Contrary to popular belief, there are bad donuts.
(I’m spelling them “donuts” rather than “doughnuts” because if you ask people how to spell the word, most of them will go with the first option. That’s not to say it’s the correct spelling, but since when did you worry so much about being correct? There are no teachers here, unless you count my mom, who is very supportive of this site even if she doesn’t fully understand where she went wrong raising me.)
You might not know there are bad donuts, and if so, you are truly blessed. Most of them are good. They’re fine. They’re sugar and dough and when someone brings a box of them into the office, it would be, like, rude not to eat at least one of them.
Most of the time they’re a tasty little sugar bomb that could take the place of several breakfasts — not that you didn’t already eat breakfast. But sometimes they’re terrible. So dry they turn to paste in your mouth. Either so sweet they’ll give you a headache or so flavorless you regret every bite you take.
“Aren’t we supposed to be talking about good donuts here? Oh god, you drove around looking for terrible donuts. You idiot. I can’t believe I even clicked on the lin-”
No, I didn’t go looking for bad donuts. I went looking for the best of the best. But it is sometimes informative to consider what makes a bad donut so we can better understand what makes a good one.
I would argue that texture, even more than taste, is the difference between a good donut and a great one.
Locally, we’ve got two main types of donuts: yeast and cake. Both are fried. Both are round. Both are scrumptious. But the differences are major.
Yeast donuts are those lighter-than-air pastries like one might find at Krispy Kreme. The raised dough fries into paper-thin layers that have a nice pull to them. You might snap through one with your teeth, but it’s so much more enjoyable to rend it apart like a wild animal. Sink your canines into it and just pull.
Feel that tug? That’s the yeasted dough. It’s usually drier than cake, but the buttery texture makes it easy to eat.
Cake donuts are, as the name implies, a lot like cake. The batter used is heavier and, rather than pulling, tends to crumble. But a good cake donut is moist enough that you’ll get minimal crumbling. Mostly it will stick together, even when dipped in a cup of hot coffee for a second or two.
Yeasted donuts have a mild sweetness to them, though ideally bumped up with a little extra seasoning. Most of the flavor comes from the glaze, which is usually a thin vanilla- or maple-sugar liquid the donuts are dipped in.
There are other varieties, of course, but those are the simplest and often the most satisfying.
All the air in the fried yeasted donuts also opens up space for fillings. One of my favorites is at Best Donuts, where they make tiny donut holes and then pump them full of raspberry jelly. I could dine on those all day. That’s the joy of the yeasted donut — you can eat one (or two, or three, or PUT DOWN THE BOX, GREG) without feeling like your sides are going to split open, horror movie-style.
Glazed were my favorites for years, but I’ve recently returned to my lifelong love affair with cake donuts. Why? Because you can do so much more with cake.
Find a blueberry donut you don’t like. Good luck. Even the worst blueberry cake donut is usually better than anything else in the case.
My recent obsessions are the cake donuts made by Missy’s Doughnuts & Bakery in Guthrie. Missy didn’t share the recipe with me, but I imagine it goes something like this:
Step 1. Gather flour, eggs, butter, milk, sugar and baking soda.
Step 2. Mix.
Step 3. Check to make sure the coast is clear.
Step 4. Reach into the cabinet where the faeries are kept.
Step 5. Crumble three wings and wring out as much pixie dust as you can into the batter.
What I’m saying is there is magic in these donuts. The cake is moist beyond belief. They should be sopping wet to be so moist, but instead they’re just this lovely bunch of cake that falls apart in your mouth and spreads happiness to all of your extremities.
That said, I also had one of Missy’s plain glazed donuts — the placebo of most donut cases — and was completely and totally floored. I literally steadied myself on a table because I was shocked at the depth of flavor Missy packed into such a simple and oft-overlooked pastry.
For the most gourmet of donuts, I generally turn to Belle Kitchen. These are raised yeast donuts with a good amount of pull and a plethora of flavors not often found in donut shops, like hibiscus and cereal milk.
The one I recommend is the strawberry milkshake donut, which really does taste like a strawberry milkshake. The strawberry comes across, but subtly mixed with a creamy frosting that is reminiscent of ice cream.
(Not a donut, but while you’re there, you definitely need to try a macaron.)
The draw at Polar Donuts is the somewhat wicked sense of humor in naming the donuts and a not-so-secret ingredient used in the cake donuts.
So, let’s get it out of the way — the Camel Toe and the Strong Pimp Hand are both pretty good donuts. They’re not game-changing in taste or texture, but you won’t be disappointed if you eat one.
BUT, what you really want to get are the “spud-nuts.” Those are cake donuts, both chocolate and plain, that include dehydrated potato flakes (the stuff used in instant mashed potatoes) to give the cake a more tender crumb. The chocolate cake spud-nut is by far my favorite in the shop, though it’s only available in the summer.
Let me tell you about a glorious donut shop you’ve probably driven past numerous times without even really seeing: Quoc Bao Bakery.
Quoc Bao does a lot of different stuff and donuts are kind of an afterthought. But what an afterthought! These simple yeast donuts are buttery as all get out — seriously, grab a napkin — and they just melt when you take a bite. I mean, that’s really it for donuts. Period. And they’re really good.
I love a little savory when I’m at a donut shop. Sausage rolls? Always yes. But Quoc Bao has them all beat with a bag of five spring rolls for $2. Oh, man, these are exactly how I like them. Greasy, crispy and oh, man, where did the bag go? Take one bite and the rest of the bag will soon disappear.
Finally, in the food truck realm, I have to give it up to Metro Minis for making some incredibly addictive little donuts. Part of that is because they’re making those donuts fresh, to-order, on a tiny donut frying machine.
While they’re not as decadent as Missy’s cake donuts, the freshness of these tiny donuts makes them melt on the tongue. Beware: you may get a half dozen and then look up and they’re all gone. I plowed through some maple bacon Metro Minis in less time than it took Han to complete the Kessel Run. I meant to share them with my kids, I swear! Guess I’ll just have to buy several dozen more.
Do you have a particularly beloved donut spot in Oklahoma? Leave a comment or send me an email and let me know where it is and what I should get and I might add them to this list.