CHICAGO — Pomegranate thyme and bing cherry balsamic may sound like salad dressings, and lemon chamomile crème custard may evoke thoughts of fancy teas, but they’re actually cutting-edge flavors in the latest fad to hit the baking scene — doughnuts.
So much for glazed and jelly.
Fresh off the nation’s fascination with cupcakes, bakers across the country are experimenting with gourmet flavor combinations and unorthodox ingredients in doughnuts, everything from meats to Cocoa Puffs breakfast cereal.
At Glazed Donuts Chicago, for example, mint leaves spring from the holes of iced mint mojito doughnuts. Baker Kirsten Anderson also adds grape jelly to the dough of her peanut butter and jelly doughnuts.
“You’re taking a relatively inexpensive item and you’re turning it into a luxury item,” says Anderson, whose seasonal offerings also have included butternut squash and white chocolate blueberry doughnuts.
“So maybe people can’t afford the best house or the best car, but they can go out and buy a piece of indulgence at a price they can afford.”
Paul Mullins, author of “Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut,” calls them “designer doughnuts,” and says the trend defies the stereotype of doughnut shops as smoke-filled, with laborers lingering over burnt coffee and bad doughnuts.
And fancy doughnuts are increasingly common. Designer doughnut shops, bakeries and related businesses have proved popular with young urbanites on both coasts, as well as large cities such as Chicago, Mullins says.
“The chefs, they’re really skilled, they are really creative,” he says. “These designer doughnuts by regular Krispy Kreme-standards are pricey, but by haute cuisine standards, $5 or $6, that’s not that much.”
The doughnut-makers are playing with consumers’ notions of creativity and curiosity, Mullins says. “What in the world does a chamomile doughnut taste like? I don’t know if I’d want it on an every-week basis, but I’d give it a shot.”
Michelle Vazquez, owner of Mandarin Gourmet Donut Shoppe in Miami (home to the chamomile creation, as well as a guava and cheese variety), says her doughnuts are attractive to health conscious customers who want something “a little bit higher-class than a regular doughnut.”
She uses organic ingredients, trans fat-free oil, seasonal fresh fruits, Ghiradelli chocolates and cheeses such as savory French fromage blanc and creamy Italian mascarpone.
Mark Isreal, owner of Doughnut Plant in New York City, sees doughnuts as palletes for creativity and experimentation. He created a square doughnut filled with homemade jelly. Other recent flavors have included peanut butter, roasted chestnuts, cranberries and coconut.
“The bakery is my artist’s studio in a way, where I create,” Isreal says. “You’re going to have a flavor and a texture that is totally new for a doughnut and that’s exciting.”
Designer doughnuts aren’t as popular as cupcakes, which spawned a craze of cafes and bakeries, but the groundwork is there, says Sarah Levy, a pastry chef who owns two dessert shops in Chicago and is author of “Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion.”
“It’s an item where you can put a unique twist to it to kind of freshen it and make it exciting again,” she says. “It’s kind of a cool blank slate that you can doctor up and make them festive with different ingredients.”
At Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, owner Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson says the bakery puts a signature stamp on doughnuts by using sugar cereals such as Fruit Loops and bacon strips as ingredients. The shop’s bacon maple bar doughnut came to be after a discussion about mixing savory and sweet flavors.
“I walked in with some bacon one day and boom, there it was,” Pogson says. “Two strips of bacon.”
Back in Chicago, Anderson makes doughnuts for customers like Ellen Pecciotto of Chicago, who bought butternut squash and frosted apple cider doughnuts.
“I love the different flavors,” Pecciotto said after making her purchase at a recent local farmers’ market. “Nobody does that.”
Anderson says she will continue to experiment with her doughnut flavors.
“There’s a lot of room for growth,” she said. “I think things are just beginning.”
So maybe you’re not quite ready to make – or even try – pomegranate thyme doughnuts. Don’t worry. This recipe for fried doughnuts from Food Network host Alton Brown will give you back-to-basics good flavor without too much trouble.
The doughnuts are delicious as is, or sprinkled with powdered sugar or a blend of powdered sugar and either cocoa powder or cinnamon. You also could glaze them with a mix of powdered sugar, vanilla extract and a splash of water or milk, then coat them with candy sprinkles.
To make a chocolate ganache to dip the doughnuts in, slowly melt together equal parts cream and chopped dark chocolate (about 4 ounces of each should be enough). Let cool a bit before using.
Because the doughnuts are fried, the oil will cause them to absorb powdered coatings. Be sure to coat the doughnuts just before serving.
Basic Fried Doughnuts
Recipe from Alton Brown on Foodnetwork.com
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (2 packages) instant yeast
1/3 cup warm water (95 degrees to 105 degrees)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Vegetable oil, for frying (1/2 to 1 gallon, depending on fryer)
In a medium saucepan over medium, heat the milk just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour the warmed milk over it. Set aside.
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm.
Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until the flour is incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat until well combined.
Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, then increase the speed to medium and beat well.
Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out the dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center hole. Set the cut doughnuts on a floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees.
Three or four at a time, gently place the doughnuts into the oil. Cook for 1 minute per side, then transfer the doughnuts to a cooling rack placed in baking pan (to catch drips). Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.
Yield: 20 to 25 doughnuts
Not ready to brave the deep fryer for a do-it-yourself doughnut? These simple baked chocolate doughnuts take the hot oil out of the equation. And once you slather them with a chocolate glaze, you’ll never know you skipped the frying.
To make your own designer doughnut, substitute lager or another dark beer for the water in the glaze. Dip cooled doughnuts into the glaze, then set aside to cool or coat with candy sprinkles. You also could flavor the doughnuts by adding orange or almond extracts.
Baked Chocolate Doughnuts
For the doughnuts:
1 1/3 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
For the glaze:
3 tablespoons butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup water
In a small saucepan over medium, heat the milk and butter until the butter is just melted. Set aside until cooled to between 95 degrees and 105 degrees.
Once the milk mixture has cooled, transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast and let stand until bubbly, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt.
When the yeast and milk are ready, add the flour mixture, sugar and eggs. Using the mixer’s dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Increase speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour.
Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Use a 3-inch round cookie cutter to cut out circles, then use a 1-inch round cutter to remove center holes from each.
Arrange the rings and holes on the prepared baking sheets. Cover loosely with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the doughnuts for about 20 minutes, or until they feel slightly firm to the touch. The doughnuts will not change color. Transfer the doughnuts to a wire rack to cool at least 15 minutes before glazing.
To make the glaze, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate. Stir until fully melted, then remove from the heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and water. Let cool slightly, then dunk doughnuts into it.
Yield: Makes 24 doughnuts and 24 doughnut holes