Originally published in the Toronto Star, Feb. 22, 2012
With flavours like lemon meringue, pudding and maple bacon, the beloved doughnut has grown up since its humble beginnings as a dollop of dough fried in vegetable oil and sprinkled with white sugar.
Since Glory Hole Doughnuts blasted onto the Toronto food scene in October, bringing its quirky name and interesting flavour combinations to whet the appetite for deep-fried dough, other upscale doughnut bakeries, including Jelly Modern and Doughnut Plant, have set their sights on Toronto for potential expansion.
It looks like grown-up appetites may just be satisfied.
Upscale doughnuts, with fresh ingredients and imaginative toppings, are already common in the United States, but Glory Hole Doughnuts owner Ashley Jacot De Boinod, a former pastry chef at Buca, says she began making doughnuts for the love of it, not to follow a trend.
“I’ve just always loved doughnuts,” said Jacot De Boinod. “A doughnut and a coffee is, to me, the perfect dessert combination.”
For now, Jacot De Boinod delivers preordered doughnuts and sells to Burger Bar and Thor Espresso Bar. She is scouting retail locations, likely in the west end and close to her Parkdale home.
Though Jacot De Boinod’s signature doughnut — fried chicken and waffles — has created a buzz in recent months, she is by no means the first chef to bring Torontonians an adult twist on fried dough.
John Sinopoli, chef at Leslivelle restaurants Ascari Enoteca and Table 17, says beignets and other fried treats have been gracing Toronto restaurant menus for a decade.
Ascari Enoteca features banana zeppole, Italian-style doughnuts, as a highlight on its small dessert menu. Five rounds of dough are deep fried, dredged in cinnamon and sugar and served with rum and browned-butter caramel for dipping.
“You take a good, yeast-risen fried dough and it’s just light and tasty and it tastes luxurious, even though it sounds down and dirty,” Sinopoli says. “When they’re done nicely, they’re very elegant.”
However, shops dedicated solely to upscale doughnuts are new in Canada and an elegant approach is already working elsewhere in the country.
At Calgary’s Jelly Modern, artificial cherry goo centres won’t be found. The shop, which opened in April, focuses on using the best, organic and locally sourced ingredients to create flavours such as Nenshi’s salted caramel (named for the city’s mayor Naheed Nenshi), marshmallow and carrot cake.
The result is something you won’t find at a doughnut chain, says co-owner Rita Tripathy.
“The taste of a fresh doughnut, with those good-quality ingredients on top, it’s not even a fair comparison,” Tripathy says.
The Jelly Modern style also means paying attention to beautiful packaging and design. It appeals to corporate customers, many of whom buy the doughnuts for meetings or as client gifts.
In fact, business is going so well at Jelly Modern that Tripathy is already looking into expanding to Toronto and Vancouver.
Jelly Modern was modelled on the doughnut shops Tripathy saw during trips to the U.S. The man who started it all is Mark Israel.
In 1994, Israel found his grandfather’s recipe and started experimenting with doughnuts in a New York City basement bakery, delivering his creations on the back of a bicycle.
In 2000, he opened Doughnut Plant, the first of its kind in a city where only chain doughnut shops existed. Today, Doughnut Plant supplies high-end grocers, it has opened a second storefront in Hotel Chelsea and has nine shops in Japan.
With flavours that include crème brûlée and a specially designed square-shaped jelly-filled doughnut with peanut butter glaze, Israel describes his work as “craftsmanship” and as an outlet for his creativity.
While gourmet doughnuts shops have sprouted in the U.S. since Doughnut Plant opened, Israel doesn’t see them becoming as prolific as cupcake shops any time soon, mainly because of the specialized equipment required for doughnut making.
“It’s floating in oil, just that fact adds so many things that could happen — it could be greasy, the shape, the density, so many variables happen because of that situation,” Israel says. “That alone doesn’t happen when you’re making a cupcake.”
While the gourmet doughnut likely won’t push cupcakes out of the market, Israel thinks there is an appetite for doughnuts, and for Doughnut Plant in Toronto, as the company looks to further its international expansion.
“Toronto is definitely a city where we’re interested in opening,” Israel says.