We're Obsessed

The Underdog Doughnut Is the Best One of All

February 24, 2016

Like cupcakes and macarons before them, doughnuts are having "a moment." You know this, and you also know that if you want one of the highly Instagrammable Cap'n Crunch or cocoa nib or hibiscus-glazed ones, you will have to wait in line.

Nowhere is this more true than in Portland, Oregon, where the lines and alliances for doughnut shops are long and strong. Many people will tell you that Voodoo Doughnuts are the ones to wait for; others will put their vote in for Blue Star. At the Portland airport, I recently saw a woman drop her box of doughnuts as she scanned her boarding pass to get on the plane; the airport employee checking her in looked sincerely concerned.

But all this buzz and fuss about doughnuts does not and never will include the old-fashioned doughnut: an unglazed, unsugared cake round with a fried, golden crust and a pale interior.

Above, our Creative Director Kristen's selection of doughnuts—olive oil, beet-ricotta, chocolate-pretzel—from the Doughnut Project yesterday. Alas, no old-fashioneds.

Shop the Story

The old-fashioned doughnut will not win any awards, will not be the prom queen, will not have its name in lights. It's all in the name: It's old-fashioned. That is okay. I love it.

There's comfort in its lack of sensationalism—in its simplicity, its confidence in this plainness. At best, it's cakey and dense and a little crumbly, just barely sweet with no sugar dusting the outside. Its flavor is of "old-fashioned doughnut" and nothing else; it's closest compatriot is coffee cake, and it has only the faintest trace of cinnamon.

The plainest Janes, pre-fry. Photo by Yossy Arefi

There are no 'round-the-block lines for these doughnuts. You'll find them in a Dunkin' Donuts or at your local equivalent—or in a spot with a long counter and a row of stools screwed into a tile floor. The doughnuts will be in paper-lined wire baskets (no reclaimed wooden cases to be seen), on a row of shelves tilting toward you. The roster will also include crullers (preferably the long ones and the round ones).

There might be powdered sugar on the floor. There will definitely be coffee in thick diner mugs, and this is crucial. An old-fashioned doughnut would barely be itself without a cup of coffee next to it; old-fashioneds are almost always a little dry, and will fill your mouth (pleasantly!) like a wool blanket without hot coffee to wash it down. Do this and feel like you're in on a doughnut secret. You are!

The best doughnuts—these ones—won't make you wait in any line. (And they won't cost you more than a buck, either.)

What's your doughnut of choice? Would you wait in line for a good one? Tell us in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cosmic Jane
    Cosmic Jane
  • Kate
  • hardlikearmour
  • Harry Fuller
    Harry Fuller
  • HalfPint
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


Cosmic J. February 28, 2016
I like the tried and true kind of donut. Nothing fancy or weird. Why does it have to be like that to get noticed? A great cake or raised donut is a preferred comfort food for the morning commute
Kate February 26, 2016
I am definitely guilty of bringing a large box of doughnuts from Dough onto my flight back to Omaha! I don't think my neighbors appreciated the greasy scent...
hardlikearmour February 24, 2016
Blue Star!! Either the lemon poppy seed old-fashioned or the passion fruit cocoa nib. They both have just enough tang to cut through the sweet and make the especially delectable.
Harry F. February 24, 2016
Here in CT, old fashioned or plain doughnuts are the draw:
Caroline L. February 24, 2016
i'm from CT, too! i grew up on the now-defunct windsor donut shop's. so good. i'll have to check out dottie's!
HalfPint February 24, 2016
Me too! Formerly from Danbury and Dunkin Donuts was where I usually got my donut fix. I saw Dottie's on my last trip back 'home' but alas, we were on our way to the airport to go back to California. Will have to check it out next year.
HalfPint February 24, 2016
I like a simple glazed yeast donut as my go-to. Not a big fan of the excessive toppings like cereals. Just give me a simple glazed and I'm happy.
amysarah February 24, 2016
I'm with you on this. And it should be a simple old school glaze.

These jazzed up stunt donuts can be fun novelties, but they don't scratch the same itch.