I believe it was the venerable philosopher Homer Simpson who waxed so eloquently on the subject of this week’s Foodie Files: “Mmm. Doughnuts.”
His sentiments are exactly mine, especially when it comes to freshly made doughnuts from a locally-owned bakery. Two weeks ago, I decided to take a doughnut tour of the Portland area, with the help of BDN Portland bureau chief Seth Koenig, and my husband and self-taught doughnut connoisseur Zachary Robbins. We visited four bakeries in Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and Portland that specialize in our treat of the week, all of which have distinctly different approaches to doughnut-making.
Here are the results. Our control group was a plain glazed doughnut, and then we tried a unique variety or two from each bakery. The legend goes that doughnuts were invented in Maine — in Camden, to be exact, in the 1840s, so that fried cakes would be crispy all over. Regardless of where they come from, it can be agreed that they’re a nationally beloved, uniquely American treat.
Cookie Jar Bakery, 554 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth
Our first stop, this longtime Cape Elizabeth business has been making 17 varieties of doughnuts — along with sticky buns, cakes, pies and other treats — for 60 years. Cookie Jar doughnuts are huge, so you’d better pack an appetite if you want one for yourself. They’re also very dense and moist, so if a more cakelike doughnut is your thing, you’ll be happy to give these a try. The plain glazed had a pleasant aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg, with a heavy glaze, while the red velvet variety we tried was as delightful as the synonymous cake, also with a glaze.
Frosty’s Donuts, 740 Broadway, South Portland; also locations in Brunswick and Freeport
With three locations, Frosty’s is a southern Maine staple. Their new South Portland location keeps its secret recipe, and has a doughnut bar with all sorts of different toppings that you can put on any doughnut, from pretzels to M&Ms to marshmallows. Frosty’s Donuts are a little smaller and easier for one person to eat; they also have a fluffiness factor to them, though they aren’t so fluffy they seem to float away. We enjoyed a raised glazed, a twist — a stick donut — and a toasted coconut and maple glazed, all of which had prominent flavors but retained their light texture.
Tony’s Donut Shop, 9 Bolton St., Portland
Another entry into the beloved Portland institution category, Tony’s also makes big, satisfying doughnuts, and while they’re dense and crumbly, they also have a unique texture. The plain glazed, pumpkin and molasses varieties are truly wonderful, and seem to have been specially engineered to be perfect to dunk in coffee. They’re also the most affordably priced. More importantly, they make a Bismark that must be tasted to be believed.
Holy Donuts, 194 Park St., Portland
The newest arrival on the Portland area doughnut scene, Holy Donuts does things a little differently — their doughnuts are made with potato flour, and they make a variety of gluten-free flavors. They also make wild flavors, including mojito, dark chocolate sea salt and a bacon cheddar — yes, bacon cheddar, which may be definitive proof that the world is an essentially good place. We tried the plainest one they had — a maple glazed — plus sweet potato ginger and bacon cheddar. Light. Crispy. Melt in your mouth. It’s not a traditional doughnut by any stretch, but it is an uncommonly delicious treat.