Sharon: Since it's almost Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), we decided to sample some all-American, high fat pleasures, donuts. We visited four donut shops, all with strong local followings. At each one, we sampled a yeast-raised donut, a cake donut, and a cream-filled donut (which is also made with yeast).
There are two basic types of donut dough: dough made with yeast as the leavening agent and dough made with baking powder as the leavening agent. Yeast-raised doughs are formed into traditional shapes or rolled to a desired thickness and then left to rise (proof) for at least an hour and sometimes overnight, in the refrigerator. Cake donut dough is leavened through the use of baking powder and requires only a minimal resting time (10 minutes or so). The difference in leavening is what contributes to the difference in texture. Yeast donuts traditionally are much lighter; cake donuts are heavier with a denser texture. They are both fried in hot oil (375F) until done. It takes cake donuts longer to cook because of they're denser. But enough with the theory, on to the tasting.
Old Fashioned Donuts, 11248 S. Michigan
Sharon: Our first stop of the day had the best donuts, hands-down. To be truthful, it's not a pretty place, but looks can be deceiving. One long communal counter with stools that have seen better days runs down the center of this minimal storefront (was I expecting linen tablecloths with matching napkins?). But who really cares when the donut is the star. We sampled three: caramel-glazed yeast, caramel-coconut topped cake, and pastry cream-filled with chocolate glaze (yeast). It's pretty hard to describe excellence, but I think they achieved it with all three. The cream-filled donut for me was perfection. The ratio of light, airy yeast dough to creamy vanilla pastry cream was just right. And sometimes the amount of glaze is so heavy-handed that all you taste is sugary sweetness and the miss the donut entirely. Not here. Every component was in complete balance to create a wonderful confection that I would eat morning, noon, or night. And all for a mere 92 cents.
Linda: We learned that you can't judge the book by its cover. What the shop lacked in décor, it more than made up for in the donuts. These donuts were fantastic. We didn't realize how good they were until we sampled donuts from the three other stops of the day. The raised donuts were light and the frosting wasn't too sweet. The cake donut was denser than the raised donuts, but wasn't heavy like some of the other cake donuts we sampled from the other shops. As you can see by the photo above, these donuts are made by hand. I think that's what makes them soooo good.
Dat Donut's, 8251 S. Cottage Grove
Linda: This shop had my second most favorite donut of the day, the old-fashioned glazed cake donut. The outside of the cake donut had a bit of crunch and the dough had the delicious taste of nutmeg. The baker told us that the "old-timers" like the crunchiness of his cake donuts. I guess that makes me an old-timer.
Sharon: This was just about the best cake donut I have had. But for sure, part of the perfection is the simplicity of the donut. There is something magical about the outer texture of the donut that is extremely crunchy in a good way. I wonder if has anything to do with the oil used or the frying temperature. These gems were also less than a dollar.
Huck Finn's, 3414 S. Archer
Sharon: On to the last stop, our surprise of the day. I say this because Huck Finn's is a chain restaurant similar to Denny's. We bought a buttermilk cake donut, coconut glazed cake, and pastry cream-filled with chocolate glaze. I believe the coconut glazed cake is probably a tie with the donut from Dat. The proportion of coconut to glaze to dough was just right. Although it was a cake donut, it wasn't heavy at all. And you know it must be good when you can still enjoy it after 3 hours of tasting nothing but donuts.
Linda: I agree that the coconut cake donut was delicious. But I would rate Dat above this shop overall because the other cake donut here, the buttermilk, was too heavy and dense for my tastes. And after tasting their cream-filled donut, I wish I had bought a couple of the cream-filled donuts at Old Fashioned to take home. All the other cream filled donuts we sampled today paled in comparison to the one at Old Fashioned.
After sampling 12 donuts at 4 shops in 4 hours, we are now ready for Lent.