Used to be, you could count on donuts for two features: They were cheap, and they would kill you. But now, you can depend only on the latter. Most big cities now boast at least one shop offering exotically flavored donuts (chili mango, apricot cardamom) at prices heretofore reserved for something more substantial — like a Cadillac. Those Doughnut Plant desserts, for example, cost three times what you’d pay at the train station coffee shop.
The James Beard Foundation named artisan donuts one of its 2012 trends to watch, and there are plenty of places to watch it. Glazed and Infused in Chicago says one of its best sellers is the $3.25 Maple Bacon Long John, topped with an entire strip of bacon. In San Francisco, folks line up for pricey vegan donuts at Pepples. Pub crawlers favor Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts in Austin, Texas, where treats max out at $6.25. And at Brooklyn’s Do or Dine, the $11 foie gras donuts sell out every night.
The craze comes amid a larger donut renaissance. Supermarket sales rose steadily after the recession, and revenue at Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Brands grew 17 percent over the past two years. When times are tough, we crave comfort food, says Anna Mowry, an editor at the Beard Foundation. And nothing puts you in a coma faster than a deep-fried wheel of flour and sugar.
But there’s more at stake: What folks really want, trend watchers say, is a small indulgence that can compensate for the bypassed vacation or new car. Thus we have the rage for microbrews, exotic soaps, pedicures and, yes, gourmet donuts. Ryan Palmer, a Gourdough’s founder, says that when he raised his prices by a dollar last year, nobody blinked. Five bucks is a lot for a donut, but it’s not too much for a special treat.
Photo credit: PeanutButterandOnions