The question of what chain fried dough into a stick form first is something of a touchy subject. When Business Insider broke the story that McDonald’s would be introducing Donut Sticks — news gleaned from leaked internal documents, no less — the nattering class was quick to label Ronald a copycat. It didn’t help matters that, during an earnings call in October, Dunkin’ chief executive David L. Hoffmann said the Donut Fries were “one of the best-performing limited-time offer bakery items in recent brand history.”
McDonald’s was already losing ground in the fast-food breakfast market, according to a CNN report. Just as important, Inc. magazine recently reported the chain’s decision to serve breakfast all day had generated an unexpected side effect: a drop in morning sales because customers could now order their Egg McMuffins at any time of day. In short, the clown had plenty of motivation to copy a rival, particularly given the utter facepalm of McDonald’s Triple Breakfast Stacks.
“There was a lot of drama when I first reported that McDonald’s was going to have Donut Sticks in January, where people were saying, ‘Oh, this is just like Dunkin’,’ ” Kate Taylor, retail correspondent for Business Insider, said in a video for the site. “McDonald’s people were a little bit offended by the comparisons. McDonald’s actually tested their own Donut Sticks before Dunkin’ rolled out their Donut Fries.”
The news release for McDonald’s Donut Sticks reiterates this point: It emphasizes the product was being tested in “select Illinois restaurants in early 2018,” months before Dunkin’ introduced Donut Fries. When The Washington Post’s Maura Judkis tried Donut Fries in July, she was not impressed. She found them “very dry.”
“It’s not crispy like a churro. Kinda of soggy actually,” Judkis noted. “It could have a little bit more flavor, I think. These are not the best.”
So, with the extra R&D time, has McDonald’s produced better Donut
fries Sticks ?
In a word, yes.
The dough for McDonald’s Donut Sticks reminds me of pate a choux, though less puffy and slightly more crispy than the stuff used for classic New Orleans beignets. The stick’s initial crackle leads seamlessly into a soft, pleasing chewiness, kind of like mochi rice cakes. The treat’s elongated form, of course, doesn’t suggest either French beignets or Japanese rice cakes, but churros, a snack with Chinese and Spanish roots. A light dusting of sugar and cinnamon over the sticks further deepens the churro connection.
Am I reading too much into this? Maybe, but my instincts say no. McDonald’s Donut Sticks strike me as a covert act of fast-food multiculturalism, all conducted under the safe American banner of “Donut Sticks.” It’s a clever move. But more important, it’s a tasty one. I ate all six of my sticks ($1.39 per half dozen), one after another, and considered ordering a second round. I can’t remember the last time I had such a thought at McDonald’s.
The Donut Sticks, I should point out, are available only during breakfast. Which means you have to get to the Golden Arches before 10:30 a.m. to try them. Now that’s one way to improve your morning traffic.
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