Donuts! Donuts! Donuts!
I know we’re “supposed” to think of January as the beginning of the New Year, but after being in school for 25 years of my life, I always think of fall as a fresh start. The air has a crispness that foretells the coming coldness, leaves show their colors, pigskins get passed around on weekends, and cider mills start producing cider and donuts.
A donut can be the perfect treat to start a fall weekend day. Relatively simple to find with a large variety to choose between, a donut gives almost no significant long-term health benefit, but they’re great. They can be fried, dipped in sugar, crunchy, chewy, oozy, and generally delicious. The question remains: where to buy them?
If you’re not willing to do the work to make donuts at home, there are a variety of places to choose from to cure your fall-time craving. Excited by this, we chose three local hotspots known for their baked goods: Washtenaw Dairy , The Dexter Bakery, and Zingerman’s Bakehouse.
The donuts were rated on three characteristics: taste, texture, and value. Here are our thoughts:
The Dexter Bakery (pictured from left to right):
Classic Jelly Donut: Filled with a standard raspberry filling, this donut is what a classic jelly donut should taste like. I personally prefer a more fruit-like center, while this has more of the gooey, gelatin-like consistency. I found the texture of the donut to be a little too doughy. The glaze was not too sweet and paired well with the flavor of the donut and filling. Overall the taste of the donut was simple, but pleasant.
Sour Cream “Dunker” Donut: This, like the jelly donut, is a classic. At first bite I noticed a slight crisp from the glaze, yet the inside was nice and airy. It had a nice tang from the sour cream, which paired well with the sweetness of the glaze. A great donut with a cup of coffee, milk, or tea.
Apple Fritter: I have a warm place in my heart for apple fritters. I found the texture of this donut to be a little too chewy and doughy, which was a bit unappealing. The glaze is somewhat simple and tastes a little too sweet. I would like more cinnamon and complexity to the flavor, but it does have the necessary stickiness that I appreciate in apple fritters.
Zingerman’s Bakehouse (pictured from left to right):
Lemon Cloud: Incredibly light and airy—truly like a cloud—and almost hollow inside. The center has a thick, lemony curd, which was excellent and delicate in flavor, with lots of bright citrus zestiness. Rolled in sugar, the outside has a nice crunch and its sweetness pairs well with the curd.
Apple Fritter: Wow, lots of fresh cinnamon, right upfront. The outside is crispy and fresh and the texture is luscious and tender. There were noticeable chunks of real apples protruding from its crust and the overall flavor was fresh and complex. This was a truly excellent apple fritter.
Vanilla Cruller: Wow, tons of vanilla. This donut is light and fluffy with a nice glazed outside. It has the gentle taste of vanilla bean with the perfect sweetness. There seemed to be a little problem with this donut as it was a little wet inside when we tasted it, and therefore the texture was not as good as some of the other donuts we had at Zingerman’s. I found out later that they had a problem with this donut in production that day.
Washtenaw Dairy (pictured from back to front):
Maple Frosted Donut: Similar to the Dexter Bakery, Washtenaw Dairy has great traditional donuts. The texture of this donut is cake-like, while the glaze is a little too sweet for my liking and overpowered the flavor of the donut.
Maple Frosted Donut with Nuts: Similar to the one just mentioned, but it is amazing the difference the nuts make. I would always get it with nuts. The sweetness of the glaze is a lot more appealing when balanced with the saltiness of the nuts, and the whole overall texture and taste of the donut is improved with this addition.
Cinnamon Sugar Donut: This is the most “fall feeling” of all the donuts that we tasted, as this type of donut always reminds me of being at a Cider Mill. The granules of sugar help give this donut a nice crispy outside, while the cinnamon helps keep the donut from tasting too sweet. I’m a crazy cinnamon lover (I put it in my chili even), so I wish that this donut had more cinnamon or cinnamon of a greater potency. I like the lightness of this donut and the texture is spot-on: fluffy and cake-like.
It is always interesting to taste products side-by-side, and in my opinion the only fair way to really assess one versus another. Certain things are evident immediately upon comparison, most obviously the freshness and quality of the ingredients. On a whole, the taste from the Zingerman’s donuts is far superior to the flavor of the other two places and I attribute that to great ingredients being used throughout the whole process. Also I found that their texture tended to be more pleasurable and in fitting with each of the donuts: the Apple Fritter was not doughy but still gooey, the Lemon Cloud was light and delicate, and so on. However, when one talks about value for something, price becomes an important factor. The donuts from Washtenaw Dairy are $0.60 a piece, the Dexter Bakery runs from $0.75 to $1.60, and the donuts from the Bakehouse run from $2.50 to $2.95 a piece. So, there is a big difference in price between the Zingerman’s donuts and the others.
Are the Zingerman’s donuts “worth” four times as much as the donuts at Washtenaw Dairy? It depends. Food taste is such a subjective thing and can be tainted by the environment you’re in. If I’m at a tailgate and have had a little too much rum with my hot cider, I’m probably not going to care if the donuts are from one place or the other. On the other hand, if I am going out for one great donut with a good cup of tea or coffee, than I am going to want the best tasting one and the price is worth it to me. So, my opinion about the places is as follows:
Dexter Bakery: This would be my overwhelming recommendation for a day-to-day donut shop. They are open every day at the crack of dawn, they have a wide variety for the different kinds of donuts people enjoy, and they are very well priced. I go to a meeting every Wednesday that always has these donuts and they are perfect for that.
Washtenaw Dairy: While these are Jen’s favorites, I think that they do not have a good enough variety, and I prefer the taste and texture of the Dexter Bakery donuts. They are relatively inexpensive, but I like more than just the three or so types of donuts they have to offer. Ann Arborites will knock me for saying so, but I’m not excited by them at all.
Zingerman’s Bakehouse: The Bakehouse makes the best donuts, hands-down. They have the most intense flavor and texture combinations. However, you can only get them on Saturdays after 10 AM and they cost 4 times as much as some of the other places. I would think of these donuts as being more like a pastry and something that you buy as a treat, not something you buy three-dozen of for a group.
If you are in the area and you know of other local donut places that you think are great, let us know below in the comments area. I’d be willing to make the sacrifice of trying your recommendations