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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Doughnut Quest 2010 Results: Doug

(Doug's individual results and observations -- see the main Doughnut Quest 2010 post for more details.)

Top Five (Doughnut Index)
1) Blueberry Glazed, Doughnut Plant (85)
2) Vanilla Glazed Blackberry Jelly, Doughnut Plant (85)
3) Raspberry Bomboloni, Sullivan Street Bakery (85)
4) Chantilly Cream Bomboloni, Cafe Falai (83
5) Vanilla Glazed, Doughnut Plant (81)

I have seen the light and it is filled with jelly. I've always thought of myself as a plain-doughnut guy--I appreciate a good filled doughnut, but that extra stuff just seemed like overkill, as though the baker were trying to compensate for an inferior dough, unwilling to pull off the fine art of doing the simple thing right. But now I know the possibilities, the bliss that can be found when the right filling is paired with the right dough. (Is it a stretch to compare these flavor pairings with that of a fine wine and a finer cheese? I think not.)

My favorite doughnut, hands down, was the blackberry-filled raised doughnut at The Doughnut Plant. The fresh blackberries make all the difference, and the clean, fresh flavors paired perfectly with slightly yeasty dough and the subtle vanilla zing of the glaze. Forget ice cream or pie; this, to me, is the quintessential taste of summer: berries plus fried-ness, gooey and messy, with just enough grease to make you feel guilty and flavors that capture the glorious, evanescent spirit of the season.

I had similar feelings about (if just slightly less enthusiasm for) the blueberry-glazed doughnut at The Doughnut Plant and the raspberry bomboloni at Sullivan Street. And right up there with those berry-intensive offerings at the top of my list, I'd also have to include the Chantilly cream bomboloni at Cafe Falai (which, by the way, is totally the SoHo cafe of my imagination: sleek and white and effortlessly hip). If I'm going to continue the season metaphor, this was a fall doughnut, its flavors more grounded and slightly more savory; there was an eggy flavor to the filling that I found startling at first, but my surprise soon gave way to delight as I sopped up the runny filling with what remained of my doughnut (using a fork--it was that kind of place).

I was surprised that the old-school doughnut shops didn't fare too well, at least not taste-wise. Not that they were bad; they just weren't as good as their more upscale counterparts. What they did have was ambiance--aesthetic character and real-life characters. Peter Pan was packed with regulars and wise-cracking servers; Mike's had a genial mailman who entered to cheers and lively banter; Alpha had a world-weary counterman who assured us, "We make the best doughnuts"--and then paused for a moment and hedged, "Well, at least, we try to." That camaraderie, that sense of community and place found in the old-school bakeries, is every bit as fulfilling and delightful as the delicate glazes and sensuous fillings of the gourmet bake shops--and, in their own way, all the more impressive, because no amount of culinary schooling can train you to conjure community from nothing. Maybe it's good, though, that no bakeries had that ideal balance of great doughnuts and great character--if I'd found that, I'm not sure I'd have ever left.

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