Glazed and Enthused

La Churreria, Brooklyn, NY.

So a guy walks into La Churreria, the new and charming ‘lil Nolita spot for piping hot churros at most hours of the day.  He says “I gotta girl at home who’s had a really rough day at work.  What do you have that might cheer her up?”  The people behind the counter — understandably, I think — look a little bit confused that this is even a question,  “Well, there’s churros.  And chocolate.”  And they stop there.  Because while La Churreria has sandwiches, too, you *know* that’s not why you’re going there.  NOR is it what will sweep Had A Rough Day At Work off her feet, good sir.  After a pause guy realizes the truth of this, and walks out the door into the frosty cold with a piping hot paper cone full of slender churros and a to-go-dippable-hot-chocolate.

I witness this affair from my tiny post at one of the cute marbled tables in the tiny shoppe, complete with mirrored walls, in case watching yourself eat chocolate dipped fry is your thing.  And mind you, I’m kind of giddy over here, ‘cause: first ever churros!

Yessir, I’ve somehow lived in New York 10 years and never even once sampled one during an extralong drunken subway platform wait.  (Nor, shockingly, have I ever attempted to make them myself.) I’m kinda glad I waited though.  My proverbial first time encounter with this donut relative was pretty special.

I am a sucker for food ritual in general — meals or desserts that have parts, steps, various pieces.  Like, sitting down to aforementioned cone full of piping hot crispy churros, the experience of which is only rounded out by the steaming dark chocolate (which, by the way, at La Churreria, is delectably dark — that kind of restraint and richness is so heavenly in melty hot chocolate) in which to dip and the steaming-er tea to cut all the sweet.

While I’m romanced by the experience, my fry companion points out that La Churreria’s churros are lacking in sugar-dusting — and as a result, he points out, you can really taste the oil; that flavor that can only be described as “deep fried.”  I’m not sure I actually mind that — it actually lends a nice salty quality to the churros — but I can see how more of a sugar-coating would take them to a new and more nuanced dessert level.  Companion also points out that we have a LOT of hot chocolate left over, even after dipping and double-dipping and triple-dipping our scant six churros, and that if I’m game I should just down it: a perfect churros chaser.  I consider it, but I decide that given my history of Spilling Things at Inopportune Moments, downing a mug of shiny mud-thick hot chocolate in public might be a bad idea, especially when surrounded by aforementioned mirrors.

If I’m being honest, I deeply regret this decision, and for this reason alone, I may just need to go back kinda soon (also excited to have inaugurated what promises a long and luxurious churros-eating and chocolate-chasing journey). 

This weekend: Donut lessons learned.

I am lucky to be surrounded by people from whom I have a lot to learn.  About donuts.  And, you know, about other things.  But for our purposes here — really, let’s face it —about donuts.  Accordingly, this weekend I learned some things.

  • Like, for example, did you know that the kosher chain Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf just opened a store in midtown NYC and that they are apparently ‘famous’ for the ONE donut they carry, which is a cloying-sounding fruity-pebble-encrusted cake donut.  Hm.  [I mean, incidentally, I’ll give: it does seem that the Fruity Pebble Donut has really become something of A Thing.  HOW this happened, I’m not sure (though I have a strong feeling Voodoo Doughnuts has something to do with it), but I feel that I should be where the hype is and do my due diligence here.  And I do senselessly love some Fruity Pebbles.  So I’ll give it a go for the sake of an education.]
  • And, for example, today, for the first time ever, I was introduced to picarones!  Or at least, the idea of picarones.  They are on my dear-god-how-have-you-never-eaten-these list, along with churros (I know, I know), which I now have imminent plans to consume (what with the just-now opening of La Churreria).  Hot chocolate will most certainly be my pairing of choice, and you have most certainly not heard the last about this.
  • AND, for example, donut career counseling.  Today, over a brunch that included homemade fig-infused rum (I know) a few of us took turns mulling over the age-old question ‘if you were a donut, what kind would you be, and why?’  Instantly, with the much-appreciated support of other brunch attendees, I realized that I just may have found my calling: Donut Reader.  Wait, what’s that, you’ve never heard of a Donut Reader?  The way it works is pretty simple, really: you come to my, um, donut-reading booth, and you tell me simply what kind of donut you would be (were you, in fact, a donut).  I, in turn, tell you YOUR DEEPEST TRUTHS based on this answer.  All for a very reasonable price!!  Eh?  If this morning is any indication, I think I have some promise in this field, let me tell you.  [You KNOW you want a donut reading].
  • PS.  Verdict is in: Donuts ARE sexy.  Yes they are.  Sexier than cupcakes. (But you knew that, or you wouldn’t be here).
  • Twin Peaks prominently features donuts.  I should know this but I have never seen Twin Peaks, which I realize is a somewhat disgraceful thing to confess.  I’m sure YOU knew this.  But I now feel that there are even more compelling reasons to feel guilty for never even having attempted a single episode.
  • Also, on the years-old donut vs. doughnut debate, this quote.  A really excellent point, I’d say.  
  • Also, finally, just sayin.  My birthday’s in February.  And I have donut-making resolutions to uphold.

New Year’s Raise-olutions.

[OK, so this was a contentious pun among my loved ones, but when a donut pun strikes you, I think you kind of just have to let yourself be struck].

1.  I WILL MAKE MY OWN DONUTS.

I will, even if it kills me.  Maybe these.  Or these.  Or, by god, these!  Mark my words.  And by all means, HOLD ME TO IT.  In fact, go ahead and WITHDRAW YOUR TUMBLR READERSHIP if I don’t follow through.  Do it. 

2.  I WILL SHAMELESSLY USE DONUTS TO GET DATES.

This is a highly ill-advised confession, but my primary go-to flirtation technique usually involves donuts.  It’s what I’ve got.  Donut talk.  Smooooth donut talk.  So, if I ask you “what’s your favorite donut shop on earth?” or “yeast or cake?” or “wanna try to snag some free end-of-day donuts somewhere and call it an evening?” doesn’t NECESSARILY mean I’m flirting with you but you never do know. 2012 is OBVIOUSLY the year of the donut pick-up line (and the attendant donut pick-up artist).  After all, cupcakes leave too much to the imagination.

3.  I WILL UP THE BLOGGAGE ANTE.

In 2012, I will not only be waxing shoe-glazingly poetic about my OWN donut habit, but ALSO about the donut habits of others.  I am going to uncover some celebrity donut habits if it’s the last thing I do.  I will be some kind of donut Nate the Great.  Ringo is not immune.  Stay tuned.

4.  MORE PANCAKES.

Always, more pancakes.

There are more, but no one has that kind of attention span New Years eve. 

Eight Things.

For Chanukah, of course.  8 things, of little to no import, and in no particular order:

1.  In which I got to talk to Fany "These Donuts Belong in an Art Museum" Gerson, the owner of and donut genius at Dough. 

2.  Apparently, we have ourselves a new VEGAN donut shop, Dun-Well Donuts.  I can’t say I’m *super* excited about trying a donut called “faux gras,” but I might be pretty excited about the other 49 varieties they have on hand.

3.  Holy doughnuts!  (AKA a bookish holiday gift for the donut-lover in your life).  (Or, for me).

4. In which my sister-in-law Leah Koenig reinvents the jelly donut.  And I mean, really.  Look at those pictures.  Even the jelly traditionalist in me is dazzled.

5.  Wait, “Arnie?”  Really??  (AKA a bookish holiday gift I’m reluctant to recommend for the toddler in your life). 

6.  I hereby humbly request a Ryan Gosling donut meme.  (Now that I finally Get It about Ryan Gosling, and all).

7. I also have mixed feelings about ‘donut sandwiches’ but I had to listen to this.  The Sporkful dudes don’t exactly help what with their descriptions of donut-latke-schnitzel combos but I still found it (and them) educational AND entertaining.

8.  In which selfsame sister-in-law fried handmade Chanukah donut holes for a show that my band and my brother’s band played last week in Brooklyn.  They were as good as they look, even after enduring a sweaty night at a rock club.

Donut; Donutness.

"What is the donutness of a donut?  What makes a donut such?"

Thus asked a wise friend of mine Friday night as we ate them, leaving me somewhat pitifully — my mouth, of course, full of fried dough and nutella — devoid of snappy answer. 

It’s remarkably sad; I do, after all, have a reputation to uphold.  And sure, I can sing the praises of rosewater-glazed donuts until cupcakes go out of fashion (a fun thought, but less than likely) but that doesn’t actually mean I could, you know, be a visiting donut guest lecturer at your university.

(Although, um.  Actually.  My glazed enthusiasm combined with my proclivity toward bombast go a really, really long way.  Hear that, oh my hordes of collegiate readers?)

Here are some non-technical and somewhat subjective truths:

A.  Donuts are fried.  Plain and simple.  Or, you know, complicated and elaborate.  But, fried.

     A1. But what of baked donuts?  A valid if inferior alternative.

     A2. And thus, are they mere “cupcakes dressed in a ring-shaped form?”

B.  Donuts are round, with holes in their centers.

     B1. EXCEPT that OHMIGOD there is this ONE MACHINE that makes them in the shape of TRIANGLES!

     B2.  OK and apparently there is enough nostalgic energy around “missing the donuts with the edible handles” to constitute a facebook group.

                 B2a.  Although to be fair, I *do* kind of see the utility in an edible handle. 

     B3.  OK OK and there are maple bars and eclairs and all sorts of oblong donuts.

     B4.  Not to mention the square donuts from the Lower East Side’s illustrious Dessert Truck Works, the very donuts whose square shape called my (ahem) donut expertise into question to begin with! 

                B4a.  I digress.  But can we just talk about a perfectly raised square-pillow exterior with a perfect gooey-warm nutella interior, and a dusting of sugar that’s ever-so-slightly tempered by a little bit of saltiness in the batter?  Yeah.

C.  A donut is yeast-y.

     C1. Except when it is cake-y.

            C1a.  People have some things to say about this.

D.  Donuts are best when consumed with an appropriate hot beverage pairing. 

     D1.  Remind me that I’d like to do something of a donut/hot-beverage-pairing New York decathalon.  In which, yes, I sample ten donuts with ten varied accompanying hot beverages.  Because, who knows?  The great tradition of scientific discovery will thank me when it becomes clear when I’ve figured out which is The Best. 

               D1a.  I have a hunch or two

               D1b.  One flavor cannot overwhelm the other.  This is of the utmost import.

E.  A deconstructed donut is very much still a donut.

F.  Donuts are very old-fashioned.

    F1.  Except when they’re newfangled

           F1a.  Or even newer-fangled.

G.  Pancakes count.

     G1.  Because I say so.

See?  Stumped for a second there, but I believe we’ve really stumbled upon a formula here.  Like, I think we’re Onto Something.

I toured the country and all I ate was one lousy donut.

OK, to be fair, it wasn’t ONE, exactly. 

But my band went on a five-week national tour and, admittedly, I can count the donuts I consumed on one hand.  What happened, you ask?  The honest answer is that I can only guess.  Possibly it was the result of being distracted by other shiny things (dear god, breakfast at Ria’s Bluebird in Atlanta).  Possibly I was flirting with other pastries (I still can’t stop talking about the tart, croissantesque raspberry danish I had at Little Bread Company in Fayetteville).  Whatever the case my devotion hasn’t perished; merely lapsed in the face of savory digressions and maybe even playing some actual music.

Given all of this, I have to say the winning donut of the thus-far-autumn came to me courtesy of the one and only Quimby, a friend in Louisville.  The band was gifted a glorious hot pink box of Nord’s Donuts.  These were, as they say, out of control good.  My personal favorite (pictured) was the maple-glazed — it actually *tasted* maple-y, and not overwhelmingly sweet — and the dough itself made for the perfect melty soft yeast donut. 

My fall commitments include vocabulary expansion in the apple-cider-donut department, some studious pancake-eating, a possible attempt at Chanukah jelly donuts that don’t remind me of sugared rocks *and* a trip to the Chelsea Doughnut Plant (dare I admit that I have YET TO GO).

Did I miss the cropping-up of any fine new NYC donut establishments whilst my eyes wandered?

Of Pancakes and Other Distant Cousins.

Undoubtedly, It is I and I alone who loses sleep over my Tumblr.  A humblr Tumblr has probably never seen the light of day than this, the shoddy-if-well-intentioned outgrowth of a lifelong obsession.  However, I would be lying if I said I *didn’t*.  Lose sleep, I mean.  What kind of neurotic donut blogger would I be otherwise?

What, you might ask, replaces those golden zzz’s?  Well:

A. What if I run out of things to say about donuts.

[I will]

B. What if donuts really ARE the new cupcakes and I fade into obsolescence?

[They are; I probably already have.]

C. I haven’t had a new donut in SEVERAL MONTHS.  What have I become?

[A fraud.]

&&&

All of this said, I gave it some good, long, caffeine-infused thought.  I realized that my donut-lust actually comes from a much broader context than just, well, DONUTS.  In fact, if I drew a Venn Diagram (comprised, of course, of oblong doughy ovals rather than just plain old circles), I’d most certainly find that the things I find attractive about donuts are MUCH the same as the things I find attractive about a) other pastries b) other Fried Round Things and c) almost ALL BREAKFAST FOODS.

Let’s get specific here.  If donuts are the new cupcake, PANCAKES just might be the new donut.  Or the old donut.  Regardless, a pancake - a friend roundling, not too sweet, perfect in texture, melts-in-your-mouth, makes most any gathering into a WYLDE PARTY - is pretty much the Cathy to donuts’ Patty Duke.  I mean, look at Nate The Great, a total gem of a kids’ book series.  I used to devour those books, not only because of Nate’s hott goth friend Rosamund (owned four black cats and was a ratchety recluse living alone in a constant state of dramatic-eyeliner at like age 7) but also because Nate was a clever little dandy of a detective whose every move was followed by a visit to the kitchen for - wait for it - MORE PANCAKES.

Also, look at (please, if you live in New York and haven’t yet) the dear-God-how-can-these-be-real pancakes at Cheryl’s in Prospect Heights.  I’m a cheap date when it comes to pancakes (I’m hard pressed to find one I don’t think is SOOO GOOOOD) but even I realized there was something distinctive about these the last time I brunched there (and it wasn’t just because Adrian Grenier was brunching serenely at the next table).  They are barely sweet at all — just perfectly light and fried and fluffy.  They leave the sweetness up to the sublimely tart fresh berry sauce and the cloud-light Chantilly cream that are their crowning glory. 

I guess my point here is that while I still have Very Important Business to attend (see forthcoming visits to Dough in Clinton Hill and Wonder City Donuts in East Village — lest you think me to be a Doughnut Fiend of the most fickle variety, who jumps from New Cupcake to New Cupcake like there are neither tomorrow nor yesterday), do not be surprised (or alarmed, as I imagine some of you will be) if I expand my glazed enthusiasm ever so slightly to embrace a slightly larger and scientifically impeccable Venn Diagramatic family of fried goods (I will, of course, try to keep within the realm of the round and the dessert-appropriate) and breakfast goodies (the more excuses I have to say I’m doing ‘research’ when I go out for pancakes, the obviously-better).  

Fin.  Coffee time.

Honeycrisp. (AKA, my reluctant produce crush)

True to my Saturday morning tradition, making my way through the jam jars (blackberry butter sample to die for), the pickle samples (okra is good post-fermentation: who knew?) and the fishmonger (I have never bought the fish they mong, but one of these days I’ll take culinary ambition to that level) to the stand at the tail end that features All Things Apples to buy my weekly apple cider donut.

Outside of donut (or the occasional other baked good) context, I have always been somewhat underwhelmed by apples.  It’s not like I hate them, or even particularly dislike them.  It’s just that they’ve never made much of an impression on me.  When it’s fruit I want, it’s usually something a bit more… striking.  Often it’s summer fruit - tart berries, perfect plums - or, well, avocado: The Fruit That Isn’t Really.

But recently, apples have come forward as a contender for my attentions.  It started as a harmless post-work snack habit - chunky peanut butter, crisp granny smith apple and sharp cheddar.  And though it emerged from a place of snack desperation, I quickly realized that - along with sourdough bread and dark chocolate - it was one of the most swoon-worthy flavor combinations I could imagine.  

Weird.

But things really escalated recently when I had my first real exposure to Honeycrisp apples.  Like, for example, I didn’t actually know that apples had their own (if slightly overwhelming) websites, or could be TRADEMARKED to such places as the University of MInnesota.  But mostly, I had no idea they Tasted. So. Good.  I mean, we’re talking serious flavor explosion.  And a downright sublime tart-sweet union.  These are the things that true love is made of.  I love this apple.  (And much appreciated the hyperbolic all-caps claim on Honeycrisp’s ‘official site’ that this apple is “THE BEST APPLE EVER DEVELOPED IN THE WORLD!!!!”)  

Now, I realize that an apple is not quite the same thing as a donut. Or, well, not at all even remotely similar.  I also realize that even a donut devotee needs to mix it up every now and again.  And of course it doesn’t hurt that because of my recently-developed apple-crush (clearly a culinary novelty to me) and my newfound commitment to (and even newer-found ‘expertise’ on) filled donuts, I have every intention of the world of making homemade jelly donuts filled with honeycrisp apple butter.  That just might be the thing that would take all of this to The Next Level.

(I will, of course, have to decide whether these get made in the scene in my forthcoming donut-themed feature film, in which Meryl Streep and Anjelica Huston emerge one day from an especially inspiring upper west side baking class - designed for second-careerists and the occasional lady who lunches - inspired to open their own all-nite donut shoppe. Clearly, important cinematic decisions yet to be made.  Stay tuned.)

The Hole Megillah.

Starting today and for the duration of Chanukah (that is, 7 days to follow), I’ll be donut yente-ing at The Jew And The Carrot, offering you my unsolicited opinions in honor of the holiday about where the donuts are Really Good (Today’s post featured none other than my personal all-time fave, The Doughnut Plant).  It’s a humble and far-from-exhaustive list.

See, even The New York Times can get behind something called The Donut Diaries!

More importantly, “The Donut Diaries” sounds like a movie title — for a movie that should UNDOUBTEDLY BE MADE.  And should not star Anne Hathaway.  Or Kate Hudson, for that matter.  But who?  (Besides the OBVIOUS cameo by Alan Rickman as a wayward and possibly-evil Donut Shop owner and the other OBVIOUS cameo by Colin Firth as the stoic but well-meaning and deep-down-just-a-lonelyheart guy who buys two crullers daily and sits with them - not unnoticed by our yet-to-be-cast protagonist - on a bench in Central Park, watching the pigeons and the great big sky.)

1/3 of a year in donuts.

(pictured: exterior of the strange - yet somehow inviting - Fractured Prune location in Rockville, MD.)

August

I’m pretty sure it was too hot to eat much at this point in the year.  My devotion to avocados and uncharacteristic addiction to fresh fruit was personally unparalleled.  My most frequent trips to the freezer happened circa 2:30 am nightly - NOT to take a mid-night bite of triple espresso gelato, oh no, but rather to remove the bag of frozen corn I became accustomed to sleeping with, draped over my forehead like a crappy parody of a weird woe-is-me gesture.  It was like, 6,000 degrees and deep-frying would pretty much have been illegal.  I think it’s fair to say that August was a relatively donut-free month.  Though as Entenmann’s functions as a standby comfort food for me - has an honorary ranking alongside such angst-defying favorites as broad rice noodles, good challah, full-sour pickles and peanut butter - August was kinda rough and truly an Entenmann’s kinda month.  

September

A perpetually-whimsy-starved heart can’t help but crave September, and embrace its arrival.  No matter what else was going on, the air was starting to smell like burnt leaves, wood chips and whiskey (ok, I made that last part up, mostly to see if anyone was paying attention, here in humble tumblr land.  The air most certainly did not smell of whiskey.  In fact, that might have been fairly alarming, if mildly interesting) and most - if not all - was right with the world.  While it wasn’t an extraordinarily donut-studded month either, it IS when apple cider donut consumption becomes conscionable again.  I *did* pick up right where my weekly Prospect-Heights-Greenmarket-lust-cider-donut-Shabbos-treat tradition left off the September previous, though - for the fifth or so year in a row - I expressly did NOT go apple-picking.  One of these decades.  

October

October has always been my favorite, primarily defined by the 1/12 of the year I give myself license to listen to unlimited Patty Griffin and by well-intentioned and badly-executed Halloween Concept Costumes (ask anyone close to me about the year I tried to pass off what I proudly called ‘Shitty Snape’ - a costume involving a greying black sheet, a hair-gel-congealed Pulp Fiction-era Uma Thurman wig and a magic wand made out of a broken drumstick).  This year was no exception, though it was busier — more show-playing and less folk music — but still time for (wait for it) donuts.  My sister’s birthday always means a cornucopia of Doughnut Plant treats (this year we tried their seasonal Pumpkin Doughnut (please; I respect the traditional spelling here) and nearly perished with culinary joy.  And, of course, the Donut Canon (yes) proudly expanded ever so slightly to include THIS donut-tour-of-the-USA pastry-porn masterpiece.  If you haven’t seen it, make haste.  

November

Well, this happened.  Despite my affection for vintage huge-keyboard-era-Tom-Hanks-antics (yes), I don’t know how I feel about this just yet.  Get back to me in another quarter of a year.  I also got some facebookian donut recommendations of note: in not-too-distant-future travels, I plan to hit the apparently “legendary” Twin Donuts in Allston, MA; the apparently has-amazing-donuts-for-a-diner Nickel Diner in LA; the go-to for Middle Eastern donuts in Boston, Sofra; and the most reliable and delicious old-fashioned classic donut selection in all of San Francisco, Bob’s.  And while I couldn’t *quite* meet the challenge of coming up with a decent donut joint in DC (fie), I did finally get to Fractured Prune in the DC ‘burbs, and I remain fascinated by both their weird-yet-scintillating brand of hot hand-dipped donut AND their weird California Raisinesque logo. I also have a Chanukah donut roundup forthcoming on The Jew and The Carrot.  I couldn’t exactly believe I was actually WORKING while doing filled-donut research and coming up with adjectives respectful enough for the delectable wares of such places as Dynamo Donut in SF and Gourdough’s in Austin.  I guess, as it turns out, I’m a sucker for the boutique donut.  But really — can YOU resist the lure of a donut glazed with rosewater?  Or one with a fried chicken strip and honey butter?  Anyway, fear not; I still ultimately take comfort in Entenmann’s.

Good donuts.

Good donut company.