Sometimes a doughnut is just a doughnut.
Recently, however, it has risen to the heights of hipster hubris, mutating from the humble butt of cop and coffee-shop jokes and Homer Simpson's break-time dreams into something larger, a near cult status in pop culinary culture, with creative artisan twists and just plain kooky concoctions.
What, you want glazed? Why not swathed in organic chocolate-rose-geranium-hazelnut frosting, or perhaps adorned with delicate mojito mint leaves instead?
Or how about one of this week's newsmaking treats? Psycho Donuts in the South Bay made gourmet friends and animal-rights enemies when owners announced the creation of a foie gras mousse-filled "bomb." And in New York, the Cro-nut -- a hybrid monster mashup with a croissant -- made headlines thanks to blocks-long lines at Dominique Ansel Bakery.
Why the fuss? Maybe it's because Friday is National Doughnut Day -- a holey occasion for doughnut aficionados everywhere. Or maybe it's because we're all just suckers for the latest faddy snack.
Indeed, in the way zombies have eaten into the popularity of vampires, so have doughnuts stolen the sugary crown from custom cupcakes in the ever-cycling retro-food/makeover trend.
Nuts for d'oh-nuts
"It's a way of having your childhood nostalgia -- 'Mmmm, I'm eating a chocolate doughnut!' -- while also being a grown-up with up-to-date tastes: 'But it's a chocolate doughnut
rolled in chile, cinnamon and star-anise sugar!' " said Stephanie Rosenbaum, the San Francisco blogger behind Bay Area Bites and author of the new book "World of Doughnuts."
True, the rotund pastry has been around for ages -- prevailing theories suggest something about Dutch settlers in the 1800s -- yet creatively it remained dormant for much of the 20th century. Then in 2003 -- after witch-doctor-style chefs started playing with their food, adding such ingredients as Oreos and Froot Loops -- Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Ore., was born. Gradually, the mania spread with shops such as the Doughnut Vault in Chicago and M&M Donuts in Anaheim.
In the Bay Area, designer doughnut stores are known for their handcrafted small batches, creative flavors and organic trans-fat-free ingredients.
In Oakland, Donut Savant, a tiny no-frills shop with minimal, industrial decor, has a fierce following of customers who range from local business people in suits to Uptown hipsters. Its specialty? Mini-versions of staples such as glazed bars and apple fritters, sold as doughnut "wholes," most for 50 cents to $1.
"The shop is very hip -- it doesn't feel like a trashy doughnut shop that sells lotto tickets," said Bruce Vaughn,
of Oakland, who was there Thursday afternoon buying a box. "I don't eat doughnuts all the time, but if I was going to eat doughnuts I would come here."
According to owner Laurel Davis, who grew up loving a post-soccer-game treat at Winchell's Donuts, "They're small, so you can have that doughnut consumption without the self-loathing."
They're not small at Doughnut Dolly in Oakland's Temescal district, where plumped-up pastries are filled to order for about $3 each; Naughty Cream is its signature treat. Those who prefer their doughnuts vegan can head up San Pablo Avenue near Emeryville to Pepples Donut Farm (look for the massive doughnut on the sidewalk, made from foam insulation painted neon pink).
And in San Francisco, a variety of unique doughnuts can be found at Psycho Donuts in Campbell on June 6, 2013. (Gary Reyes/Staff)
Dynamo Donuts' owner Sara Spearin runs amok, twisting up flavors such as chocolate star anise, apricot-cardamom and molasses-Guinness-pear.
A hole in one
Perhaps the most famous doughnut on the West Coast right now is the Foie Bomb, the latest mutation from the "asylum" at Psycho Donuts, with stores in Campbell and San Jose. Chef Ron Levi says the bakeries plan to hand the bombs out for free Friday, in order to get around the ban on selling foie gras.
He insists it's not a political statement: "I just thought it would be fun."
Back in New York, the Cro-nut is in such demand, a black market has formed on Craigslist, and Pillsbury has come out with a knockoff recipe version to make at home.
Even mainstream chains have gotten into the fancy doughnut act. Dunkin' Donuts this week unveiled an egg and bacon-filled glazed doughnut breakfast sandwich.
If this level of doughnut chic is too hard to swallow, know you can still find a good old fashioned glazed if you want. Doughnuts, designer or otherwise, are not going anywhere. Except maybe your hips.
Follow Angela Hill at Twitter.com/giveemhill or read her Sunday Give 'Em Hill column.
(c)2013 The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.)
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