Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where Donuts Come From

Thanks to Suzanne for sending this along.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Charles Barkley Foiled

Last night on TNT's Inside the NBA, Charles Barkley thought he was drinking a doughnut milk shake. But no! It was foie gras. Barkley's sportscaster colleagues were slurping Krispy Kreme shakes from Flip Burger, former Top Chef almost-winner Richard Blais' Atlanta burger spot. But they slipped Sir Charles Blais' bird liver shake to which he responded, "It's not like a Krispy Kreme doughnut."

Watch the full exchange here:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blognut Meets Bourdain. But Just For A Second.

Tonight Mrs. B and I saw former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni interview Anthony Bourdain. Afterwards I asked Tony to sign my weird UK edition of A Cook's Tour and snuck in a favorite doughnut question before getting ushered to the meatball station by a Times employee.

Me: Great to meet you Tony. I have to ask, for reasons I don't have time to explain, in all your travels what's the best doughnut you've encountered?
Anthony Bourdain: My favorite doughnut? Huh.

Voodoo Doughnut in Portland Oregon.

Me: Great answer. I had my vows renewed there.

Bourdain doesn't respond verbally but chortles behind a slight smile, which I take to mean he either finds my unnecessary anecdote amusing or - more likely - is ready to move on to the next person who wants a book signed. I'm also paranoid about having called him Tony.

More importantly, Voodoo! Not the Singaporean prawn-fried noodle cake I was expecting. Bourdain visited Voodoo on the Portland episode of No Reservations so I figure it was the first thing to come to mind and get the feeling he hasn't spent a great deal of time thinking about doughnuts. Which is totally fine. Still psyched he mentioned a Blognut favorite. Plus the event was fun and I found out Diet Coke now comes in this awesomly-better-than-plastic metal bottle-can that isn't depressing like the metal Budweiser bottle-can.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sustainable Donuts in Vermont

In Vermont you can buy locally made pepperoni at the Shell station. And local cheese. And craft beer. And in the event you forget the maple syrup while traveling, you'll be totally fine because every single establishment you stop in will have at least three kinds in as many sizes. Vermont could succeed tomorrow and be totally self-sufficient where food, drink and pepperoni are concerned.

In certain urban centers – I won’t name names - locavorism has almost become an affect, in the, “I’ll have the Hudson Valley Squab with pickled ramps grown on a roof in Queens and fertilized by ambient heirloom pigeon crap,” kind of way. (Fine, I’m talking about Chicago) But in Vermont, local-sourcing feels natural and refreshingly un-preachy. It’s expected. Assumed. And the quietly fervent regionalism extends to the often un-local donut. Which is why I’m pre-empting my remaining Pacific-Northwest coverage for a quick note on our Green Mountain donut encounters.

Mrs. B and I set out last Wednesday to celebrate our fourth anniversary by sitting in a cabin and toying with the notion of catching our own trout. It was essentially our twelve-year mark if you count the extended courting period and we didn’t catch a thing. Our cabin was 20 miles outside of Montpelier - the only state capital without a McDonald’s - and there were no donuts and no people, except for a friendly woman named Penny who arrived in a pickup one morning bearing towels. There were also lots of huge freaking spiders. It was awesome, but the donuts didn’t happen until we hit Burlington, where we spent our last two days eating, drinking and making jokes about Phish and weed.

Our first morning we trawled the farmer’s market downtown, discovering that Vermont donut dough is incredibly soft. Maybe it’s the water, or the hippies, but every donut we sampled – three vendors total – managed an incredibly soft, pillowy, easy-going dough. And unlike the hippies, all without a greasy residue.

First there was a kind old Church bake sale-type lady selling baked Vermont maple cake donuts. Baked donuts are generally incorrigibly turd-like. But not hers. Imagine the soft dough from above smeared with a smooth, sugary frosting mixed with real Vermont maple syrup. Plus a few sprinkles to distract from all the brown. It had all the flavor of a fried cake but with a lighter disposition and a toasty, caramel-y flavor which tasted totally natural, unlike the artificial tang of most “maple” donuts.

Next was an apple cider cake donut from Shelburne Orchards. Again, super soft and light, though with a slightly firmer fried exterior. There was a nice subtle apple flavor from the homemade VT cider and the cinnamon/sugar coating was in perfect proportion.

The best discovery came last. Dinky Donuts is headquartered in nearby Middlebury, but on the weekends also sets up shop at the market where they sell out quick. With the exception of the sugar, every ingredient in their donuts - the flour, the eggs, the fillings - is locally sourced. We sampled a cinnamon-sugar cake and a plum-filled raised.

The cake was, as expected, perfectly soft and impressionable, but with enough body to fight back. Like our apple cider, the cinnamon and sugar ratio was dead on and the small stature made it an ideal appetizer to the fruity main course.

I should mention that the Burlington farmer’s market is lousy with plums. Like Subarus, they grow lots of them in Vermont, some of which ended up inside our donut. The plum-filled was enormous with the inflated appearance of a maxed-out balloon. The firm, browned exterior gave way to a soft and airy dough which was heartier than most raised donut dough. Somewhere in between a typical raised and typical cake really. The filling tasted like, well, plums: surprising given the cloying nature of most donut innards. In all it was tart, fruity and mildly sweet; and it almost tasted healthy in a fried sort of way.

The plum was so good, a trip to Middlebury was in order. Next up: a visit to the brick and mortar Dinky’s to feed from the source.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Donut Review: Peter Pan's Red Velvet

Mrs. B and I are on vacation in Vermont for a bit. We will visit the Ben and Jerry's Flavor Graveyard which is surrounded by a white plastic picket fence and contains fake gravestones for - among others - Devil's Food Chocolate and Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz , the later of which has a Facebook thread devoted to bringing it back. So far there are six posts. While away Blognut correspondant Marc has stepped in with his take on the enticing Red Velvet from Peter Pan in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, my favorite donut spot in New York.

Purveyor: Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Donut: Red Velvet cake donut

Review: Imagine a really good chocolate cake donut with a light, sweet glaze. Now imagine it redder.

Conclusion: Unlikely to be distinguishable from a standard chocolate cake donut in a blind taste test. If you love chocolate cake donuts and are (a) not alarmed by intense food coloring, or (b) inclined to eat your donuts blindfolded, I wholeheartedly recommend this donut for you.

Ed. Note: Where's the cream cheese frosting? Also, thanks Marc.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Donuts on Screen: Top Chef

Just getting to this week's Top Chef. I thought Kevin and his beard might take it, or maybe Jennifer, but Bravo really likes having two brothers battle it out. One looks like Tony Hawk. Ashley probably won't take it but she did manage to make donuts out of cactus this week which is unbelievably awesome. Chefs love donut desserts like they love making foie gras hamburgers and getting tattoos, but this is the first I've seen involving succulents. So here they are. Cactus jelly donuts with orange creme anglaise. They actually look great with their pink and orange-y yellowish drizzle. And the judges seemed to like them OK because Ashley didn't lose. But just OK because she didn't win either. I also like when Tom leaves the tent to spit out Mattin's ceviche into the desert.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Donut Review: Toffee For Your Coffee

Last week Dunkin’ released Toffee For Your Coffee, the winning donut in the megachain’s recent "Create Dunkin's Next Donut" contest. Mrs. Blognut and I are still bummed about losing. Not even top ten!

TFYC is in participating locations through October 6th and over the weekend I scored one from my local store in Carroll Gardens. Considering the bleak state of post-trans-fat Dunkin’ (less flavor, oily residue, etc) and their continued rebranding as a flatbread sandwich shop, the new donut isn’t bad.

The body is a sour cream cake dough. Mine was super soft with a hint of cinnamon and it seemed denser than other DD cake donuts. This might have something to do with the sour cream. I actually thought I detected a mild sourness, but this could’ve been my brain making stuff up and fixating on an ingredient it generally associates with potato skins. On top was a thin layer of see-through glaze for a sugary sweet foundation, but this was mostly eclipsed by toasty toffee and milk chocolate courtesy of the star ingredient: chopped Heath Bar. I’ve never actually had a Heath Bar because I find candy that doesn’t involve peanut butter displeasing. But I think I could get behind Heath. (Side note: most underrated candy bar = 5th Avenue)

A new Dunkin’ donut always calls for my DD coffee mug, which I break out exclusively for Dunkin' occasions. It’s big and wide and holds lots of coffee. And TFYC is actually a perfect dunking donut. It’s firm and dense enough to absorb the coffee with out falling apart or leaving soggy crumbs behind. And a hot cup of bold, chocolaty black – in my case, Stumptown Hair Bender – works great with the rich toffee and chocolate flavors. Action shot:

The verdict on Toffee For Your Coffee: Not bad for a pop-donut. Definitely deserving of a permanent spot on Dunkin’s rack and a first-class dunker.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Caught in the Act

Introducing "Caught in the Act," a new Blognut column featuring photos of people caught in the act of enjoying a doughnut.

Here's friend and crack freelance doughnut scout Marc taking care of a self-designed banana nut bread doughnut at the Fractured Prune in Baltimore. The other doughnut he created that day combined raspberry, mini chocolate chips, and - get ready - coconut. For the record this dude voluntarily eats something called "Gel Rings" and his favorite sandwich involves turkey, tomatoes, and raisin-walnut cream cheese. And they might actually be called "Jell Rings." Still gross, but having your great aunt's taste in sweets is part of what makes Marc an interesting, blog-worthy figure.

Correction: Marc's candy of choice is actually a Marshmallow Joy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dunkin's New "Toffee For Your Coffee" Hits Stores

Breaking news from Dunkin' today:

The winning donut in DD's recent "Create Dunkin's Next Donut" contest has hit participating stores through October 6th. The "Toffee for Your Coffee" was created by Jeff Hager of Hoover, Alabama. Hager beat out nearly 130,000 other contest submissions by topping a sour cream cake donut with glaze and chopped Heath Bar.

I'm no longer (that) bitter about losing, so look for a fair and balanced review of "Toffee for Your Coffee" in the coming days. And congrats to Jeff!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bayless to Fry Mexican Doughnuts

Mexican food wiz and Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless is opening a churro spot in Chicago! Churros are long and crispy Mexican doughnuts covered in cinnamon and sugar - they're usually delicious unless purchased on the subway platform and I'm sure Bayless's will kill. He'll also be serving tortas, the often over-looked amazingly good Mexican sandwich that doesn't come on a tortilla. The place is called Xoco and opens September 1st. Also, make sure to buy Rick's Mexican Everyday cookbook, if only because in it he discusses weight lifting and there's a picture of him doing a headstand.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doctor Fired For Bashing Doughnuts (a marginally less important healthcare debate)

We know: doctors don’t like doughnuts. But as Florida’s Dr. Jason Newsom found out when he posted anti-doughnut propaganda on a sign outside a Florida health department, doughnuts wield extraordinary power. Or at least county commissioners and lawyers who own doughnut shops do. My pal Kwas said it best: “This doctor went way too far.”

Read the full story here

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Even Buddhist Monks Like Donuts...

...or at least donut-related beverages.

These fellows are snacking on something delicious involving green and white-ish vegetables, carafes of hot liquid, and - over there in the bottom-right corner - a to-go cardboard box of Dunkin' Donuts coffee! I guess we know where monks stand in the Dunkin' vs Starbucks vs McCafe debate.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Pac-Northwest Donuts Part III: Just Donuts, Not Much Else

Post-foie-gras donut we strolled by the Willamette River which was relaxing except for maniac mountain bikers careening by at high speeds. Too unsettling, so we headed back to the Subaru and our Voodoos weren’t melted. Phew! Back at the Ace the lighting was dim, but we managed to capture their likeness pretty OK and started with this doughnut which, as you can see, has a handle bar mustache. Mrs. B thinks it was called the Mayor of Portland or some such.

Doughnut With Mustache

The dough was light and pocketed with air – even better than I remember – and had a bright cinnamon-tinged spice with plenty of yeasty, wheaty bread. Blanketing the top was a thick layer of sweet and sappy maple frosting giving the Mayor a shiny brownish complexion; inside a smooth and rich Boston Cream completed the perfectly executed union of dough, maple and dairy – like a portable pancake breakfast shooting a blank stare.

Marshall Mathers

The Marshall Mathers came next. Get it? Small M&Ms. Not much to get actually, but here it is in front of hip Ace Hotel artwork. Didn’t have high hopes for this one, but the colors caught my eye and Mrs. B seemed to enjoy plucking individual candies to feed her unparalleled sugar jones. Definitely one of the few Voodoo disappoinments. The standard cake dough was soft, nicely dense and tasty as usual, but between the gopped vanilla frosting and loads of mini candies: WAY too sweet.

Again, because bacon on a doughnut!

Had better luck with the Bacon Maple Bar, a Voodoo classic which deservedly gets mentioned whenever the press or Bourdain show up. Same outstanding raised dough and maple frosting as before, but elevated to new circles of donutdom by three ultra crisp strips of smoky bacon. Just like the previous pancake analogy, but now the syrup has crept across the plate and encroached the breakfast pork for that glorious morning mess of maple, sweet and meat.


And last: a plain glazed, my favorite. I remember Voodoo’s glazed being good, but not this good! Slightly firm exterior with an ideal fry and a thin layer of shiny, perfectly dry glaze (wet glaze is the worst). The center was incredibly vacuous and melted away instantly leaving a clean, light wheatiness behind. An absolutely perfect doughnut. Top five all time. And all without trans-fat.

Marshall, the Mayor and the 4th of July doughnut from Part II.

Next up: Sad to leave Portland, but lots more doughnuts

Monday, August 03, 2009

I DO NOT ENDORSE FOIE GRAS (just foie gras donuts)

My food morals are well-defined, but also extremely negotiable when the right animal part comes along: no red meat unless it’s a famous, notable or special occasion cut; no veal, unless it’s in a particularly awesome sounding ragu; and no foie gras, except in extreme circumstances. So really my principles are mostly meaningless. But still, I try. And when it comes to foie gras, I’m not sure my experiences with the plump and fatty delicacy were ever rewarding enough to justify force feeding a goose with a hose.

But on our first night in Portland Mrs. B and I ate at Le Pigeon, and woah (!), a foie gras donut. Definitely extreme circumstances. Le Pigeon (translation: The Pigeon) is one of the best restaurants in Portland; part of the new casual – and heavily tattooed - fine-dining scene. And there it was, under Starters: a $16 foie gras jelly donut. We had to.

It arrived glistening like a glazed on the beach and knocked me out with the force of a dozen Krispy Kremes. Mrs. B - who once referred to garnishing a grilled cheese with tomato slices as "too exotic" - had bailed so I was going at it solo.

So over the top. The soft light dough was stuffed with thick and tart homemade pickled strawberry jam and the top surface smeared with foie gras powdered sugar (not sure what this means), coagulated from the massive piece of seared foie gras balanced precariously on top. We watched the slab slide slowly to the plate and land in a pool of aged balsamic vinegar and more jam, a dose of acidic sweet to balance the intense savoriness. Together the whole thing was unbelievably rich and fruity and dominated by a pleasing gamey, fatty, funk.

Honestly, I’d take a Voodoo glazed any day. But, in terms of memorable donuts, this was up there with the bacon maple bar (more on this in Part III) and the Dominic donut. My meat guilt was sky-high. Damage done. I ordered the steak with duck fat potatoes and bone marrow, which was outstanding.

Digesting by the river.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Taste-off: Dunkin' vs. Tim

A quick break from Portland coverage to weigh in on the Tim Horton’s situation. Like I mentioned the other day, the Canadian doughnut giant has hit New York, replacing 12 mostly shoddy Dunkin’ locations. Time Out New York had something to say. And Gothamist. Even the Times.

I've covered Tim Horton’s in the past: once in Toronto, and once in Massachusetts where this plate found its way into Mrs. B’s purse. The fact that a massive corporate doughnut chain uses porcelain dinnerware is undeniably awesome, but Tim’s doughnuts have me torn. I spent my early years in Buffalo, which is really just an extension of Canada and definitely prime Tim territory. So I really want to like their doughnuts. But I've mostly been disappointed and find they lag well behind Dunkin', Winchell's and Krispy Kreme in the pop-doughnut hierarchy. And definitely behind Shipley's. Plus, doughnut-folk and Canadians were outraged a few years back when they started flash-freezing and shipping doughnuts from a 230,000 square-foot factory in Brantford, Ontario (birthplace of Wayne Gretzky).

But in the interest of being fair, this weekend I conducted a clean slate Dunkin’/Tim comparison, opting for head-to-head plain glazed. My Tim doughnut came from their 42nd Street location. I think it's also a KFC. Or possibly a Taco Bell. Or both like in the song. The competition came from my neighborhood DD, which is also a Baskin Robbins.

Dunkin' Glazed

Visually they were similar and for some reason both photos turned out all Fire In the Sky. The Dunkin' had a slightly darker complexion, but each were pale brown and coated with a thin layer of see-through glaze. The dough was soft and simple with a bit of sweetness, a hint of cinnamon and a bright and yeasty Wonder Breadiness. It was light, refreshing and if a doughnut can be considered summery, this was it - the fried counterpart to hefeweizen and watermelon.

Tim Horton's Glazed

Tim's glazed (aka, The Honey Dip) wasn’t bad, but it didn’t compare. The dough was fine - if a bit too bready - but the firm, fried exterior had an unpleasant nuttiness which I assume means Tim’s fries with peanut oil; it totally disrupted any harmony between airy dough and glaze, the critical complement in a good raised doughnut.

So Dunkin' wins, hands down. But in all fairness, Tim Horton’s cake doughnuts aren’t bad at all. I picked up a glazed old fashioned in Herald Square today which was loaded with spicy nutmeg and totally worthwhile.

Tim Horton's Glazed Old Fashioned On Smuggled Tim Horton's Plate

Next up: More Voodoo; also, my pal Marc recently suggested I conquer all 12 Tim Horton's in one day. I'm seriously considering.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Return To Voodoo Part 1

Voodoo Doughnut is technically a doughnut shop. But it’s really more of a philosophy. The walls are an intoxicating pink. The patrons tattooed. And the occasionally obscene – and always absurdist – doughnuts come decorated with cereal, Tang, bacon and – before the FDA stepped in – Pepto Bismol. And because all existential milestones are better experienced in the presence of fried dough, Voodoo doubles as a wedding chapel and offers something called a “coffin full of doughnuts,” which I assume is just what it sounds like.

Three years ago my wife surprised me with a first anniversary vow-renewal ceremony at Voodoo. Legally ordained minister and Voodoo co-founder Tres Shannon officiated beneath a massive doughnut altar and a velvet portrait of Isaac Hayes. Fruit Loops were tossed in the air (Get it? Like small doughnuts) and Shannon presented us with a life sized doughnut representation of our cat Dominic. It felt wrong eating the head but we managed. The whole thing is detailed in this five-part post, and here’s our cat in doughnut form:

And his head:

That was our first trip to Portland, and we've wanted to go back ever since. And move there really. Because between the coffee, beer, trees, music and food, it’s just about ideal. This time we decided to tour the entire Pacific Northwest, starting in Portland, moving on to Seattle, and ending up in Vancouver where the Tim Hortons flow like Chinook Salmon. We took the red eye and sat beside a women who, between a frantic cycle of make-up removal and application (“Sorry about the light, I’m putting on my face,” she said around 2:00 AM with a thick New York accent) and the violent shaking of a pill bottle, had to be at least partially insane or withdrawing from something. Hence, we got very little sleep and hit our Ace Hotel mattress hard. First thing in the morning we grabbed a Stumptown in the lobby and headed to Voodoo.

Last time we over-indulged in the cereal-topped varieties I mentioned earlier. Like the one with Cocoa Puffs:

The one with Fruit Loops:

And the one with Captain Crunch:

Insane right? What twisted mind cakes a crunchy mountain of Cocoa Puffs on top of a chocolate frosted?! I wouldn’t be surprised if the lady from our flight moonlights as Voodoo’s baker. But this time we stayed away from cereal, save one encounter with Rice Krispies which I’ll get to later. We instead kicked it off with a simple vanilla-frosted cake doughnut with sprinkles (see Mrs. B holding up top), like the one that symbolized the “ring” in our vow-renewal. The dough was perfectly light and soft with a bold cinnamon-sweet flavor and an airiness rarely seen in cake varieties; it was noticeably better than last time (improved dough recipe?) and instead of our original colored sprinkles flaunted red, white and blue for the 4th.

The rest of our haul – the Marshall Mathers, the bacon maple bar, and a doughnut with a mustache – would have to wait; we had a morally questionable rendezvous with a foie gras doughnut that night and needed to save room.

Stay tuned for Part II

Voodoo Doughnut

Monday, July 13, 2009

Blognut Back on Blogger

After a two-year stint on Wordpress, I’m bringing Blognut back to its original home on Blogger. Partly because recently disappeared and all salvage attempts have proven unsuccessful – apparently my database was wiped out – but also because I don’t really understand computers and making pictures of doughnuts appear in my sidebar seems way easier on Blogger.

Posts will resume on a regular basis (stay tuned for Portland, OR Part II!) and I’ll be slowly bringing back any old material I can dig up in my email and hard drive. But first let’s quickly catch up on the major doughnut happenings of the past few months. There was the Dunkin’ Donuts Create Your Own Donut Contest, which Mrs. B and I actually entered. Unfortunately whatever we came up with (which was so good I can’t remember it) lost out to the “Toffee For Your Coffee.” Our friend Marc swears he should have won but claims Dunkin’s “crash-prone server” prevented his inevitable victory. Then there was the news that 13 NYC Dunkin’ locations will soon re-open as Tim Horton’s (the Canadian mega-chain founded and named for the hall of fame hockey legend). And perhaps most notably, there was a truck filled with doughnut glaze that tipped over in Washington State: