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What's happened to donuts?

I haven't had a good donut in years. Supermarket donuts are all inedible. Krispy Cremes are too doughy in my mouth and don't taste that great to me. The last Dunkin Donuts I had weren't good, either. I haven't found a good independent in quite a few years.

Is it just me, or do others who long for a good donut find them just as disappointing as I do? They all seem to have a nasty taste to them any more and coat my mouth with an unpleasant coating. I used to think it was just that the frying fat needed to be cleaned. Now I'm wondering if it's the zero-trans fat frying stuff that's being used today?

What do you think? Does zero-trans fat frying stuff impart an icky flavor to donuts now? Or what else might it be?

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  1. Have you gone anywhere that makes them from scratch and with pride. I can take or leave, mostly leave, generic chain doughnuts but a local made-from-scratch doughnut shop has a line out the door most weekend mornings for good reason.

    Their PB and J doughnut is awesome - salty and sweet, and always sell out quickly, They have great maple doughnuts, key lime custard with vanilla and graham crumbs, and truly great standards like lemon filled and Boston creme.

    1 Reply
    1. re: TampaAurora

      Maybe the issue is that I used to work for a donut shop in a small town in Colorado that made wonderful donuts. They were from a mix, but the shortening was always clean and fresh, and they were very, very good donuts.

      I've you've never had freshly-fried stil-warm donut holes with a swirled in a little bit of melted butter... you've missed something!

    2. I've never done it myself, but I once babysat for a lady who had a freezer full of homemade donuts just waiting to be thawed and consumed. They were delicious. No trans fats, either.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chummy

        I agree with going for the local donut places. They are few and far between!

        1. re: chummy

          That may be the answer... were they yeasted donuts or cake donuts? I never thought about freezing fried yeasted donuts... did she glaze them before freezing, and did the glaze hold up?

        2. Tim Horton's has also really gone downhill especially since Wendy's took over ownership.

          3 Replies
          1. re: livetocook

            Wendy's no longer owns Tim Hortons and has not for a while. It is back to being a canadian company.

            1. re: basachs

              Stop - you're both right. After the Wendy's takeover, they moved to a centralized bakery and the quality fell off dramatically at the individual stores. (Ask anyone who remembers the original apple fritter.)

              Wendy's ended up divesting Tim's, but the damage had been done, and the new management team hasn't changed the centralized bakery concept, which saves money at the cost of taste. And, all the mini-outlets at gas stations and grocery stores don't have room to make anything from scratch anyway.

              But what I really remember was the small town baker near our cottage in rural Quebec. Long before anyone had heard of Krispy Kreme, he made a glazed yeast doughnut every Saturday morning. In a town of less than 2,000, he made 60 dozen of these every Saturday, and he was always sold out by noon. They were hot, sweet, sticky, and perfect. It was Mom's way of making us shake a leg for her shopping rounds - "Hurry up, or we'll miss the doughnuts!".

              1. re: FrankD

                Well that goes to show you how long it's been since I've had one of their donuts or coffee for that matter. Thanks for the update you two :)

          2. I'm not sure where you are but if you are ever in Santa Monica or anywhere near there, you must go to DK's Donuts on Santa Monica Blvd. and, I think, 16th. They have had the best donuts there since forever. When I still lived there, I'd see Kong happily baking away, serving customers and he seemed proud of his donuts.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MinkeyMonkey

              I'm in Portland, OR but remember DK Donuts from the years I spent in Southern Calif. I don't think I ever got to the Santa Monica store, but others around the area. I agree - yes, they were good donuts.

            2. Yes, American donut-making is in an almost hopeless state, and it's not that recent a phenomenon. Aside from bomboloni from an artisanal purveyor in San Francisco, I haven't had a good donut in years, either. Independent donut shops are few and far between, and those in my area really aren't any better than Dunkin Donuts. A couple of local bakeries turn out marginally acceptable donuts.

              It's not because of zero trans-fat frying, either. That coating inside your mouth comes from frying in shortening; a disgusting practice.

              Seriously, the only recourse for most of us is to learn to make our own. Yeast raised jelly donouts are not hard, if you're not intimidated by the frying. Look up a recipe for sufganiyot and fry them in light olive oil. It's good to remember how wonderful donuts can be.

              1. I haven't really noticed this, and I have to confess, when I read your post I had to wonder ... maybe you just don't like doughnuts any more?

                1 Reply
                1. re: occula

                  Maybe that's the case - that I've lost my taste for them. Sad to say, if that's so.

                2. I don't think it's a trend. To me, donuts have always been a waste of calories once they hit room temperature.

                  1. Personally I don't think there's been any change in donuts in my lifetime. There have always been good, marginal and bad donuts.

                    Don't know where you're located but an interesting statistic is in the state of California (in 1995)80% of the donut shops are run by Cambodian refugees.

                    1. I wish I could send you all an Oram's Donut, from Beaver Falls, PA. If you live *anywhere* near Pittsburgh you really should go. They are *amazing*. The rumor is they're so good because they still use lard. They have a wide variety of donuts, but they're famous for their 'hubcaps':

                      http://tinyurl.com/2a4kyhs - mouthwatering!


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: librarianjen

                        Unfortunately, I'm way across the country in Oregon, but wow! Oram's look incredible! I love just one on those huge cinnamon roll donuts!

                      2. Did you used to like them? I did but don't anymore and think it's due to my tastes changing and hating that oily transfat coating. But, there is a place near me that does great donuts. It's a little corner market and I wish I knew where they bought them because they're really good. So good donuts are hard to come by but great when you find them. And, I love the apple cider donuts I get from apple farms in the fall. Can't beat it.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: chowser

                          It is actually the opposite. Trans-fat is now not used in most commercial donut production. The trans-fat free oil/shortenings do not have the mouth feel of the trans-fat oil/shortenings. Hydrogenation lessened the degradation of the fats thus producing a better frying medium, less off flavor and better mouth feel.

                          1. re: chowser

                            chowser, where's your little market?

                            near my office, the 7-11 has great pastries and donuts, brought in fresh every morning from some local bakery (we don 't know who, though). much cheaper than the trendy home-made "pop-tarts" just in the next block. ;-). the 7-11 is on 8th street, s.e., south of penn avenue (near the marine barracks).

                            1. re: alkapal

                              It's a little corner market in Fairfax Station (I can't imagine anyone but locals ever going there), Korean run and they have the most interesting diverse little shop. They have freshly made Korean food packed it in single serving containers, repackaged Costco goods, worms for fishing, little deli, and these donuts and cookies that are really good. They seem to carry everything in this little store.

                          2. The shift from old-fashioned hydrogenated shortening (and, before that, lard and/or tallow) is why. Fear of transfats results in "healthier" foods that lack the right mouthfeel and flavor. This has not only affected doughnuts but also cookies and a variety of other baked goods.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Karl S

                              Tell me about it. Up until a year or two ago (in the days before Mayor Bloomberg's trans fat ban in NYC) the bakeries that supplied the Amish Market and Chelsea Market braches used to sell the kind of apple fritters that lusts are made of. Now there are still fritters at the markets but they are the same bland tasteless mounds as you find on the donut rack of the local chain supermarket (the problem has worsened due to the fact they now have also escewed the putting of lumps of apple into the dough (perferring to go with the injection of apple pie filling favored by the cheap places and have tried to cover the lack of mouthfeel by enshouding the dougnuts in icing. Just aviod them if you take my advice)

                            2. Multiple things have happened. I think the transfat thing is a factor--I recall, can't find now, a good magazine article about the industry challenge involved. But I also think, as others have indicated, that it's that there are hardly any independent donut shops. The major chains all (I'm saying plural, but is there anything but DD?) tend to cater to the lowest common demoninator--which means the cheapest, most profitable, etc. I don't hate Dunkin Donuts, but it's a far cry from the wonderful potato-starch donuts my mother made (which, for all I know, were hideously unhealthful); they were very substantial, toothsome, loads of flavor even without the sugar dusting. I dunno. This is a subject for which there's probably no black-and-white.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Masonville

                                As a kid, we loved Winchell's donuts in Southern California, then I guess they all turned into Dunkin' Donuts. There used to be a So Cal chain that sold potato-based donuts - Sput Nuts - that were pretty good, but haven't had one for years now.

                                1. re: housewolf

                                  Arrrrg, Spud Nuts! I miss that place even though I'm not a donut eater. Winchells was good as a SoCal kid but only because they were donuts. They kind of tasted like sugary white dough to me, which they were! There are still some Spud Nut shops around but, sadly for you, none in Oregon.


                              2. I love donuts...I hear your plea....there is nothing better than a real homemade donut...

                                I still dream about Bob's Donuts at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles....and it has been 20 years... :)

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: christy1122

                                  Bob's Donuts at the Farmers' Market - and so many other wonderful little eateries in that one wonderful location... you're taking me back about 35 years... it was always such a treat to go there, just loved that place.

                                  1. re: housewolf

                                    My grandmother lived on 6th Street since the 30's...she used to take us to the Farmer's Market and show us off to the girls at the bank on the 2nd floor. We still buy Mcgee's Peanut Butter (when we are on the West Coast), and there was a spaghetti place (cafeteria style) yet I don't remember the name....

                                2. We are all aware that there is a bit of a doughnut renaissance going on across the US right now. There are numerous producers making fresh, from scratch, locally sourced, seasonally driven doughnuts showing up at Farmer's markets and in metropolitan areas.
                                  If you seek them out and support them we should have great Doughnuts readily available soon!
                                  Doughnuts really suffered when mixes started to be used and moved further and further away from quality ingredients. Trans Fats allowed the same oil to be used for a much longer time which also contributed to the decline in flavor( old oil tastes bad) and an increas in shelf life. So the loss of trans fats should result in a better, fresher product not a worse one.

                                  19 Replies
                                  1. re: chefj

                                    Chefj....Actually quite the opposite,The problem with no more trans-fats is the mouth feel has deteriorated. Trans-fats, or hydrogenated fats in commercial baking/foods, gave you that buttery cookie taste, the melt in your mouth pastry, and the delicious donut. The non-trans fat oils are high in Linolenic acid and rapidly oxidize, or breakdown at high heat, giving strong off taste and poor mouth feel.

                                    1. re: ospreycove

                                      Not if the doughnut is fresh and the oil is reasonably clean. A good example is Tempura.
                                      As for mouth feel trans fats leave a greasy feeling in the mouth because they have a higher melting point. Buttery taste should come from butter not DOW.
                                      Seed oils are the highest in Linolenic acid not all vegetable oils are high in it. The Idea of using fresh oil to fry should not be a foreign one so when oil starts to break down it should be changed.

                                      1. re: chefj

                                        In good doughnut shops, the degrading of re-used shortening was managed well, so that's really not the issue.

                                        Shortening replaced lard and tallow. The frying oils that are now used cannot compete with shortening, lard or tallow for doughnuts. Period.

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          Compete in what way? To save the owner money? So you can fry in old oil?
                                          I have no problem with frying in lard or tallow but they do not have the longevity of trans fats either. The banning of trans fats is not responsible for crappy doughnuts. Poor technique and sub stander ingredients fully carries that blame. Period.

                                          1. re: chefj

                                            Compete in terms of flavor and mouthfeel.

                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              In that case trans fats are the ones that do not compete

                                              1. re: chefj

                                                De gustibus...but a lot of doughnut fanciers have lamented the shift from shortening to oil.

                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                  So why don't quality shops move back to lard and tallow? That seems to be the answer. Trans fats are really bad. Lard is not any more unhealthful than butter, and certainly healthier than shortening. I don't know anything about cooking with tallow.

                                                  1. re: barryg

                                                    Non-hydrogenated lard is too expensive, since it's not longer made on a widespread basis (supermarket lard is hydrogenated, which is full of trans fats).

                                                    Tallow is what made McDonald's french fries great back before they switched to vegetable products in the 1980s; the further shift to avoid transfats made McDonald's fries a shadow what they used to be.

                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                      Cheap, tastes great, not deadly: pick two.

                                                      Hydrogenated oils gave us a cheap alternative to these traditional fats at the expense of our health. If you want a quality product, you have to be willing to pay for it. Using lard cannot be that cost prohibitive; Grandma Utz brand potato chips are cooked with lard and are not significantly more expensive than other chips. They are labeled as having 0g trans fat.

                                                      I think the real problem is that our population, so disconnected from traditional foods, would be turned off to learn that their donut was cooked in animal fat. Making donuts a non-vegetarian item has some problems too.

                                                      1. re: barryg

                                                        That's a significant cost, too.

                                        2. re: chefj

                                          ChefJ........... check your facts, RBA(Retail Bakers Association) symposium on trans fats or the following:

                                          1. re: ospreycove

                                            Would you be more specific. And if you are citing sources with close ties to the manufacturers of trans fats I would think that data is not objective.

                                            1. re: chefj

                                              chefj.........wow, I guess the baking industry is all wrong. Please read the attached article from the leading trade magazine in the Baking Industry. The article specfically outlines the problems with the changeover from solid (hydrogenated) block shortening for donuts to liquid oils. Also talk to someone with commercial baking experience, I am sure they can help you understand the problems the industry is having.


                                              1. re: ospreycove

                                                Yeah, Talk to to the folks at the Doughnut Plant in NYC, Mighty O Doughnuts in Seattle, Randy's in LA, Dynamo Donut in SF,Bouchon Bakery in Yountville I could go on but i do not need to. Just because it is not easy does not mean that it is a bad thing. All the places I listed are useing trans free shortning and have an amazing product (some of the best in the country).
                                                They seem to have done it.

                                                1. re: chefj

                                                  Chefo...Well, at Doughnut Planet Manhattan, they charge an average price of $3.00/a spudnut, that is not competing with the mainatream, middle class under $150,000/year family income market. How many "O" rings have you bought for $36.00 a DOZEN!
                                                  These elitist little operations you quote would be the same as saying" Per Se" is my favorite neighborhood pub. If you let me help you understand the dynamics of the marketplace I am sure you will then see the error of your attempted analysis.

                                                  1. re: ospreycove

                                                    Actually I'm not a huge fan of Doughnut plants products even BEFORE you factor in the price. Most of the 'nuts I've had there have left me seriosly underwhelmed. I appreciate thier attempts to try and broaden the horizons of doughnut flavors, but most of thier produces basically taste like plain dougn rings soaked in funny tasting syrups. Their creme brulee dougnut is tasty, in its own way, but beyond the high price there is the fact of how SMALL they are (in thier case, it's almost paying $3.00 a piece for a Dougnut HOLE)

                                                    1. re: ospreycove

                                                      Ospro, I did not realize that price was what we had cost as our analysis factor. I thought we are discussing flavor and quality.
                                                      Sure if we think that we need to have super high caloric, heart stopping foods that taste mediocre and are cheap then trans fats are the way to go. Kinda like corn syrup.
                                                      The Article you link above state that the oil manufacturers are already reformulating and have many products on the market and that their cost will be dropping soon.
                                                      There is no error in my analysis. You just added in criteriar that were never stated.

                                          2. re: ospreycove

                                            I hate the feel of trans fats, not at all buttery, melt in your mouth, just a heavy oil coat. Crisco, the regular one, not the transfat free one, makes the worst frosting because of the oily mouthfeel. Natural peanut oil, or even lard, makes great donuts, not trans fat shortening. The mass commercialization of donuts that maxes out on profit has lead to the decline, not the use of trans fat free shortening for frying. Donuts haven't been good since the early 80's, late 70's.

                                        3. I rarely eat donuts anymore (because I shouldn't, no other reason), but... Round Rocks, Round Rock Texas. Amazing! It's been a while now, but I know of no difference in taste due to possible changes in frying oil, etc. Someone else mentioned apple fritters... not a donut, but the best I've ever had would be Apple Uglies from Orange Blossom Cafe in Buxton, NC. And yeah, I'd have one of those over almost any donut.

                                          1. I miss Winchells. Do they still exist in CA? I ate french donut with chocolate icing and a strawberry jelly with the crackly vanilla icing almost every Sunday of kiddome.

                                            Anyone know the recipe for those french donuts? I dream of those.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. Well, I'm originally from California, and used to have my pick of half-a-dozen independent donut shops in the San Marcos area (N. County, San Diego). The worst of them was head-and-shoulders above DD. Here in NJ I can't find a decent independent donut shop around - and I'm in the Northern half of the state near Morristown. It's been about 17 years since I lived in CA, but whenever I'm back, I go hunt down the independents for a taste of my youth or young adulthood. So, if I opened a decent donut shop in N. NJ, would anyone notice?