“I see it all the time; it’s not rare,” says owner Yune Choi, who sells 12 to 24 of the monsters per day and approximately 48 every Friday, which is the shop’s best day overall for sales.
Judges wanted to know his secret for cooking the doughnut so evenly all the way through, but he played coy. “That’s confidential,” he says with a chuckle. “It took us years to get it right.”
One competitor who got it right from the get-go yet wasn’t a part of the final round was Zeke’s DC Donutz. The shop was shuttered near the end of May due to complaints by neighboring businesses about the frying aroma. Owner Aaron Gordon vows to reopen.
“It will come back in some way, somehow,” he says. “Either in the same location or in a new space. Or I’ll offer the doughnuts through one of my other operations,” which include the Drafting Table and Red Velvet Cupcakery.
It’s too bad, because we fell hard for their Ferrero Rocher doughnut, which mimicked the famous chocolate-hazelnut bonbon. Its 6.7 score stayed at No. 3 for 11 weeks before Zeke’s dropped out of the running. If it had been part of the final tasting, who knows what might have happened?
Another late surprise was District Doughnut. During the 12th round, the delivery outfit’s dulce de leche scored a 7, taking over the No. 3 rank and giving the bakery the No. 2 spot on the leader board. However, when our order arrived for the final tasting, the dulce de leche was unavailable. We tasted District Doughnut’s only selection that day — brown butter — which landed in the middle of the pack with a 5.7.
Through all our tasting sessions, we debated about why doughnuts are having such a renaissance. Fried dough has near universal appeal: Consider Greek loukoumades, Italian bomboloni, Lebanese awamat, French beignets, Indian vada, Portuguese malasadas, Jewish teiglach and Somalian dolcho.
American doughnuts stand apart. Whether you’re talking about a plain glazed, an autumnal cider doughnut or a Boston cream, these are classics now firmly rooted in the States. For better or for worse, doughnuts are one of those desserts — like apple pie, Twinkies and the banana split — that have become intrinsically associated with American cuisine.
Gee, thanks, Homer Simpson.
For his part, Gehring says doughnuts hit a sweet spot for diners — not just at bakeries, of course, but at many area restaurants.
“People are looking for something new and exciting,” he says. (Remember cupcakes, anyone?) “But doughnuts are still classic and have that nostalgic appeal.”
More local doughnuts are on the way, with two notable additions on the horizon. The delivery-only District Doughnut is close to signing a lease for a shop in the city. And the new location of Ted’s Bulletin on 14th Street, set for a July opening, will showcase yeast-raised and cake doughnuts by pastry chef Rebecca Albright. Flavors will mirror those of the Pop Tarts offered at its Barracks Row flagship: peanut butter bacon, strawberry, blueberry cheesecake and coconut cream.
Doughnuts are hardly a distinctly D.C. phenom. The Cooking Channel will launch a reality competition show, “Donut Showdown,” on July 3, and several relevant cookbooks will be published later this year, including Stephen Collucci and Elizabeth Gunnison’s “Glazed, Filled, Sugared & Dipped” (Clarkson Potter) and Ashley McLaughlin’s “Baked Doughnuts for Everyone” (Fair Winds Press).
For his part, Gehring didn’t expect such a hot fuss over doughnuts.
“I had no idea that they were going to blow up,” he says. “I was shocked. It’s funny. At first I had reservations about just doing doughnuts, but I am so glad that I decided to go this route.”
Martell, a Washington food writer, is the author of “The Founding Farmers Cookbook” (Andrews McMeel, October 2013).