The donut’s origins as a pragmatic New England ship captain’s mother's take on the Dutch olykoeks (aka "oily cakes") with nuts in the center because the dough wouldn’t cook through are not that sexy. And up until the last 10 years or so, one could argue that donuts weren’t sexy -- mostly a breakfast pastry used to make unoriginal jokes about chubby cops.
My how that has changed. Over the course of the last decade we've seen the Phoenix-like rise of the artisanal gourmet donut, with toppings made from scratch, innovative hybrid take-offs (hello Cronut), and a reputation makeover. Donuts are like the pastry version of that unpopular high school kid who goes to college and buys new jackets and comes back cool. And we're damn glad about it.
A BAKER'S WIFE,MINNEAPOLIS, MN
I have family in Minneapolis and my brother went to college there, so I try and get out there once a year in the summer, to go out on the lake and listen to soothing, Nordic-inflected accents and eat things. And for a few years, I was solidly in the Glam Doll camp for best donuts (NOTE: they're still very delicious). But that was just because I rarely went to South Minneapolis, and never got to A Baker's Wife. Now, this place is an actual pastry shop, so it has more than just donuts, but everyone orders the donuts. And you can understand why once you bite into that cinnamon-and-sugar cake masterpiece, which has none of the oily texture you sometimes get with poorly constructed donuts. It was light and just the right amount sweet, and oh yeah: it only cost 50 CENTS. I’ll see you again this summer, and this time I'm bringing a $5.
ALLIE'S DONUTS,NORTH KINGSTOWN, RI
As a kid, did you bring cupcakes to school to celebrate your birthday? That's adorable. You know what I brought? A donut the size of a cake. A donut cake, if you will, shaped like an ice skate, a heart, the sun, or whatever else I could dream up. I can attribute my elementary-aged baller status to Allie's Donuts, a Rhode Island institution that has been around for decades, catering to locals and touristy beach-goers alike. The place is packed with a line out the door every weekend, and if you want one of its custom-made donut cakes, you've got to call weeks in advance. It also offers the individual classics, from old-fashioned crullers to glazed donuts and jelly sticks. But the top seller is a fluffy yeast donut with fluorescent sprinkles atop sugary, melt-in-your-mouth white frosting. It's a child's dream donut.
BLACKBIRD DOUGHNUTS, BOSTON, MA
The Gallows is one of my favorite Boston restaurants, with a burger worthy of an out-of-town journey. When it opened up a donut shop, I was excited but confused, as running a restaurant and successfully pulling off damn good donuts are two things that don’t necessarily intersect. But clearly I worry too much. Blackbird’s donuts (made on site, which, as touted on the website, is actually a rarity in Boston proper) have that artisanal look, meaning they're impeccably dressed up in beautiful glazes and offer up weird-ish flavors (when I was there the shop had a blueberry white chocolate Bismarck and a cold-brew coconut).
I always get the simple donuts, though, when trying out new shops (because, basically, if you can’t do a layup, how're you going to hit a half-court shot?), and both the simple raised-style vanilla glazed and the cinnamon-sugar cake donuts checked off all the boxes: airy, pillowy dough in the raised, and that moist cake without the oil in the latter.
BLUE STAR DONUTS, PORTLAND, OR