HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >

Discussion

Pepples Donuts at the Ferry Plaza - a full review

I’m not sure what possessed me. I had been wanting to review Pepples Donuts for some time, but knew I couldn’t handle a full tasting on my own and many of my friends who often join me in these ventures were unavailable. So I headed to the Ferry Plaza, originally with the intention of just trying one or two flavors and thinking I would return with a full crew to help me in my endeavors. Arriving at the north end of the building and seeing a growing line across from Sur la Table, a giant frosted doughnut sign beckoned and with a line already established at the small stand, I knew I was in the right place. And seeing the two large trays with so many flavors, I knew there was no way I could only taste just a few.

There was a nice guy standing in line in front of me and a thought ran through my head; maybe he wouldn’t mind sharing a few. I asked if I could buy him a doughnut or two and help me taste them but when it came to choosing, I lost complete control. “Just give me one of each,” I instructed. Incredulity prevailed and I assured Kevin — as we were now introduced — that it was a matter of getting a thorough review. Exactly a dozen were placed in the ubiquitous pink box, with none touching each other and potentially destroying their perfect frostings. “Very conscientious,” I thought to myself! She was careful to not stack or otherwise maul the frosting on the doughnuts before we had an opportunity to taste them. A remaining four were placed in individual bags giving us the full sweep of all 16 flavors:

Blueberry
Chocolate
Chocolate Coconut
Chocolate Cookie
Chocolate Sprinkle
Cinnamon Sugar
Coconut Whiteout
Coffee
Far West Candy Cap
Kaffir Lime Leaf Glaze
Lemon Poppy
Matcha Organic Green Tea
Orange Creamsicle
Vanilla Cake
Vanilla Cookie
Vanilla Glazed

Kevin – with sincere apologies to his girlfriend, Sarah-Jane who was unable to participate due to gluten allergies – and I headed to the benches behind the Blue Bottle Coffee stall at the front of the Plaza. Thanks goes to Kevin for treating me to a coffee to help wash down the tastings. As a matter of record, to date this is the most expensive tasting I have endeavored; with each doughnut costing $2.00 to $3.00 each, we were about to feast on more than $40 worth of tasty cakes.

Unlike other doughnut shops, Pepples is 100% a cake company; no raised, no fritters, no crullers. And one of their huge selling points is that their doughnuts are organic and 100% vegan. I am intrigued by this as I am unsure what leavening agents replace eggs or what binders replace butter or milk in vegan baking. This fact might make me a little more critical in tasting these doughnuts, but I would like to think not, considering their popularity. As this report shows, many who ultimately tasted through the bounty had no idea these doughnuts were vegan!

Kevin enjoyed the tasting, indicating the offerings were rich but not too sweet with a good crumb. I broke into the cinnamon and was a bit surprised that instead of a simple dusting of cinnamon and sugar, the spice was encased in a frosting which somewhat chunked off in bites and I found a tad on the sweet side. Kevin didn’t mind as much and I’m sorry he couldn’t stay to work through all sixteen flavors. Laura had been watching us and spying the brightest colored, dived into the blueberry. Not actually blue but pink, she admitted to not really being a doughnut fan but was impressed by how really good and not greasy it was.

Sitting on an empty bench with an open box of jeweled colors drew the attention of other Blue Bottle customers and I proceeded to invite others to join in on the tasting. Joanne was one of the first to sit down and introduced me to little Emi who was quite thrilled to finish off the blueberry doughnut all on her very own. Emi’s Dad also told me about Emi’s favorite book I am going to have to look into, a children’s book called The Donut Chef! Well that sealed it – Emi is already a doughnut aficionado and perfectly delightful! We both enjoyed the blueberry, although I found its flavors a bit more muted than anticipated. I am chalking this up to the fact that all the flavors which are used are derived from natural ingredients and not the more pungent, artificial flavors that our palates have grown accustomed to.

Stephanie and her friend, Katherine stopped by next, tasting the Kaffir lime leaf with coconut and like me with the blueberry, Stephanie found it a bit too subtle, wishing it were more pronounced. Katherine also wished for stronger flavors, but genuinely liked the Matcha green tea. There was a bit of a growing mess around me as clumps of frosting broke off and fell to the ground – not quite adhering to the doughnuts. But that just drew that many more people willing to help me get through this monumental effort.

Steve was another eager helper, tasting and being especially fond of the orangesicle and the salted caramel, surprised they were not too oily or overpowering. John and Greg were shocked to learn the doughnuts were vegan and both enjoyed the candy cap, thinking it was maple. I explained that candy cap was a mushroom, giving it a slight earthy taste but having a good friend who makes candy cap syrup, agrees that it often has maple-like components to its flavor structure. John thought the actual cake flavor was a bit doughy while Greg said they were more moist than he was anticipating. John dived into the sprinkles, that being a favorite of his.

Tony was my last helper of the day and told me that he had a severe addiction to Pepples back when they were using coconut oil. He was working hard at the Blue Bottle stall and I left the remainder of our samples with him to share with his friends. We chatted for a bit, telling him I didn’t realize their oil had been changed. I loved that someone was able to provide a little background information on the company with insight as to its growth.

And me? Well, yes, I tasted every single one – starting with the more demur flavors; plain, vanilla, and cinnamon sugar. Frankly, the aroma of the cakes was that of uncooked batter and in several cases, the predominant TASTE hinted at rawness, similar to what John was saying. I found the Matcha green tea to give a hint of dustiness and the lemon poppy with not enough of a citrus component. I can’t say that about the orange creamsicle which was delightfully tangy. I enjoyed the blueberry but wished it had a similar tang of strength of fruit that the orange did. The coconut was one of the bigger, richer tastes with a good quality coconut. Without knowing what it was I was tasting, I don’t think I could have picked out the flavor of salted caramel other than it was sweet.

I held off and tasted the darker, chocolate doughnuts at the end. There are two different ways to experience Pepple’s chocolate; with chocolate frosting on a vanilla doughnut and as a full-on chocolate doughnut with a variety of toppings; just chocolate, chocolate cookie, and chocolate whiteout with coconut. There is also the coffee doughnut with chocolate icing with coffee bits. I was a bit surprised that Pepples promoted the candy cap doughnut was being a Far West Fungi mushroom, but does not indicate the coffee supplier for that doughnut. Being a Bay Area company, one would think it would be Ritual Roasters or Blue Bottle coffee, but who knows? Being a tremendous fan of a rich chocolate doughnut, I would not necessarily have known the chocolate doughnuts were vegan either and preferred the chocolate cake with chocolate icing. I really wanted the coffee to be a favorite and while it produced some aromatics, it lacked the rich, piquant coffee tastes — although I would happily taste it again with a glass of milk instead of a cup of coffee. I will grant that I might have distracted my own taste buds with the beverage choice.

But the hands-down favorite? By yours truly and as a general consensus by all who tasted it, there is no doubt the Kaffir lime leaf with coconut is the stand-out offering. It is a combination of exotic flavors without being bizarre or gimmicky. I did not detect the raw, doughy sensation with Kaffir lime doughnut like I did with the others. It was intriguing and one of the most exciting doughnuts I have experienced since I started documenting my love of fried dough. This is a Hall of Fame doughnut. But there is no way in the world I could have figured this out on my own and I wish to offer very special, heartfelt gratitude to everyone who helped out, were willing participants in tasting, talking, and picture-taking.

As usual - pictures on Fried Dough Ho: http://frieddoughho.com/pepples-donuts/

-----
Far West Fungi
1 Ferry Bldg # 34, San Francisco, CA

Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
Posting Guidelines | FAQs | Feedback
Cancel
  1. What a spectacular review, with such a wonderful you-know-you're-a-chowhound-when moment. I love the concept of a flashmob donut tasting. Inspirational!

    1. I just wanted to say this is one of my favorite reviews ever. Thinking of you on a bench sharing donuts with the starngers around you just warms my heart. When my daughter was off dairy I helped her sample some pepples at a coffee shop. They were definitely messier then your average donut, but I would not have guessed it to be vegan. I know one that we tried was the blueberry and I agree the flavoring could have been kicked up a bit

      3 Replies
      1. re: elliora

        Thank you guys so much! Honestly, I may have stumbled on something I'd like to do again. It was completely impromptu, unplanned, and delightful. Artemis, I love the phrase "flashmob donut tasting" and, yes, Elliora, it warmed my heart as well that strangers were willing to just dive in and talk to me.

        I'm thinking I might have to schedule a local CH tasting - who would want to come out and help The Ho taste through a pile of fried dough somewhere? It was great fun...

        1. re: CarrieWas218

          Go for it, CarrieWas281! omg - fried fun!
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6682...

          1. re: Cynsa

            Well, if you do in the mid-to-late afternoon sometime, I can probably stop by as someone who has been taking the ferry more and more to and from work.

            Funny thing is I have passed by there a few times and never convinced myself to just buy one or two donuts. Maybe it's that "if it's donuts, you gotta' buy at least a dozen" mentality that I have when I think of donuts

      2. Amazing...must go to Ferry Plaza!

        Here are the ingredients per the Pepple's Donuts website:
        Ingredients (100% Organic)

        organic unbleached pastry flour, organic soy flour, water, organic canola oil, organic palm fruit oil, organic vanilla extract, organic flax seeds, non-gmo soy lecithin, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt.
        Other Cake Flavors and Ingredients: organic poppy seeds, organic cocoa, organic blueberries, organic spices
        Toppings may contain: Organic powdered sugar, organic raspberry jam, organic blueberries, organic coconut milk, agar agar, organic coconut, locally grown (City Slicker Farms) beets, organic cocoa powder, organic lemon juice, organic poppy seeds, organic peanut butter, organic cookies, organic sprinkles, organic cinnamon, organic pumpkin, organic apples, organic cherries, kaffir lime leaves, organic pineapple, organic cherries, organic orange juice concentrate, organic coffee, organic maple syrup, organic vanilla extract, organic vanilla whole beans.

        -----
        Pepples Donuts
        6037 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94608

        1 Reply
        1. re: gmk1322

          Blended flax seeds and water makes a good egg white substitute in vegan recipes.

        2. This was a hilarious post. Thank you for your out-of-the-box chowhounding!

          Unfortunately my experience at Pepples was pretty much the opposite of yours. The one doughnut I bought was stone cold and slightly hard. I know they can't keep the doughnuts warm, but I'm talking about that stiff coldness that tastes different in the mouth than typical room temperature-ness.

          I blamed the vegan ingredients for this. How did you find the temperature and texture of the doughnuts?

          1. This is awesome and inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

            1. As I was in the Ferry Building researching Recchiuti chocolates for a gift purchase (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7212...) and my curiosity had been piqued by this excellent and entertaining report, I bought two ($5) to sample a taste and take home for my roommate to have the rest. Note: I am not a regular sweets eater, although I enjoyed more than my share back in the day can appreciate small doses in the present. I admit I don't find the Pepple's location very inviting or eye-catching and the lone employee appears bored and isolated. The Ferry Building was crowded yet most people walked by without even glancing at the booth. One could easily overlook the whole operation, don't you think? I scanned the ingredients list, which is a general list encompassing all the flavors, not donut by donut, and asked the employee which one contained Rosemary because I thought that might be an interesting flavor to try. She did not know, and after returning home and looking at the website, I can understand why, because the online ingredient list doesn't indicate they have a donut with Rosemary at the moment.

              Upon arriving home, I tried a small portion of the Kaffir Lime and Blueberry. My initial impression was, as others have stated, that you would never know they were vegan. Both were moist, not heavy and flavors of the cake itself were adequately flavorful, mouth watering and not too sweet. The cake pulled apart easily and did not crumble into a mess on the plate, but the icing did scatter everywhere. Unlike Carrie and her volunteer taste testers, I found both Kaffir Lime and Blueberry flavors to be strong enough. However, they were both a wee bit oily (but not soaking the bag oily) and the glaze too abundant and too sweet for my taste. My roommate, a daily sweets consumer, enjoyed both, not knowing or caring they were vegan and did not think the glaze was too sweet although his opinion was they were too expensive to enjoy on a regular basis. Overall, I appreciate that these donuts are vegan and that the company is committed to striving for quality and constantly improving their ingredients and methods. In my younger days, I would have been happy to shell out the bucks for these tasty morsels as opposed to an overly sweet deep fried donut with neon yellow jelly filling, although those are completely appropriate at times.

              -----
              Recchiuti
              1 Ferry Bldg # 30, San Francisco, CA

              1. I just tried their doughnuts today at the Ferry Building. I was initially skeptical because it was vegan, but I loved them. We tried the candy cap, since we are foragers and love candy caps, and the salted caramel. Damn, if you hadn't told me they were vegan, I wouldn't have known. I thought they were tasty; I want to try the blueberry flavor next.

                1 Reply
                1. re: achefsbest

                  Tried the salted caramel a couple weeks back also - it was very good, and the Kaffir Lime was equally so. Maybe it's time to start thinking of another visit soon