The modern doughnut may date back to 1847, when New Englander Elizabeth Gregory fried up pastries for her ship captain son’s voyages. Her son, Hanson, took credit for poking a hole through the dough. But neither thought to top them with bacon bits or Heath Bar crumbles.
Doughnuts are rising as the new designer dessert—with former Top Chef contestant Stephanie Cmar leaving her No. 9 Park post to open an artisanal doughnut pop-up shop, Somerville’s Union Square Donuts attracting lines with its gourmet menu and the Food Network creating a Cupcake Wars-style doughnut competition. Now, mom-and-pop shops and restaurants are experimenting beyond Boston Cream, and though these creative combinations may be difficult to dip in coffee cups, they’re still a slam dunk.
Veteran shops are upping their classics with smoky, sour and even floral flavors. Kane’s Donuts, established in 1955 in Saugus, is famous for its honey dip, which now shares the case with flavors like crème brulee, turtle and pink lemonade. “Doughnuts are the new cupcake,” says Paul Delios, co-owner of Kane’s, who’s currently developing rose petal and hibiscus doughnuts, topped with crushed-petal icing. Southie’s Doughboy also sweetened up its selection with strawberry-frosted Fruity Pebbles and maple bacon doughnuts, thanks to some insight from the owner’s daughter. The 37-year-old neighborhood mainstay bakes most of its flavors in miniature sizes too.
Local chefs aren’t glazing over the trend either. Island Creek Oyster Bar’s pastry chef, Lauren Kroesser, added her brown butter bacon doughnut with pecan toffee crumble, featuring house-cured, thick-cut bacon, to menus last month. Strip-T’s pastry chef Jake Novick-Finder changes toppings seasonally, creating flavors that have included rhubarb and Szechuan pepper as well as corn, basil and cheddar. Creamsicles inspired his new vanilla orange tarragon doughnut, a sourdough brioche filled with vanilla cream and topped with Cara Cara orange glaze and tarragon chips. “It’s just fun to heighten something that is so delicious on its own,” Novick-Finder says. “A plain doughnut is far from plain.”