The donuts of America – A Twin Discoveries Food Travel Guide

Written by Brandon (@brandothepig), Melbourne.

In July and August last year, I focused all of my attention ticking off a large chunk of my foodie bucket list. We flew to America, Canada and parts of Asia in search for the food holy grail. It was fun, although surprisingly exhausting and hard work!

My trophy was coming home five kilos heavier. An extra eleven pounds that meant I could no longer fit into a pair of brand new shorts I bought at the start of my holiday. To my dismay, my extra chunky legs also forced the seams of my favourite pair of jeans to work overtime, eventually splitting down the middle and sending them to fashion heaven.

So to commemorate the loss of my jeans, I feel it is my duty to put this knowledge to good use! This will form the first of a multi-part series of our food travels – simply called The Twin Discoveries Food Travel Guide.

The first topic – DONUTS!

Or is it DOUGHNUTS!

How do you spell it? Doughnuts or Donuts? Officially, the dictionary registers Doughnuts as the correct spelling. The shortened term, Donuts, has actually been used since the 1800s, but it was the American firm Dunkin’ Donuts, now the world’s leading baked goods and coffee chain, which popularized the short hand spelling Donuts over the last 60 years. For me, I’ve always used the short hand version, so I will continue to use the term Donuts for this post where appropriate.

So onto our American travels. We travelled coast-to-coast across 9 cities over the American summer, trying to squeeze in as many meals into a day, ticking off some of the food we had been dreaming about eating for many years.

Our donut agenda started small and grew in proportion to the number of cities we covered. If there is ever a famine in America, I’m pretty sure there won’t be a shortage of donuts. Seriously, I can’t recall ever eating this many donuts in this short amount of time. Our list below is by no means is an exhaustive donut list, but a highlight reel of our most memorable donut experiences in the cities we visited.

So without further do, I present the Twin Discoveries Top 6 Donuts of America, counting down to our favourite donut (doughnut).

#6 – Glazed and Infused – Chicago, IL

Inspired by Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Chicago native and successful restaurateur/chef Scott Harris decided to expand his empire into donuts. He effectively created Chicago’s own hometown donut, found only in Chicago. Since being established in 2012, it has risen to become not only one of Chicago’s best donuts but one of Chicago’s must eat items along with the deep dish pizza and Chicago dog. Pictured is the Cajeta fried icecream flavour (a Mexican version of dulce de leche) and the “Chocolate 4” – chocolate cake, chocolate ganache glaze, dark and white chocolate curls.

Glazed and Infused, 5 locations across Chicago, Illinois

#5 – Carlsons – Annapolis, MD

The state capital of Maryland is a small town called Annapolis, with population under 50,000 people. Known for it’s colonial history and sailing, we discovered perhaps one of our biggest unexpected donut surprises – a large variety of light, fluffy and delicious donuts… at a Thai restaurant! Owner Jittipon Meesiri has been making his donuts for over 35 years, waking up between 1-2am to start baking. We were only in Annapolis for the weekend, but two mornings in a row, I said hello to the little Thai lady behind the counter that didn’t seem to speak much English, and ate their amazing creations for breakfast. Flavours included the Carlson’s sprinkles donut, French cruller, the famous potato donut, sour cream donut and an original glazed donut.

Carlson’s Donuts & Thai Kitchen – 1022 West St, Annapolis, Maryland, 21401

#4 – Dominique Ansel – New York City, NY

Dominique Ansel created food history in May 2013, when he launched his invention, The Cronut, a croissant-style pastry, shaped and fried like a donut, filled with cream and topped with flavoured frosting. It would eventually win him huge recognition, Time Magazine’s “25 Best Inventions of 2013” and a James Beard Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef”. The flavour of the month in August 2015 was Peach and Bourbon Ganache with citrus sugar, with a limit of approximately 350 cronuts made daily.

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We were lined up outside the bakery by 7:25am, and having travelled across the world for this, we waited anxiously after hearing stories of 2+ hour wait times, and the $5 cronuts even selling on the black market for over $100 each! To our surprise, by 8:15am, we had 6 cronuts between the three of us (limits are applied at 2 cronuts per person). As expected, it was delicious, with an interesting, unique flavour and texture. Definitely worth a visit for the experience. Unfortunately the famous cookie shot is only available from 3pm, so we didn’t get to try it.

Dominique Ansel Bakery – 189 Spring Street, New York, New York, 10012

#3 – Firecakes – Chicago, IL

Chicago was one of the last of nine cities we visited in the US. We had excessively eaten more donuts than our bodies could handle, so we were ready to take a couple of days off eating sugar. Unfortunately, all it took was a sign that said “Icecream Donut Sandwich” when walking past Firecakes, and I couldn’t resist. A fluffy glazed donut stuffed with house made vanilla icecream, caramel and chocolate sauce, it was a moment of weakness that I could actually be proud of. It literally felt like a party in a mouth.

The chocolate and espresso cream donut was our second favourite – I know it’s hard to get mixing these flavours together wrong, but when you get it right, it is so, so right! The chocolate gluten free donut was an unexpected surprise – fudgy and tasty, and a shining example that gluten free alternatives can still taste delicious.

Firecakes Donuts, 68 W. Hubbard Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60654

#2 – Voodoo Doughnut – Portland, OR

These babies are the iconic Voodoo doughnuts. The best-selling bacon maple bar, and a voodoo doll shaped doughnut, stabbed with a straight pretzel stick, oozing red jelly “blood”. A top 8 thing to do in Portland according to Time magazine. We waited almost half an hour in line, and when we finally reached the front door, it was Donut HEAVEN….. An overwhelming number of drool worthy donuts to choose from, and they all looked magical. That’s right, over 80 different flavours of donuts – it was an impressive display of all the colours across the sugar spectrum. I can imagine that if I was a kid, and this was my first donut experience, I would have some serious emotional attachment to donuts. Owners Tres Shannon and Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson have certainly got this donut store recipe right!

I noticed the Speciality donuts on the menu board and asked what the “Tex-Ass” donut was. The lady looked at me, directed my attention to the spinning donut cabinet and pointed to the donut that looked like a small steering wheel. It is actually the size six regular doughnuts combined, and is free if you finish it within 80 seconds.

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“Okay…. What about the Cock-N-Balls donut, what is it?”, I asked. She stopped looking at me and sheepishly pointed at the donut cabinet. My gaze followed her finger, pointing to a large, phallic-looking, chocolate covered donut in the cabinet. “Look!”, I said to my wife. “Cock and balls, hehehehehe”. Funny how a giant cock can instantly drop male maturity levels back to primary school. These donuts are suitably cream filled, and regularly sell-out on Friday nights.

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After a bit of deliberation, we decided to order the three of the most popular items – the voodoo doll ($1.95), the bacon maple bar ($3) and the Portland cream bun ($1.75), “Portland’s Official Doughnut”. All were beautifully presented and tasted as good as they looked. They were soft, light and deliciously addictive. Total price tag $6.70. Definitely worth the wait in line.

Voodoo Doughnut, original location at 22 SW 3rd Avenue, Portland, Oregon. Also available in two other Portland locations, Eugene, Denver, Austin and Taipei

#1 – Blue Star Donuts – Portland, OR

The. Greatest. Donut. Ever. We’d been in Portland for 3 days, and for 3 days straight, we went to Blue Star Donuts. It was the only way to try all the flavours. We were officially addicted.

Owners Micah Camden and Katie Poppe are food empire building legends in Portland, opening 18 restaurants over 10 years, owning burger chains (Little Big Burger), ramen restaurants (Boxer Ramen), hot dog eateries (Hop Dog), and ofcourse, one of the best donut brands in the country, Blue Star. A place where the donuts are made from scratch every day using locally sourced ingredients. A certified, sustainable bread flour from Shepherds Grain, Steibrs Farms cage free eggs, whole hormone-free milk from Sunshine Dairy, European-style butter from Larsen’s creamery and organically sourced fruit.

What makes Blue Star Donuts different is their brioche-based doughnut recipe that originated from the south of France. It can take up to 18 hours to make the donuts from scratch, before it is cooked in rice oil and covered in some of their inventive and signature flavours. Fresh blueberry, bourbon and basil. Maple and bacon. The olive oil and orange donut was unique but a bit too far out my taste range. But I was still in awe.

There was the Hard Apple Cider fritter, made with donut holes, rum soaked raisins and apple shards. But it was the Cointreau Crème Brulee donut that stole the show, and completely blew me away. As I sunk my teeth into the brioche donut, I cracked the crunchy brulee top, and was hit with a creamy vanilla custard. The donut was light but moist after being injected with a Cointreau syrup sweetened with Madagascar vanilla beans. It was a complete donut nirvana moment.

It was a tough choice to pick which donut would be #1 on our list, and how to best describe the difference between Blue Star and Voodoo. We found the best way to describe the difference was Voodoo donuts is your everyday-style, affordable, novelty donut, while Blue star is your restaurant quality, more expensive, high end donut.

In summary, the Blue Star Donut creme brulee donut was the best donut we ate in America, and quite possibly, my favourite donut of all time. It was truely outstanding and definitely worth a visit!

Blue Star Donuts, 1237 SW Washington St, Portland, Oregon, 97205. Also available in three other Portland locations, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Regretfully missed

Unfortunately we regretfully missed out on numerous donut shops, but our travel itinerary and stomachs could only handle so much. For our next trip to America, we definitely would like to drop in on the following:

  • Gourdoughs, Austin, Texas – a successful food truck turned restaurant, specialising in incorporating donuts into their menu, such as a chicken fried steak doughnut, doughnut burgers and crazy dessert donuts.
  • Doughnut plant, New York, New York – New York’s own hometown donut
  • The Pink Box Doughnuts, Las Vegas, Nevada – with flavours like Campfire S’mores and Fat Elvis with chocolate ganache and banana peanut butter filling

Please let us know if we’ve missed anything off this list, or if you have any other donut suggestions!

Until next time, happy eating!

Written by Brandon (@brandothepig), Melbourne.

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