Who doesn’t love doughnuts? New York City has been undergoing a doughnut renaissance lately, and your choices are now nearly unlimited — from old-fashioned neighborhood doughnuts, to outsize cake donuts thickly smeared with chocolate, to glistening glazed doughnuts hot out of the fat, to farmers’ market apple donuts dusted with cinnamon and sugar, to newfangled French crullers, to chef-driven doughnuts that, like the Cronut, defy categorization.
Into this welter strides Wylie Dufresne, the city’s own science chef and molecular gastronaut, for whom the doughnut shop Du’s Donuts is now his main gig. I decided to pay a visit and see what he was up to. I found Dufresne standing next to a doughnut rack in his new redoubt in the William Vale Hotel on Williamsburg’s far North Side, with a crew of a half-dozen assistants. The chef was turning out colorfully frosted, powdered, and sprinkled donuts, many with squiggles or lattices of white frosting.
All use a similar cake base formulated in consultation with Tartine’s Colin Kull, which reportedly took months to develop. I stepped up to the counter and ordered one each of the 10 doughnuts on display, for $3.50 apiece — which seemed a bit steep. When I got the boxes home, I found that they contained only nine different specimens, with one doughnut duplicated (peanut butter & yuzu) and another missing (coffee malt). It’s hard to distinguish some doughnuts visually from others.
Here are my scores and rankings for Du’s new doughnuts. Scores are based on a 100-point scale.
1. Banana Graham — Sporting thicker frosting than most of the others, slightly higher loft, and a crunchy paving of graham-cracker crumbs, the banana graham is Dufresne’s best doughnut, hands down. The fundamental banana-ness asserts itself handily. 82 points
2. Cinnamon Apple — This is the most conventional doughnut, topped with granulated sugar and cinnamon. Alas, little apple flavor was detected, even though this product was probably inspired by the wildly flavorful apple-cider doughnuts sold in the Greenmarkets. 72 points
3. Creamsicle — Hard to tell this one from the grapefruit chamomile, especially since the color and squiggle of frosting are nearly identical. Yet this one definitely tasted better, with a strong citrus note. 69 points
4. Pomegranate Tahini — With cake more moist and dense than the others, this doughnut with thick pink frosting delivers an almost-strawberry aftertaste and is admittedly beautiful to look at. Seeds are largely a distraction. Are they the tahini part of the name? 60 points
5. Honey Fennel Pollen — Is this supposed to be a stealth health doughnut? The fennel pollen on top is textured like soft sand, but doesn’t have any taste. The honey glaze resembles plain sugar frosting. This specimen suffers from a dearth of overall flavor, with a slight tutti frutti undertaste. 56 points
6. Peanut Butter & Yuzu — Whoa! Once again a bold flavor idea pallidly carried out. This thing is good to look at, with a lattice of white frosting and the crunch of peanuts (it doesn’t read as “peanut butter”), but without knowing that yuzu was intended, you’d never detect it. 55 points
7. Strawberries & Cream — Not bad, but not exciting, either. It tasted like crushed strawberry Sweet Tarts, but the dairy component in the name was hard to identify. 47 points
8. Mexican Hot Chocolate — A chocolate doughnut must deliver a strong chocolate blast, maybe accentuated with a thick frosting. This one does nothing of the sort. The nuts and cinnamon found in real Mexican hot chocolate is also missing, and there’s no dairy richness, though I tasted something faintly smoky. 38 points
9. Grapefruit Chamomile — The cake in this one is too dry and light, like Pepperidge Farm white bread. A squiggle of white frosting carries the citrus impact which is more bitter than sweet. A brown glaze flakes off easily, lacking in flavor. 32 points
Conclusion — In the opening days, these doughnuts displayed several flaws. More attention had been paid to their appearance than to their flavor, which in many cases was too subdued for a doughnut. The concepts for each doughnut were often good, but not always executed well. The cake seemed too light; not adding flavoring in the cake seemed a missed opportunity. But Dufresne is a great experimentalist; Given the chef’s talent, these doughnuts have the potential to evolve into something much better, but mainly by becoming more conventional.
Coda — This story has a happy ending. Over the weekend, a sugar-dusted French cruller appeared at Du Donuts in the conventional swirled shape. It had a light, moist, airy interior, and a restrained sweetness and powerful eggy-ness, making you feel like this would make a great breakfast. I liked it as much as the new cruller at Daily Provisions. 94 points