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Donut Sugar

March 22, 2016

Today I shape the minds of tomorrow’s food enthusiasts. Yes, that’s right. I’ve been invited to give a talk at the local elementary school. Apparently they are doing a unit on criticism, and food criticism is a part of the program.

Will I be able to hold the attention of over fifty first graders for a full thirty minutes? It’s a daunting task, to be sure. So I figured I should talk about something they would hopefully have more interest in than pimento cheese, eating vegan, or the upsides of vegetarian burgers.

Luckily, I’m become an expert at evaluating donuts. Plus, who doesn’t love donuts? And because Schuyler Bakery runs a nut free operation, I can even bring some in for the kids as a bribe. I mean… a teaching aid.

So despite my diet, I have donuts on the mind. And quite by coincidence, yesterday I encountered someone on social media longing for a jelly donut rolled in granulated sugar. Let me see if I can put this gently, because I’ve been so good lately about not getting into food fights.

I just do not understand the appeal of granulated sugar on yeast raised donuts.

Cake donuts? Sometimes. Cider donuts? Absolutely. Most cider donuts almost require a coating of granulated sugar. But yeast raised donuts? Never. So where is the line when it comes to granulated sugar? I’m glad you asked.

Yeast raised donuts are all about being impossibly light and tender. Some of my favorite yeast raised donut shells locally come from The Cookie Factory. These rings of fried dough aren’t sweet on their own, so they need further embellishments.

The Cookie Factory excels at chocolate frosting, and their poured fondant glaze isn’t bad either. Both of these toppings complement the donut itself. The glaze has that all important crackle when you bite through it, offering a delicate textural contrast to the soft, elastic crumb within. The deeply cocoa flavored frosting is more like a schmear on top. It’s an accent, and doesn’t overwhelm the star of the show, which is the donut below.

Granulated sugar, instead of being brittle like a glaze, is simply hard and sandy. And every bite you take, that pillow-like texture of rich fried dough is marred by little hard bits grinding under your teeth. It’s for this very reason that I also eschew sprinkles on donuts as well. They may be fun and colorful to look at, but ultimately they detract from the donut eating experience.

Now perhaps, there are some places that use a finer grade granulated sugar for these purposes. Something between a traditional granulated sugar and a powdered sugar. A superfine sugar, perhaps. And maybe, just maybe, that provides a different sensory experience. I can’t say for sure, but I’m skeptical.

Of course, that crunch of granulated sugar isn’t always unwelcome. With a hard fried cake donut that already has a firm and crunchy exterior, this sugary element compliments the texture of the donut’s shell.

Most cider donuts are missing that good crusty exterior. There are a few places that are able to achieve it. However, the crunch of a sugared coating can simulate the presence of a hard fried shell. But because cider donuts have a more cake like interior, the textural crunch from the sugar doesn’t detract from the experience at all. On the contrary, the sugared versions of cider donuts are better than their plain cousins, because the topping’s grit provides the illusion of crustiness.

But a crusty yeast raised donut? Mon dieu.

If you are going a yeast raised donut filled with a jelly that’s not quite sweet enough to carry the day, my vote is for a light and silky powdered sugar coating. It provides the added lift without detracting from the core of the donut experience.

The only problem is some powdered sugar contains titanium dioxide as a whitening agent. It’s not that I’m afraid of these nanoparticles, it’s just that I fundamentally oppose whitening a product that’s already white, and allowing ingredients used in a food’s production to be left off the label.

Perhaps the best complement to a jelly donut is a paired glaze. You know, like a lemon glaze enrobing a blueberry jelly donut. Or maybe an almond glaze with a raspberry filling. But that’s getting a good bit fancier, and maybe a wee bit precious.

For now, I’ll skip all the sugars coatings, thankyouverymuch. Who needs them when the old fashioned cake donuts at Schuyler at just so damn good.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2016 10:46 am

    Break a leg!

  2. March 22, 2016 12:44 pm

    OK. I never even thought about the texture of sugar on a doughnut like this before and you are SO right. CONVERTED.

  3. March 22, 2016 1:52 pm

    I don’t even know HOW you tried to condense this into 140 characters ;)
    #spoton #sugarout

  4. enough already! permalink
    March 22, 2016 5:46 pm

    I must disagree. A lightly sugared jelly donut is an exquisite taste and textural combination, and not crusty at all if done correctly. I am still searching for one in this area.

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