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Chocolate frosted. Glazed old-fashioned. Powdered jelly. Maple iced.
Just naming doughnut flavors triggers thoughts of warm, comforting, yeasty smells. Doughnuts are well-known as “one of the best comfort foods around,” according to the Perishables Group, a food consulting firm.
The executive chef for Dunkin’ Donuts says a doughnut “puts you in a calm place, if even for a short time.”
Clearly, the humble doughnut warrants further attention, and I made it my mission to discover the best doughnut shops in Sacramento.
Sacramento has many doughnut shops, so I needed to narrow the field. I explored multiple websites for their “best doughnut” listings and I consulted friends and family. From these sources, I identified the best of the best for my firsthand research.
For the survey, I enlisted the expert help of Brian and Alice Bunch, who were in the doughnut business for 40 years, including many years in their own Bay Area store, World’s Fare Doughnuts. If anyone knows a good doughnut, it’s them.
I asked for their advice on the type of doughnut I should sample to get the best shop-to-shop comparison. Brian said raised glazed are the best choice because they take the most technique to make. Raised doughnuts must be kneaded and allowed to rise before cooking, similar to bread-making. In contrast, cake doughnuts are made from a batter mix and poured out for cooking, like pancakes.
Raised glazed refers to yeast doughnuts coated in a crackly sugar icing.
Baking Management magazine reports that glazed donuts are the most popular, “Glazed still tops among donuts.” Nearly 74 percent of grocery store yeast doughnut sales are glazed, according to a study sponsored by Dawn Food Products.
In addition to raised glazed, I chose devil’s food cake doughnuts (with chocolate frosting) for the survey. Brian informed me that devil’s food was a “poor choice” because anyone can make them. He says most shops use the same packaged mix. Although the quality of the mixes can vary, the variations are small. However, devil’s food are my favorite, so I blithely overrode his objections.
The “hard” part came next. A doughnut tasting companion and I traveled and tasted our way through 11 shops. We then whittled the number down to the top six shops and brought samples to the doughnut experts for the final test. We considered taste, texture and appearance in our evaluation.
Months of research (and 11,500 calories) later, I can finally share the survey results with you.
As it turns out, there is not one overall winner. No single shop scored highest in both the raised glazed and devil’s food categories. Even a tiebreaker chocolate-frosted old-fashioned did not help establish a clear winner. Rather, we identified winners for each of the two sampled doughnuts.
Best raised glazed: Baker Ben’s Donuts (3465 Watt Ave.)
Baker Ben’s raised glazed had a nice yeasty smell and pleasing taste. The texture was soft and tender but held up well when eaten. Although the glaze was a little too white, the doughnut was overall a crowd pleaser.
Best devil’s food: Sweet Dozen (5207 Madison Ave.)
At all shops, the devil’s food doughnuts were a bit disappointing. The cakes had very little chocolate flavor and they all tasted similar. I guess my expert Brian was right. In most cases, it turned out to be the quality of the icing that made the difference.
Nevertheless, we found that Sweet Dozen had the best devil’s food. The doughnut’s appearance generated “ooh’s” and “aah’s” and “that’s a beauty” from the judges. The cake had the perfect amount of crispy crunchiness on the outside and tenderness inside. Sweet Dozen’s chocolate icing was thick, dark and flavorful and elevated their devil's food to the top of the list.
Sweet Dozen also scored highest among the finalist shops with its chocolate-frosted old-fashioned.
In addition to Baker Ben’s and Sweet Dozen, we visited Marie’s Donuts, Donuts Plus, Broadway Donuts, Stanely’s Donuts, Golden Doughnuts, Donut King, Donut Star, CK’s Donuts and Yum Yum Donuts.
If your favorite shop didn't make it to the top, don't despair. An important finding of our study was that most doughnuts tasted pretty darn good and that it was only when we did side-by-side comparisons that the subtle differences were exposed.