The Toronto Doughnut Throwdown
The gourmet doughnut. The doughnut is arguably the most accessible pastry in North America; it’s the people’s pastry.
From sharing birthday Timbits with your Kindergarten classmates to your everyday Timmies run, doughnuts (and I guess Tim Hortons?) have always been there for us. It’s the quintessential greasy diner dessert and iconic breakfast of law enforcement champions.
Like many everyman eats, the doughnut has - fairly recently - been given the gourmet makeover. A makeover that has tripled its value and opened dedicated shrines to its newer, more glamourous self. It’s been discovered by The Food Network and the rest is history: 15 seconds of fame in yet another reality tv cooking competition, “Best of” lists (some topping 25) start piling up, and, now, overwhelming choice.
But have no fear!
To help narrow it down for you, we’ve declared...a Toronto Gourmet Doughnut Throwdown!
THE UNCLE REGIS EXPERIMENT
I inherited this peculiar food evaluation method from my Uncle Regis. A neurologist by day and mad food scientist by night, Uncle Regis’ San Francisco home is a mecca of kitchen gadgets and extreme culinary DIY projects. San Francisco is a city rich with local produce and seafood. Grocery store visits there are as wonderful as they are gut-wrenching, as I regularly suffer from food indecision caused by the desire to EAT EVERYTHING. It wasn’t about choosing one food over another; there was just an unreasonable amount of choice as to precisely which orange or which oyster to buy. Luckily, Uncle Regis’ prescription always proved effective: get one of each and compare. And when I say compare, I mean side-by-side comparisons with detailed tasting notes.
The Uncle Regis Experiment is something I do rather frequently with my friends. Honestly, it’s what us weirdos do for fun. And now that we have an adequate repository for our findings, we can finally publish our results! This might be a good time to warn you, dear readers, that this is NOT a “Best of” article; to claim that we have the authority or resources to seriously rank something so subjective is utterly arrogant and absurd *ahem*
It was important for us to compare apples to apples as much as possible. That said, many good shops didn’t make the cut, despite their notoriety. Vegan doughnuts, for instance, were not considered due to the fundamental differences in base ingredients.
After much deliberation, we settled specifically on yeast doughnuts versus cake doughnuts, from shops devoted to doughnut specialization, located within TTC reach. Based on these rules, we each chose a contender, resulting in selecting The Rolling Pin, Von Doughnuts, and Glory Hole.
We chose 2 different doughnuts per shop, collected them within 2 hours and sampled them side-by-side in a single sitting. Doughnuts were evaluated based on the following criteria:
Taste: All things “gourmet” have a tendency of tossing together unusual flavour combinations, which sometimes works in giving it an edge, and sometimes just leaves us confused and disappointed. In this case, the flavour combinations must be compatible, well balanced, and interesting.
Texture: While yeast-raised doughnuts are light and fluffy, the fried surface should still produce an ever-so-subtle crisp, which combined offer a satisfying balanced chew. Treatment and effect of ingredients on overall texture were also considered.
Creativity: If I’m going to pay $4 for a doughnut, it better be different from what I can get at Timmies. Creativity will be judged from different perspectives: interesting ingredients and flavour combinations, imaginative and effective construction, as well as presentation.
With the aforementioned criteria in mind, each doughnut was awarded an overall rating - we’re giving spoons instead of stars, up to a possible 3 spoons (see what we did there?).
THE ROLLING PIN
Chocolate Salted Caramel
Description: “Yeast donut, dipped in our house made glaze, filled with our dark chocolate custard, drizzled with salted caramel and Maldon sea salt, including a salted caramel shot.”
One of The Rolling Pin’s signature shot doughnuts, it came complete with a plastic syringe stabbed through the center, filled with liquid flavour meant to be injected at the moment of consumption. Considering the ingredients and rich presentation, the glaze and delicious custard were not overly sweet and well balanced: a pleasant surprise. The flavour shot, while conceptually ingenious, didn’t really add to the overall taste.
Ranking: Kim: 2.5 | Nick: 3 | Abhi: 2
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Description: “Yeast donut, glazed in our house made glaze, peanut butter frosting, raspberry jam, toasted peanuts.”
We chose this doughnut for its eye-catching presentation. As with the first doughnut, the flavours came across with clarity since the composition wasn’t overly sweet. The glaze, however, wasn’t necessary; there was already a lot going on with the frosting and jam, and we feel that it might have taken away from the toasted peanuts, which lacked the desired smokiness and crunch.
The dough’s texture was near-perfect; a nice chew on the surface, followed by a lovely light and fluffy center. The Rolling Pin doughnuts had the best presentation and we found ourselves eating with our eyes.
Ranking: Kim: 2 | Nick: 2 | Abhi: 2
Toast & Butter
Description: “Yeast raised doughnut topped with brown butter frosting, sweet bread crumbs and cinnamon.”
Surprisingly, this one was the unanimous show stopper for us. Perhaps the simplicity of it was disarming, opening our minds and palates to more possibilities than the previous samples. I had a Ratatouille moment with this one; I was five, late for school, and a toast with butter and sugar was being hastily thrust into my tiny hands. This was my favourite breakfast at the time.
The bread crumbs added contrast and complexity to the texture of the doughnut: crunchy, chewy, soft all at once. There was no distinction between where the brown butter frosting, sugar, and cinnamon started and ended; everything melded together into a delicious homage to an ordinarily overlooked, but essential and universal breakfast food.
Ranking: Kim: 3 | Nick: 3 | Abhi: 3
Maple Bourbon Bacon
Description: No online description, but self-explanatory.
Perhaps we should have sampled this one prior to the Toast & Butter. Where the Toast & Butter triumphed, this one fell a little flat. The sweet and salty contrast was appreciated, but we had trouble finding the bourbon. The maple was also hiding somewhere; I think I tasted it in the bacon. The doughnut was good, but it felt as though everything was riding on the little morsels of bacon which may or may not have carried the maple and bourbon all on its own, which seemed hardly fair.
In terms of basic texture, Glory Hole’s doughnuts are closer to what you imagine a more refined diner doughnut to be. While the inner light and fluffy texture is almost identical to The Rolling Pin’s, there is a subtle and welcome oiliness and augmented chew on the surface suggesting that perhaps they fry theirs longer. The dough was also a little less sweet, leaving that job to the toppings.
Ranking: Kim: 2 | Nick: 2 | Abhi: 1
Peanut Butter Jelly Time
Description: “raised doughnut, peanut butter icing, seasonal homemade jam”
This was the richest of the doughnuts we had, but this far into the tasting, perhaps it was more noticeable. The peanut butter icing on this doughnut was better than The Rolling Pin’s; it was more peanut-y. However, it was also laid on rather thick. While the jam was nice, we found the presentation to be a bit odd. Since the jam was presented in stripes across the top, the flavour wasn’t evenly spread. Instinctively, we felt like smearing the jam across, but it would have been spread too thin and overpowered by the peanut butter icing.
Ranking: Kim: 1.5 | Nick: 1.5 | Abhi: 2
Pucker Up Sucker
Description: “raised doughnut, tart lemon custard, lemon drizzle, baked meringue”
The Pucker Up Sucker came in second to Glory Hole’s Toast & Butter as most well conceptualized. The doughnut was split in half lengthwise and the custard was cleverly spread evenly around the middle. The lemon drizzle and baked meringue each added levels of depth to the flavour. The sourness and acidity of the lemon cut through the richness of the doughnut, making it more enjoyable than the previous one.
What made us enjoy Von Doughnuts less than the other two was the texture; their yeast raised doughnuts are noticeably more rich and dense than the other contenders, which poses a problem when you top the doughnuts with equally rich and dense ingredients. The presentation also affected our enjoyment as, again, it sometimes affected the balance between ingredients.
Ranking: Kim: 2 | Nick: 2 | Abhi: 2
While Glory Hole and The Rolling Pin are neck and neck in the basic quality of their doughnuts, Glory Hole is the winner in our books. We like the slightly oily texture (though we know it’s not for everyone) and appreciate the creativity of Glory Hole’s flavours. The Rolling Pin and Von Doughnuts share a similar menu selection and have some fairly elaborate concoctions, while Glory Hole’s flavours focus on an innovative approach to simple concepts. Sometimes less really is more, and we’ve come to realize that to be the case for our beloved doughnuts.
Written by Kimberley Kwo. Photography by Abhishek Dekate.