The doughnut is just a ring of fried dough, powdered or glazed, and yet it means so much.
Utilitarian yet indulgent, and above all convenient, it's the favorite morning snack for anyone in a pinch, from the corporate worker bee to the harried mom to the cop on the beat. And for many of us, it comes with a rich, nostalgic backstory.
Maybe it was the forbidden white-powdered minis you sneaked after school, under your mother's nose. Or the chocolate-frosted ones your brother always brought you after his shift at the doughnut shop. Or maybe it was the mixed dozen you shared with your family as a Sunday-morning tradition. Custard-filled, cinnamon-dusted or just a perfect glazed? You could choose only two, and it was the biggest decision in your life.
No wonder it gets its own national day. That's right: The first Friday of June is Donut Day.
And now the doughnut has entered the camera-snapping realm of foodie fetish. It started when Voodoo Doughnut of Portland, Ore., began bedazzling doughnuts with "extreme" toppings like Froot Loops, marshmallows and crumbled bacon. That gave doughnuts a hip new sheen. Knockoffs like The Doughnut Vault in Chicago and Hypnotic Donuts in Dallas emerged, and highbrow magazines like Food & Wine started composing best-of lists.
Doughnuts have a "bit of magic" in them, says Stan Frankenthaler, top chef at Dunkin' Donuts, the Massachusetts chain that just partnered with Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman to open at least 50 branches over the next five years in Dallas-Fort Worth.
"There's more to it than just the flour or yeast," Frankenthaler says. "It's one of those foods that transports us to childhood or favorite experiences."
Doughnuts come in two categories: cake and yeast-raised. The ingredients aren't complicated, and nearly all doughnut shops use a packaged mix from companies such as Dawn Foods or BakeMark, to which they basically add water and stir. And yet there remain variations from shop to shop -- the kind you get when humans are involved.
"You get a different set of hands, a different proportion of ingredients, shorter or longer rising time, different oil -- all of those things do matter and contribute to the outcome," Frankenthaler says.
Individual preferences also come into play. Do you like your cake doughnut firm and substantial, or do you like it light and springy? Do you like your glaze thin and translucent, or do you like a thick, crackly coat?
Good doughnuts should have a contrast in texture, with an outer crust and a softer crumb. All doughnut mixes have a hint of pumpkin-pie spice. Even a plain cake has a whiff of cinnamon, often so subtle that you can't identify it as anything other than that quintessential doughnut taste.
"What it boils down to," Frankenthaler says, "is that the simple doughnut is greater than the sum of its parts."
--Teresa Gubbins, special to DFW.com
The whole, unglazed truth about DFW doughnuts
With hundreds of doughnut shops in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a comprehensive taste test was out of the question. We have deadlines and waistlines to think of, after all.
But over the past six weeks, we've scoped out some of the shops with the best sugary buzz -- undying customer devotion, creative recipes and fascinating backstories -- and tried them all. We also included some of the big-dog chains in this fried-dough-fueled odyssey, because, well, they stake their reps on doughnuts and because we wanted to see how they'd measure up against the indies.
We looked for flavor, texture, inventiveness and tradition -- we like the idea behind some gourmet doughnut shops, but when it came to the doughnuts themselves, the old-school ones we tested were the best. For sure, a maple bar or two may have turned our heads. And the Hell Fire doughnut topped with three kinds of peppers and vanilla frosting turned our stomachs.
But now that the final cruller has been consumed and the last few flecks of glaze have been wiped from our lips, we can tell you the hole story.
We'd also like to hear from you about your favorites, and any great doughnuts we may have missed. So let us know by posting a comment below.
-- Robert Philpot
102 S. Main St., Grapevine, 817-421-1257
Kountry Donuts is so small we had trouble finding the front door. The cottage at the southwest corner of Main Street and Northwest Highway does a lot of drive-through business, and there's barely room inside for an adult human between the front door and the bakery case. Maybe they're saving the space for the oversize doughnuts, which are larger than any others we encountered in our search (without crossing the line into being silly). Kountry's filled doughnuts were filled, like stick-a-fork-in-a-little-and-it-bleeds filled, and the blueberry cake -- which had such a perfect mixture of sweetness and tartness that we believe the blueberries were fresh -- was the best doughnut we had during our quest for the holey grail. In business since 1989, Kountry Donuts still attracts its share of online love. And from what we tried, Kountry is definitely worth an expedition to Grapevine. Just bring a GPS and an empty stomach. --RP
Grand Line Cafe & Donuts
1110 S. Bowen Road, Suite A, Arlington, 817-462-8142
Located in a small strip center, Grand Line is the type of place you might not notice if you're not looking for it. So here's a tip: Look for it. We were impressed by the variety, with more glazed and iced than we found at any other indie, as well as a number of cake, filled and crullers. The crullers, with a perfect crisp-outside/soft-inside consistency, were probably our favorite in that category, but everything here was a hit. The traditional doughnuts have gentle texture and sweet-but-not-too-sweet glazes, the fillings (which are injected-to-order and include creme, chocolate and several fruits) were generous and richly flavored, and the cake doughnuts were just spongy enough without being too soft or rubbery. Grand Line also serves burgers and sandwiches at lunch and dinner (we didn't have one, but we'll be back), but it recently stopped serving breakfast. Not that it matters when the doughnuts are this good. --RP
Jessie's Donut Shop
5412 River Oaks Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-737-0237
Just as we thought we were finished with our doughnut quest, two people in one day told us we had to try this place. Glad we did; it's unquestionably the funkiest (in a good way) joint we visited. The sign above the counter says (we're paraphrasing): "If I die in Dallas, drag my cold, dead body back to Fort Worth." A woman at the counter told us the shop had been there since 1959, making it one of the oldest doughnut shops in Tarrant County, possibly the oldest. Jessie Ricardo bought the shop in 1971, and we heard he can be quite a character, but we missed him on our visit. We didn't get there till after 9 a.m., so the selection by then was small, but the glazed doughnuts, with their flaky, peel-off coating, had the best glaze we encountered. The cake doughnuts were melt-in-your-mouth good, especially the maple iced, where the sweet scent of maple practically jumped off the thing before it met our taste buds' approval. --RP
Lone Star Donuts
1727 Beckley Ave., Dallas, 214-946-2185; lonestarfunfoods.com
This place has been an Oak Cliff institution since 1950, and it shows in the architecture with its hint of midcentury modern, the line of cars and trucks that fill the small parking lot early in the morning (you might even have to circle and wait for someone to leave because there's no street parking), and the fact that the place doesn't take credit cards. In fact, Lone Star has quite a history: The shop -- part of Lone Star Consolidated Foods, a company that makes baked goods for national retail distribution -- claims to have introduced the first automated doughnut production line in Dallas. And the old-school approach is in the doughnuts themselves, a tasty take on the tried-and-true with no new-generation irony in the mix. Here is where you come for your basic glazed and cake donuts, some topped with sprinkles and nuts, others with strawberry or chocolate icing. Lone Star doesn't do anything different, but it does what it does well. The cream-filled doughnut, for example, was bursting with cream. Just remember to bring cash. --Cary Darling
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
3605 Ira E. Woods Ave., Grapevine, 817-329-3605 ; also 2600 S. Cooper St., Arlington, and 5118 Greenville Ave., Dallas
Remember when Krispy Kreme arrived here in the late '90s? There were lines of more than 100 people and of up to 40 cars waiting for a doughnut. Since then, Krispy Kreme has opened and closed a Fort Worth store, and the intensity of its cultlike following has faded a bit. Three North Texas shops remain -- in Arlington, Dallas and this one in Grapevine. Nevertheless, Krispy Kreme is still a monolith; it's available in 21 countries. Honestly, we didn't want to like it as much as we did, but Krispy Kreme's special strawberry cake and strawberry Kreme pie flavors (whose availability ended May 20, sadly) burst with strawberry flavor. And the glaze-flavored filling in the "Kreme"-filled doughnuts was silky and not cloyingly sweet. The glazed chocolate cake had the richest chocolate flavor among the doughnuts in our search. The one disappointment: Krispy Kreme's signature, the simple, original glazed, tasted bland and unexciting next to the more adventurous flavors. --RP
901 Keller Parkway, Suite C, Keller, 817-431-3278
When we walked into this humble shop in a small strip center anchored by a gas station, our expectations dropped: Everything looked pretty ordinary and a bit on the small side. But when we got the doughnuts back to the office and began biting into them -- bang! More flavor than we expected, with a nicely stuffed custard-filled that had a sweet, flaky glaze on the outside; crullers that had a crisp initial bite and a nice spongy interior texture; and a blueberry cake almost as flavorful as our favorite, the Kountry Donuts one. Some of the glazes left an aftertaste, but overall this place lived up to the promise after a recommendation from a Keller-raised friend. And at $6 a dozen, it had one of the best prices we encountered. --RP
Paul's Donuts Subs and Gyros
1324 Hemphill St., Fort Worth, 817-926-5500
Paul's has been around for more than 20 years -- first on an Eighth Avenue location that closed in 1992, then for nine years on Rosedale Street and the past 11 in an attractive, vine-covered red-brick shop just a block south of Paris Coffee Shop -- and it has developed a loyal following. As the name indicates, it's not all about doughnuts. There are full breakfast plates available, as well as subs and gyros for lunch. The atmosphere feels more bakerylike than a lot of doughnut shops, and the service was friendly on a busy morning -- and we weren't even there at peak hours. Traditional and cake doughnuts dominated the selection, and the blueberry cake was rich and sweet and a very close second to Kountry Donuts. The glazed, cinnamon and old-fashioned cakes were also good, without the dryness that sometimes comes with cake doughnuts, while the traditional doughnuts were light and airy. And we know it's not a doughnut, but we couldn't resist the oversize cinnamon roll, which matched its size with flavor. --RP
9007 Garland Road, Dallas, 214-668-6999; hypnoticdonuts.com
Since opening at the start of the year, Hypnotic has tried to stake its claim as North Texas' answer to Portland's legendary Voodoo Doughnut. The place, just a bearclaw's throw from White Rock Lake, has taken the lowly doughnut to gooey, gourmet heights. You have to give it to Hypnotic for being adventurous. The lengthy menu includes the cheekily named Canadian Healthcare (Long John covered in maple frosting and real bacon) and the truth-in-advertising Hell Fire (glazed doughnut topped with vanilla frosting, jalapeños, habaneros and serranos). These culinary collisions often come off like happy accidents. We gave the Healthcare an enthusiastic thumbs up, and the Almond to the World (chocolate sprinkles, almonds and coconut) sports a satisfying blend of crunch and flavor. But the Hell Fire was a total wreck (though there was one enthusiastic supporter among our tasters). The Smores (with chocolate sprinkles, marshmallows and graham crackers) got knocked for using marshmallows not worthy of a Lucky Charms box. As if things couldn't get any stranger than peppers on a doughnut, Hypnotic also whips up an assortment of biscuit-and-gravy items, but we'll have to save those for another visit. The one thing everyone can agree on about Hypnotic: It's unique. --CD
Dale's Donuts No. 9
4455 Camp Bowie Blvd., No. 120, Fort Worth, 817-737-9979
Judging from our research, Dale's has one of the best reps in Fort Worth, and it has been in this strip-center location for about 15 years. But we weren't knocked out on our first visit, so it was one of the few places we went to twice. The second visit went better, especially with the custard-filled doughnut, one of the biggest filled doughnuts we encountered with a more-than-generous amount of custard inside. The blueberry cake was good, too, but not quite the nirvana we found at Kountry Donuts or Paul's. The Dale's chocolate-glazed cruller could have been a little more crisp on the outside, but it had a rich glaze and buttery interior. --RP
The Hole Thing
571 Farm Road 548, Forney, 972-564-4653
Forney may seem like a long way to drive for a doughnut, but it's worth it. The Hole Thing dabbles in "extreme toppings," but it goes the gourmet route and exhibits some restraint. The obligatory maple-bacon is a luscious rectangle with a thick coat of frosting and crisp bits of bacon. Hole Thing is also one of the only doughnut shops in town that uses real fruit. That's a slice of pineapple on the pineapple upside-down-cake doughnut, and there's an entire line of "pie" doughnuts, such as Key lime and coconut cream. The strawberry-rhubarb is a real knockout, filled with rhubarb puree with strawberry slices on top. What other doughnut shop has rhubarb? --Teresa Gubbins, special to DFW.com
12895 Josey Lane, No. 200, Dallas, 972-243-6688
Jerry's is a legend, and rightfully so: It opened in 1968, and there has been little staff turnover. If you ask the bakers how many doughnuts they make in a day or how long it takes a doughnut to rise, they can't tell you numbers -- they can only tell by feel. They make a tight batter, giving their cake doughnuts a weighty presence and a substantial crust, almost like a piece of battered cod. The raised doughnuts have a satisfying yeastiness, and they don't scrimp on the glaze. Slightly thick and a little crackly, it gives the doughnut an extra shell. The chocolate-filled glazed doughnuts are true decadence, but if you can pick one day to go, make it Friday: That's the day they make banana doughnuts with fresh banana mashed into the batter. --TG
6308 Denton Highway, Fort Worth, 817-605-1919 (locations also in Arlington and Pantego; multiple Dallas-area locations)
A chain that stands in the shadow of Krispy Kreme and Dunkin', Shipley seems more modest. It packs its dozens into a small box like the little guys, instead of one of those big rectangular boxes like the big guys. Despite its blink-and-you-miss-it location, this north Fort Worth store on ever-cluttered U.S. 377 was doing good drive-through business when we stopped in. It had been awhile since we had a doughnut here, and our favorite, the creme-filled -- with a creme texture that manages to find the middle ground between whipped cream and cake icing -- didn't disappoint. But the yeast doughnuts had a rubbery texture, the cakes were on the chewy side, and the icings and glazes left an aftertaste longer than the glazes of any other doughnuts we tasted. --RP
2255 W. Southlake Blvd., Southlake, 817-488-8828 (multiple other DFW locations)
For some of us, Dunkin' is the doughnut of our childhood, the post-Sunday-church-service doughnut. So even though it's a chain, there's a big nostalgia factor -- which might have been why we were a little let down. The new Southlake location was buzzing, with coffee drinkers out on the patio (!) and a gaggle of customers inside. The variety of flavors makes you think you're in the doughnut version of a Baskin-Robbins. Everything was good, in fact, till the tasting, when we ran into doughnuts that had a weak texture. They reminded us of balled-up white bread. Maybe that's why Dunkin's filled doughnuts -- ah, sweet Bavarian creme -- are its best; the gooey fillings transcend the boring dough. But with so many solid indies around, why would you stop here? Unless you're just in a hurry or want a cup of Dunkin' coffee, that is. --RP
Denton Square Donuts
208 W. Oak St., Denton, 940-220-9447
A block west of the town square, Denton Square offers square pastries with such offbeat flavors as Loops (with Froot Loops on top), granola and, our favorite, pretzchocamel, a pretzel-chocolate-caramel-topped concoction. Notice we said pastries -- although Sally Levitt Steinberg's The Donut Book allows for a pretty loose definition of "doughnut," and we're OK with the square shape, we're not certain that the phyllo-dough-esque base qualifies as a doughnut (it may remind you more of baklava). Whatever you call these, though, they are good -- and they survived a nearly 40-mile journey from Denton to downtown Fort Worth without losing freshness. Our only real complaint was that some of the icings were too sweet, so the more toppings, the better, to cut the sweetness. Worth a road trip, but call first -- Square sometimes runs out before closing time. It also serves wine in the evenings and occasionally has live music. --RP