Renowned doughnut aficionado Homer J. Simpson once asked: "Doughnuts. Is there anything they can't do?"
Upscale doughnut shops have multiplied across the continent, and their chefs, breaking from tradition, have elevated the fried classic to the decadent heights once reserved for cupcakes, the now-contested champion of indulgent pastry. Mr. Simpson has his answer.
Paulette's Original Donuts and Chicken is the newest entry of the upstarts. Since the Toronto shop opened to lineups in June, chef Graham Bower has ended most days with nothing left over but crumbs and rings of icing.
It's a pattern that repeats each day in shops across Canada, following the path glazed by U.S. trend-setters like Doughnut Plant in New York City and Voodoo Doughnut in Portland.
In line with classic doughnuts, upmarket products come in two varieties: dense and delicate cake or light and fluffy yeast. But that's where the similarities end. Chefs are now creating lively, unexpected combinations with fresh toppings of wild fruit, herbs and spices, gourmet chocolate, liquor and most famously, bacon. And for all that primping, a single doughnut can set you back upward of $4.
If the plain doughnut is a blank canvas waiting to be painted in flavour, now is its renaissance. At Paulette's, Mr. Bower is now tinkering with a recipe that embodies the fearless trend: a honey-chili glazed doughnut topped with crispy chicken skin.
Here are a half-dozen other Canadian doughnuts threatening to dethrone the cupcake:
The Earl Grey
Vancouver, 408 Carrall St. and 485 Commercial Dr.
The Earl Grey is made from scratch daily from organic ingredients including Earl Grey tea steeped in fresh butter. It's topped with a ground tea glaze and sprinkled with rose petals. Seasonal one-offs are created every few weeks.
Toasted Coconut with Kaffir Lime
Ottawa, 991 Wellington St. W.
Susan Hamer's aromatic coconut and lime doughnut reminds her of a "dessert version of pad Thai." The local and organic yeast-risen base is topped with glaze made from kaffir lime leaves steeped in coconut milk and sprinkled with toasted coconut. Arrive early.
Calgary, 100 1414 8 St. SW.
The Maple Bacon has been Jelly's most popular treat since the joint opened last year. The airy, yeast-risen doughnut is dipped in brown butter and bacon fat icing, topped with locally smoked bacon and drizzled in maple syrup. Jelly's offers a different chef creation each weekend.
Toronto, 913 Queen St. E.
The cake doughnut is dunked in a wild blueberry glaze – balanced with lemon juice, zest and confectioners sugar – and drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar for a tangy finish.
Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly
Toronto, store opening this summer
Glory Hole is in the midst of a shift from delivery service to storefront, but its PB&J must be mentioned. The base is yeast-risen and filled with grape jelly, then topped with a cream cheese and peanut butter icing, sprinkled with roasted peanuts, and dusted with cinnamon. Enough said.
Pineapple Vanilla Rum
Montreal, follow your nose.
Saint Donut's Rachel Corber has an off-the-grid approach that's reminiscent of Doughnut Plant's humble start. Her top doughnut is a yeast-risen pocket filled with vanilla-pineapple jam and topped with a rum glaze. Make a private order or follow her on Twitter or Facebook to find out where she'll pop up next.