donuts are excellent too with a fantastic exterior crunch and a tender crumb.

On the whole, it may out perform any of our donut places, I’d have to run the numbers. But on a donut by donut basis, we’ve actually got a handful of better specimens locally.

The Cookie Factory makes a better chocolate iced donut, hands down.
Bella Napoli makes a better Boston creme.
I’m still enchanted by the crackle of the glaze at Market Bistro.
Cider Belly makes a better apple cider donut.
Schuyler makes a better old fashioned.

And that’s actually why on my first visit to Donut Dip I wasn’t all that impressed. So it took a second visit to triangulate on the things that this Massachusetts spot does well: filled yeast donuts, unique cake based donuts, and donuts without chocolate.

IMG_3212

The sour cream donuts have no equal.
Lemon filled rounds dusted with powdered sugar are fantastic.
Blueberry and strawberry are the jelly flavors to remember.
Toasted coconut is golden, crispy, and not too sweet.
(Powdered) sugar raised is better than glazed here.
Vanilla creme is more like a mousse, and totally works.

Which isn’t to say Donut Dip isn’t without its misses either.

The chocolate creme really could benefit from more cocoa.
The pumpkin donut tastes like a deep fried muffin, and isn’t my thing.
That black raspberry jelly is just unfortunate, filled with fake gummy pieces of “fruit”.
Despite some serious praise, the apple cider donut just can’t compete with the real deal.

Egads. What have I become? I have to say, the upside of writing a series like The Best Dozen is very similar to the benefit of going on one of the Fussy Little Tours. By eating a lot of one kind of thing in succession, it becomes much much easier to put other versions of the form into a hierarchy.

But even though I seem to be well on the path to becoming an expert donut eater, it’s still easy for me to pick out a not-that-great dozen donuts from a new shop. Sometimes it takes a couple of trips to figure out what a place does better than everyone else.

Now, I really have to get to King Bakery and give their donuts a whirl. Maybe I can get lucky and discover the cart’s glory in my first dozen.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2015 10:51 am

    Cider Belly cider donuts are good in their own right (I guess). But they are not at all indicative of what (I believe) a cider donut should be. They should have their own category. “Cider Donut inspired Donuts,” or something like that. Going around saying that Cider Belly has the best “cider donuts” around is sort of silly.

    • November 30, 2015 2:06 pm

      I have yet to declare which cider donut is “the best” cider donut. I know that Mr. Dave will probably say something like, “The best cider donut, is the cider donut in front of you after a long morning of apple picking.” However, eventually, the FLB will have a Tournament of Champions Tour de Donut, and we’ll be looking for one local place to wear the crown.

      That said, I’m still hard pressed to understand why the simple cinnamon sugar dusted Cider Belly donut isn’t indicative of, “what a cider donut should be.” Sure, the fanciful glazes at Cider Belly take the ACD into uncharted territory. But those aren’t the donuts to which I’m referring, and I would hope that Mr. Dave knows that.

      So, I’m left scratching my head; and amused that of all people, Mr. Dave is calling me silly. Can anyone forget his mini hot dog encased in aspic?

      • December 1, 2015 10:31 am

        Hot dog in aspic should be in the Louvre. But anyhow.

        I will use a mini hot dog example. Even though it seems that discussions of mini-hot dogs/mozz-melb/fish fry, etc… has become sort of reflexively uncool.

        But let us say that on Lark street a restaurant opened up. It has that hip faux-rustic look. They sell mini-dogs with the works on fresh, toothsome, house baked rolls. Their mini-sauce has house pickled hot peppers in it. Stuff like that. All of a sudden Mr. Fussy is declaring their product, “the best (I assumed your list of “better” donuts was your best list) mini-dog in the Capital Region!!!” Would that be silly? I think so.

        There are places that have been selling those dogs for almost 100 years continuous. That is huge in the US. That is a lot of history. You can’t easily remove certain foods from their place or their history. It can be done. Delz Dogs in Castleton does a damn good job for a mini-dog new Jack.

        The analogy is sort of a stretch, but you get the idea.

      • December 1, 2015 11:18 am

        Mr. Dave,

        I’m pretty sure you are also a fan of Anton’s mini dogs, and they too are a newcomer to the form. I like ’em too. Especially that meat sauce. But instead of being constrained by a 100 year old recipe, the owner was able to stay true-to-form while still making some modern day adjustments.

        The last time I was at Anton’s the cook also chopped the onions to order. I can’t imagine you would approve of something like that.

        But I’m still not clear on why the classic Cider Belly Donut doesn’t count. The ingredients aren’t fancy. The equipment remains the ubiquitous donut robot. It feels like the Delz Dawgs of cider donuts. Just like Delz sells large hot dogs in addition to its classic mini hot dogs, Cider Belly also sells non-traditional donuts.

        Am I right? Or am I right?

      • Mr.dave permalink
        December 1, 2015 7:55 pm

        Can’t reply to below so I will here…

        Gah! You miss the point. Differences are fine as long as the feeling is right. I like Anton’s too. Feels right eating there. I don’t get that feeling at the particular donut joint in question. It is a case of a little I don’t know what that is missing. I am sorry.

  2. buffsoulja permalink
    November 30, 2015 8:26 pm

    Who makes the best classic Jelly filled donut you think?

    Need to make a good purchase for Hanukkah.

    • December 2, 2015 12:07 am

      Bella Napoli (but for strawberry and blueberry).

      But my pro tip for you would be to call ahead and pre-order a dozen jelly… hold the jelly. Then you can bring the shells home and fill them with something much much better than industrial donut filling.

  3. Beck permalink
    December 1, 2015 1:12 pm

    Daniel, have you ever tried Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts in Manchester, VT? I was only there once, several years ago, but I still dream of their light, airy, crackly-glazed yeast doughnuts.

    I don’t know if it’s the “classic” jelly doughnut, as I’m not really a jelly doughnut fan, but I DO love the strawberry filled powdered sugar doughnuts from Bella Napoli, only at their Troy location. I once asked for one at the (closer to me) Latham bakery and the woman at the counter looked like she’d never heard of such a thing.

  4. December 1, 2015 8:44 pm

    Hi Daniel B! I no longer live in Albany but still love reading your blog to keep current with my USA home. I have a couple questions: what’s your fussiness level of donut freshness* and is there anywhere you found in the Capital Region that makes fresh-to-order donuts…?

    *By fresh I mean you absolutely have to wait while they make it. Nothing like the experience of when you bite into a hot jam (jelly) donut too soon — ow!

    • December 2, 2015 12:04 am

      There’s little better than a hot fresh now donut. But each donut has its own half life. Cider donuts decline the furthest the fastest.

      We had a fresh-to-order donut place for a while, but even still, its donuts were not as good as Bella Napoli, Schuyler, Cookie Factory, etc.

      I’ll eat day old donuts, but only filled donuts or cake donuts have a fighting chance of being enjoyable the next day.

      • December 2, 2015 7:11 pm

        I’ve found apple cider donuts freeze really well. We then take them directly from the freezer and put them in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until warmed through. They are quite good that way.

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