New York can have its bagels. Boston has a stranglehold on good doughnuts. Sure, there’s a Dunkin’ on every corner, but we’re talking about the real show-stoppers: Joanne Chang’s vanilla cream-filled doughnuts, which have been lauded by lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart. Betty Ann Food Shop’s sugared crullers and hefty, jelly-filled balls featured in Saveur. And Clear Flour’s traditional black currant variety, a nominee for “America’s Best Doughnuts” in Food & Wine magazine.
But doughnuts are going far beyond the bake case. Boston is in the midst of a full-blown doughnut craze with chefs adding them to dessert lists, brunch menus (highlighting their versatility), and pop-up doughnut shops commanding massive crowds. Simply put, doughnuts are the new bacon. Hell, they’re bigger and buzzier than the cronut.
In no particular order, here are six of our new favorites from around town:
1. Island Creek Oyster Bar: Brown Butter Bacon Donut
“You almost feel like you’re being naughty in the best sort of way,” says ICOB pastry chef Lauren Kroesser of her latest dessert option. “It hits all of the notes that a great pastry should: crispy, nutty, sweet, and salty. Also, brown butter and bacon are two things that make everything taste better in my opinion…and then we deep fry it.”
Kroesser introduced the brown butter bacon donut at the beginning of March and it’s already proven popular enough for her to rethink the doughnut’s intended seasonality. “It is still up in there air whether or not this will be permanent. I usually limit the menu to one over-the-top donut at a time and my strawberry shortcake donut in the summer is one of my favorites.”
500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Info: 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com.
2. Union Square Donuts: Popcorn Donut
Since opening their doors in 2013, Union Square Donuts has been known for one standout sweet, their maple bacon doughnut. “We make so many other great doughnuts,” co-owner Heather Schmidt says. Her traditional Boston Cream is a stunner as is her brown butter hazelnut crunch, which is available during colder months.
Starting this spring, Schmidt is rolling out a bright, blood orange and ginger doughnut and something she describes as “our movie theater doughnut.” Schmidt slathers a yeasted donut in buttered popcorn glaze (made with heaping amounts of Cabot butter) then adds kettle corn for texture. “When you pick it up you just smell the popcorn, the butter, and the salt,” she says. “It’s like going to the movies.”
16 Bow St., Somerville. Info: 617-209-2257, unionsquaredonuts.com.
3. Sofra Bakery: Tahini-Brown Butter Donut
Sofra pastry chef and co-owner Maura Kilpatrick puts tahini directly in her brioche batter to make these weekend-only doughnuts particularly “nutty” and “savory.” She then tops them with a salted caramel ganache and stuffs them with a brown butter crème which Kilpatrick likens to “cheesecake filling.” The result is like the heavenly offspring of a Boston cream pie and profiteroles.
Sofra only makes two dozen of these on Saturdays and Sundays, and they tend to go fast. Luckily, Kilpatrick also makes her equally tempting persian spice doughnut and a pistachio cake topped with Meyer lemon glaze, just in case you need alternatives.
1 Belmont St., Cambridge; 617-661-3141 or sofrabakery.com.
4. The Gallows: Braided Donut
“We love making doughnuts, and we know how to do it” says Rebecca Roth Gullo, owner of The Gallows. That certainly appears to be the case with several of their Sunday brunch best-sellers incorporating some version of the fried confectionery. The Gallows savory doughnut breakfast sandwich (a bacon and cheddar doughnut stacked with maple-sage sausage, cheese, and a fried egg) is a can’t-miss, but definitely save room for the foot-long braided doughnut with seasonal dipping sauces like peanut butter mousse, strawberry tequila, whiskey plum, and easily their most requested, the marshmallow Fluff.
1395 Washington St., Boston; 617-425-0200 or thegallowsboston.com.
5. Stacked Donuts: Cherry Coke Donut
Since leaving her position as sous chef of No. 9 Park in February, Stephanie Cmar has accumulated a cult-like legion of foodie followers who track all her latest doughnut gossip via Twitter. That’s because her inventive concoctions, sold in limited quantities at Stacked Donuts—a pop-up shop now at Commonwealth in Cambridge—are one of the hottest edibles in Boston. Each weekend hundreds of hungry hopefuls line up for the chance to try Cmar’s latest menu, a rotating selection of three gourmet doughnuts.
So far, Cmar has made a number of standouts like a salted chocolate raspberry, a maple crumble, and a key lime doughnut with graham cracker crumble. But some of Stacked’s more straightforward concepts have proven the most irresistible, such as her yeasted doughnut glazed in a Cherry Coca Cola reduction and chopped Maraschino cherries. “Doughnuts shouldn’t be overly complicated,” says Cmar. “That’s what I’m starting to realize. To incorporate flavors you just have to do it the most pure way without over-conceptualizing.”
Commonwealth, 11 Broad Canal Way, Kendall Square, Cambridge; follow via Twitter at @StackedDonuts.
6. Steel & Rye: Warm Apple Caramel Donut
There’s plenty of reasons to brunch at Milton’s Steel & Rye, like Chef Chris Parsons’s playful take on chipped beef on toast with red wine-braised beef shank and smoked mushrooms or his heightened version of pork and beans with crispy pork belly. But what keeps us coming back is pastry chef Meg Thompson’s apple caramel doughnut, a delicate cake doughnut that’s treated like a deconstructed apple pie.
Thompson serves each doughnut fresh from the fryer with a crackly crust and a warm, fluffy interior. A dense layer of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and other pie spices coats the top. Then there’s the dipping sauce: caramelized apples cooked down with lemon and sugar, until Thompson achieves an “apple butter consistency.” She then makes a salted caramel sauce and mixes the two. Forgo any thoughts of genteel drizzling, just follow your gut and dunk each buttery chunk in a gooey bath of apple pie filling.
95 Eliot St., Milton; 617-690-2787 or steelandrye.com.
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