Oh the saccharine days of youth, when “calories” were absent from our vocabulary and comprehension. Doughnuts tasted better then as they were acceptable at any time of day, and didn’t necessitate a higher intensity workout or instill guilt. They were a breakfast menu item before an early morning soccer game and certainly passable as a hors d’oeuvre before Sunday pot roast. One could live on Timbits alone when pulling an all-nighter.
Despite all the adverts for acai this and that, Zumba, bootcamps, Shape-Up shoes (and flip flops!), Weight Watchers loaves of bread, yoga-everything and acknowledgement that doughnuts are mere lard and icing—the dangerous doughnut is making a comeback. It’s the year of the Dragon AND the doughnut. Cupcakes and their red velvet loveliness have been pushed to the curb by the nostalgic resurgence of a childhood classic.
In Toronto, gourmet hot dogs and artisan grilled cheese sandwiches are also hogging the press. Duck and pulled pork poutine reviews are clogging blogs. Bannock on Queen is merging all the fatty trends with a duck poutine pizza. The Thompson Hotel Diner is plating “grilled cheese burgers”—a beef patty juxtaposed between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Joining the heavyweight ring is “The Butter Burger” at The Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder. It shares a griddle with red wine butter, bone marrow and blue cheese.
And this brings me to bacon. It’s weaseled its way into every food group: PC Black Label bacon marmalade, bacon & cheddar popcorn, bacon ice cream, maple bacon donuts and even bacon-washed whiskey. TOCA at the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, took bar snacks to the glass ceiling by offering maple syrup-infused bacon strips with hoity cocktails.
It’s no surprise that doughnuts have pushed their way back into the spotlight too. In comparison to the goliath burgers and poutine pile of curds and WEIGH, Tim Horton’s doughnuts score a more impressive nutritional mark. The Tim’s caramel apple fritter is only 310 calories, 0g cholesterol, 10g total fat, 5g saturated, .1 trans fat, 51g carbs, 17g sugar, 4g protein, 2% fibre and 15% of your daily iron intake.
I can’t even recall the last time I had a real-live-doughnut. In 2008? Uganda, I think. However, I’m a sucker for fusion, upscaled nostalgia and bacon-anything.
When I was 20, I remember pacing in the congested office space at Youth Challenge International, just hours before our group was to fly to Costa Rica. Phil, a team leader with swagger and developing country prowess, divided the room when he entered with dozens of Tim’s doughnuts. They were pillaged by most, but I shied away (because calories had entered my vocab and comprehension). Phil insisted. I resisted. “Trust me. A few days in the jungle and all you’re going to think about is doughnuts.”
My god, he was right. I thought about stupid doughnuts for three months straight. After a steady fill of lacklustre porridge, beans, rice and bananas, I’m surprised I didn’t build a raft and then a plane to get myself out of that very jungle and to the closest doughnut shop.
Even Africans are gaga for doughnuts! My craving-ravaged jungle term served as a quick reminder that passing up on a mandazi might also be something that I would regret. Deep-fried in cooking oil, sometimes dusted in sugar, they became an inevitable weakness. Wrapped in newspaper for less than a quarter, they paired well with the local Ugandan beer Bell, hot and milky ginger tea, Tangawizi ginger beer and lemon Krest soda pop. They paired well with everything and stirred up weepy memories of home. Despite the Ugandan sun saturating my t-shirt and cargos with sweat and the vervet monkeys chittering in the trees, I thought of Canada and doughnuts. I’d trail off on a memory of my dad taking us to Tim’s for the liquid invert sugar rush of hot chocolate after skating at the rink. There would be coveted Boston Creams, strawberry-filled powdered sugar bombs and any of those kid faves groaning with artificially-coloured and flavoured sprinkles and dots. In my data bank, skating equated doughnuts, as did badminton tournaments and any trip into town with my dad where he made us wait in the stifling Oldsmobile while he did banking or got a haircut from Caesar.
Tim Horton’s has always provided a reliably warm glow to any Canadian’s heart. The sappy Christmas commercials and stronghold in our childhood has created a familiar place where a coffee can still be a coffee (but you can get the fancified kind if need be, but you shouldn’t there). Despite their baked good expansion, Tim’s still churns out maple dips, old fashioned glazed, walnut crunch, Dutchies and honey crullers with the same guaranteed taste as anything mom bakes. A 1982 chocolate dip couldn’t be differentiated from a 2012 dip.
But, this is the age of Top Chef, Iron Chef, Cake Boss and the Next Great Baker. The doughnut as we know it needed a makeover. As Melissa Etheridge said, “the only thing that stays the same is change.” And along came pastry chef Ashley Jacot De Boinod and her lard wonderland, Glory Hole Doughnuts, to change our baked good frontier.
On January 14th, The Grid exposed Glory Hole to the hungry masses and, gasp, introduced us to De Boinod’s chicken and waffle doughnut. Chicken and waffle and maple. How fantastic is that? Imagine (with slack jaw): vanilla cookie waffles, buttermilk-battered popcorn chicken and a thick maple glaze on a pillow of a doughnut. And it gets better. She also makes peanut butter and grape jelly (swoon), apple pie, lemon meringue, maple bacon, dulce de leche and coconut cream doughnuts.
Available only at Thor Espresso Bar (35 Bathurst St.) and Burger Bar (319 Augusta) or by direct order, they are impossible to get your greedy hands on. I’m at my fifth failed attempt (at both locations) and have gone to such dire lengths as to follow Thor on Twitter (@thorespressobar) to get a by-the-minute doughnut cargo report. They are usually gone by the time I wake up.
In the interim? If you fancy yourself a fix, and are disappointed by a sell-out, Little Nicky’s (at Queen & Peter) cranks out hot, bite-sized CNE/Tiny Tom-esque doughnuts for cheap (6 for $2.75, dozen for $4). Caplanksy’s food truck, if you catch sight of it, serves up maple and beef-bacon doughnut holes. The Hoof Cafe has gained notoriety for its bone marrow donuts. At the 2011 CNE, Epic Burgers and Waffles scared crowds with the debut of its “doughnut cheeseburger.”
And here’s even more lard hotspots: a precious list of the best donuts in Toronto.
What doughnut do you pledge allegiance to? Have you been lucky enough to nab a Glory Hole? Does the mention of Tiny Tom’s make your heart race a little? C’mon you’re in good company. Dish! What’s your guilty pleasure?