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.