A lot has changed in the world of fried dough since “doughnut lassies” passed out pastries to American soldiers during World War I for a nostalgia-inducing fix from home. Once relegated to greasy cardboard boxes, doughnuts today have been elevated to another level, turning them into real culinary contenders.
“It’s a really exciting time for a really old pastry,” said chef Zane Caplansky, a restaurant owner and judge on Food Network Canada’s “Doughnut Showdown.”
In recent years, more unusual doughnut varieties like maple bacon have become standard doughnut-shop faire, and even old classics have been remade with local fruits and crème brulee crusts. And doughnut shop proprietors say the public is eating their creations up.
“When everything first started we thought we’d just make some great doughnuts and become a little thing,” James Gray of Glazed and Confused in Chicago told TODAY.com. “The demand was so intense though, we didn’t expect that pace.”
The first Glazed and Confused opened a year ago, and the franchise has since expanded to five locations. Doughnuts are now showing up on four percent of all restaurant menus, an increase of 27 percent since 2008, according to Datassential's MenusTrends.
With gourmet doughnut shops popping up in cities across the country and old-fashioned joints continuing to innovate, it’s safe to say that the doughnut is having its moment.
But what should you expect now that the humble doughnut has possible usurped the cupcake as the Nation’s most prized pastry? Ever more unique offerings, of course. Here are a few of the trends to look out for as the doughnut craze rages on, hopefully coming soon to a bakery near you.
Doughnuts for all diets
Gone vegan? Given up on gluten? There’s a doughnut now for you too — and they aren’t hard to find. At Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogsan has sold vegan doughnuts for nearly a decade, and he’s pleased when no one can tell the difference.
“They took off like wildfire,” he said. “I was delightfully surprised.”
Voodoo Doughnut is often credited for kicking off the whole crazy doughnut obsession, but now they’re not alone. Bryan Widener, who owns Doughbots in Sacramento and recently won “Cupcake Showdown,” offers six or seven vegan varieties everyday in alluring flavors like Earl Grey and lemon lavender.
“We’ve had people come all the way from the Bay Area just for our vegan doughnuts,” he told TODAY.com.
A 2011 survey from the Harris International for the Vegetarian Resource Group reveals that 5 percent of Americans never eat meat, while 33 percent said they are eating vegetarian or vegan meals more often. Sales of gluten-free products are projected to grow to $6.6 billion in 2017, from $4.2 billion in 2012, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Good gluten-free doughnuts can still be hard to find, since flour doesn’t like to keep to itself, but they are out there. Sidecar Doughnuts in Costa Mesa, Calif., sells gluten-free varieties with chocolate and strawberries once a week, and they’ve proven very popular.
A Cronut craze has taken over New York City, as people have been lining up in the wee hours of the morning — or resorting to a Craigslist black market — to get a taste of Dominique Ansel’s doughnut-croissant hybrid at the bakery bearing his name.
Of course, doughnut hybrids do not stop at the Cronut. At UMAMIcatessen, diners can top off their meals with a bread pudding doughnut, which has the texture of fried pudding and is made with whiskey, dried fruits and zested orange cream cheese.
“Bread pudding was a way to do a doughnut with a different texture that’s more complex,” Umami CEO Adam Fleischman told TODAY.com. “Alcohol makes it more of an adult experience rather than something more simple and cake-like.”
And then there’s the double-smoked churro doughnut, filled with crema de caramel, from chef Sasha Shor of New York City’s Tres Carnes and Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina.
Topped with cinnamon and smoked sugar, it’s inspired by the classic street food.
Doughnuts get sandwich-fied
Doughnut sandwiches may only be for the brave, but it seems like there are plenty of fearless takers out there. And Dunkin' Donuts won’t be the only place you can turn to for a doughnut-wrapped fix, because gourmet shops are offering them as well.
Top Pot doughnuts in Seattle, Wash., which sells “hand-forged” classics like old-fashioneds alongside salted caramel flavors, is partnering up with Sun Liquor Distillery to make hamburgers with doughnut buns.
And Astro Doughnuts, a fried chicken and doughnut shop in Washington D.C., decided to put the two things they do best together, and now offer a savory doughnut chicken sandwich, made with cheddar, chives, bacon and sriracha.
“It’s doing really well,” Astro owner Elliot Spaisman told TODAY.com. “You would have no idea you’re eating a doughnut, and that is kind of cool.”
Americans love their version of the doughnut — and other countries do as well.
“I’ve been to other countries where they will market American-style doughnuts,” Jessie Oleson of CakeSpy.com said. “The concept is borrowed from other countries, but it became so American.”
But that doesn’t mean doughnut bakers aren’t eager to take a few cues from abroad.
At Federal Donuts in Philadelphia, freshly-fried dough is dusted with spices like appollonia and Indian cinnamon. The shop’s Israeli-born owner, Michael Solomonov, also adds a taste of his heritage in offerings like the pomegranate-nutella-tahini doughnut.
“If you think about it, nutella and tahini have a similar texture,” Felicia D’Ambrosio of Federal Donuts told TODAY.com. “It’s a heritage flavor that we started with.”
And at Sidecar Doughnuts and Doughbots you’ll find Portuguese doughnuts (that are also popular in Hawaii) called malasada, while UMAMIcatteson offers a tres leches doughnut inspired by the popular Latin American dessert.
If all this is sounding just a little too indulgent, remember, it's National Doughnut Day — one of the few days a year when you're expected to unleash your inner Homer Simpson. Now dig in!