When NYC’s Doughnut Project opened in October 2015, we told ourselves. Then – as so often happens it New York – it got dumb cold, we got a job offer, and we left the city forever. What can you say? Life comes at you fast.
But clear across the country, in a land where there is no winter, do you think we forgot about those doughnuts? Does a fiend ever really forget? No. We kept an eye out. We swiped through days and weeks and months worth of these, like a bitter ex gritting our teeth so that we’d just…finally stop crying.
And then we had our shot. As the year came to a close, we found ourselves back in the Big Apple for just two days and we would not shy from the spotlight. We’d do this one right, we said – with palette-cleansing coffee sips between doughnuts, so as to hate ourselves a bit less after round 4. We’d also take a partially blind approach – sure we’d see what we were eating but we would have no record or indication of what the doughnut was called or what its fancy icing and toppings contained.
And so, with doughnuts purchased (10 evergreen and 3 winter seasonal flavors) and best practices in place, we put it all on the line for you once again, our readers. We crossed the country, and pushed ourselves to the physical limit to bring you:
Every Doughnut at NYC’s Doughnut Project, Ranked:
13. Those Beatz Are Dope
Beat glaze stuffed with ricotta whip
Eh, I mean…it’s beautifully colored! Icing consistency is spot-on – with just enough crunchy crispness. Tasting this blind was particularly helpful because the taste truly was so mild that it forced a concentration, from which we can humblebrag we nailed the beat icing and creamy, fluffy ricotta cheese filling. That’s a testament to Doughnut Project for ensuring those flavors didn’t get lost. But it is still a beat-and-ricotta doughnut. And a filled one at that.
12. Lemon Love Letter
Lemon glaze with a hint of sea salt
This doughnut felt soooo much better after unveiling its name, because this is nothing if not a love letter to lemon. The bright, acidic citrus is so powerful, and sent into overdrive by the flavor-popping addition of salt, that the rest of the donut is bleached away. For the Lemonhead or Lemon Drop-obsessed, this is frankly the dessert you’ve waited your life for, and we’re not here to judge. God knows if there were a peach version we wouldn’t give a shit about icing texture either.
11. Just Plain Glaze???
Tahitian vanilla icing
Several such tastings have taught us there is nothing as rare as a middle-of-the-ranks plain glazed. For a craft donut, a plain glazed either amplifies and gives character to the base doughnut, or it’s just boring (at best). The Doughnut Project’s plain glazed is certainly not boring – it allows the base donut to shine through with all its delightful density and chewiness. The glaze, while a bit acrid with a smack of artificial frosting flavor, is still just the right thinness and avoids any messy stickiness. It’s a great plain glazed! Just could benefit from a bit more personality, as perhaps even the name implies.
10. The Prosecco Doughnut
Sparkling wine donuts are always a good idea – just look at how champagne is always the recommended wine for fried doughs, thanks to an effervescence and crispness that cuts through the fat. Doughnut Project’s take certainly retains that welcome effervescence – that back-of-the-tongue, tiny-bubble-bursting impact – but what we miss here is more of a sharpness, even saltiness, that brings out the taste of the champagne itself. Instead, the profile is more of sweet strawberry, which is nice, just not as fulfilling of the real promise of prosecco in icing. Although it’s damn pretty as well. We’re big fans of the edible confetti.
9. PBJ 2.0
Blackberry glaze stuffed with peanut butter whip and blackberry jam
As jelly donut skeptics, we’re always open to what we egocentrically assume are novel attempts to win us over. The PBJ 2.0 makes a compelling case. Rather than confining the jelly inside the donut – which we find often equates to an uncomfortably anatomical, Fruit Gushers-type effect – Doughnut Project turns the idea inside out: with jelly as the icing and peanut butter holding down the interior. This is advantageous both in its showcasing what’s always a welcome, fruity, complex flavor from the jelly, as well as its use of thicker, stickier peanut butter as a filling, where usual fillings ooze, drip, and make a gross mess. While the jelly flavor is not especially strong, the peanut butter certainly is. With just a bit more heft to that filling – more of a true PB than a whip – this conceptually brilliant combo could easily have slid up the ranks.
8. Bourbon Eggnog
This is one doughnut that’s at the top of your list with the first bite and maybe at the bottom by the fourth, and to be fair, that could be a sign of perfect execution of the concept: does it get much more decadent than bourbon eggnog, after all? The experience is like eating a donut generously coated with cinnamony dulce de leche cake frosting: each bite filled with rich, thick custard-like mousse. It’s outstanding. And if it were as simple as a one-and-done, the B.E. could be a Top 5 contender. Unfortunately ranking criteria like “Would order this every time” complicate things. We’re not sure we’re physically capable of obsession with this nevertheless fantastic donut.
7. Hanukkah Jelly
Raspberry jelly filling dusted with confectioners sugar
We can’t lie, we were really feeling ourselves when we unveiled the name of this one, as our first thought when we tried it came straight from our extensive international fried doughs research: Sufganiyot! These are the round, jelly- or custard-filled donuts of Israel that are sprinkled with powdered sugar and eaten when? Typically Hanukkah brahhh. And while as previously stated we are not believers in the jelly-filled, we are open to advances in the science, and this one takes a playbook from other recent successes: special attention to the jelly. Here, as raspberry jelly finds the literal sweet spot of redberry sugar and blackberry body and roundness. While still messy as shit, it was thick, bold, and well-textured. A promising development, in our book!
6. Malter White
Malted chocolate milk icing with malt chocolate chip cookie
In the blind tasting, we could not for the life of us ID this as a “malted” flavor, but it makes sense: our proxies of “nutella” and “dulce de leche” both imply a roasted, nutty profile reminiscent of malted chocolate. While the unique, slightly salty icing is solid on its own, what really pushes the Malter White over the edge is the addition of the malt chocolate chip cookie. For those former eight-year-olds out there still wondering how a cookie and donut would taste together if your parents let you try, mystery solved: the cookie makes it better. Especially if it’s the right cookie, as this one – dense, fudgey, and salty-sweet – certainly is.
5. The Everything Doughnut
Cream cheese glaze with sesame & poppy seeds, pepitas, garlic & sea salt
It may be another instance of a donut you slow down on the further in you go, there’s no denying the appeal of the off-the-wall flavor and texture collisions happening in the Everything Doughnut, inspired by the eponymous Everything Bagel. The icing may be the softest and fluffiest of the bunch, with a mild creamy profile that lets your taste buds wander from salty to sweet depending on the bite. A low-intensity Asian flavor is present throughout thanks to the sesame, and each bite seems punctuated by just a kick of saltiness right at the end. Add the self-perpetuated sweetness built into the icing and as far as your senses go, we think this one may literally have Everything covered.
4. Black Gold, Texas Tea
Chocolate brownie batter & chocolate crumble
This may have actually been the donut that got us over the chocolate hurdle. No longer is the chocolate donut for people who just “actually only want chocolate, but hey, here’s donuts.” The Black Gold, Texas Tea succeeds where others have struck us as too candied-tasting by however the hell they turned brownie batter into an icing. The subtle taste differences in brownie chocolate usually comes from a higher concentration of cocoa; they ultimately have a less sweet and more fatty, even savory profile. This icing certainly lives up to that reputation, and exceeds it by managing to be neither too soft nor too smooth, not sticky at all, and the perfect home to the crunchy chocolate cookie crumbles accentuating each bite. Well done, Doughnut Project. Well done, indeed.
3. Brown Butter Carrot
Brown butter carrot icing with flaxseed, quinoa, and sunflower seeds
When originality and execution peak at once, something magic happens. Just as fun to taste as it is to look at, the Brown Butter Carrot seethes with warm notes of caramel corn and pumpkin spice throughout their buttery, soft icing. The seeds that work so well in the Everything Donut put in overtime here, giving just the right amount of crunch and pop, with these little bursts of sesame. While the richness does kick in eventually, there’s just something that keeps you coming back: tempting fate, pushing yourself to indulge further as you chase salt with sweet, then sweet with salt. On top of it all, it’s a beautiful donut that calls to you from the display, reminding you it’s also – lest we forget – a one-of-a-kind. That combo makes this a Doughnut Project signature, and a Top 3 lock.
2. Bacon Maple Bar
“West Coast Maple bar, Maple glaze with a slab of bacon…Duh”
Enter, the opposite side of the spectrum: classic, ubiquitous donut, not re-interpreted or de-constructed, but in its original form. 100% of the pressure is on execution. And in that spotlight, Doughnut Project created a helluva Maple Bar. Many maple bacons fail when either maple or bacon outshines the other. Other times the maple is too mild; others the bacon is too salty, or crumbled and too soft. Here the maple is STRONG. The bacon is firm, crispy, and not too salty – integrity retained. Separate the two components and you would have a legitimate bacon breakfast and a welcome mapley treat. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest with the O.G. BACON-LESS maple bars, and who eats bacon almost every day, that independent value means something. And of course it makes their union divine.
1. The Bronx
Olive oil and black pepper glaze
Ah how fitting the name. Maybe it doesn’t look like much to some, but what’s inside doesn’t just make it original, it makes it the best. The secret to The Bronx: olive oil and black pepper. Don’t look so surprised, though. As evidenced by the use of pepper jelly in an over-performer from another donut ranking we did, it’s clear there’s just something perfect and thrilling about black pepper in donuts. It creates this unusual, long-lasting but low-intensity heat–from piperine, for my food nerds, rather than the capsaicin found in chili peppers–that ends the same way: with you addicted. In The Bronx, this effect combines with olive oil in this soft, creamy icing that gives the illusion of an earthy, sweet-and-sour, almost Turmeric-type flavor that confounds as much as it pleases. Every gustatory detail was done right with this one, and its presentation actually suits it in its simplicity: who knew too common, savory ingredients could work in a donut, and with personality like this?
It’s one to come back for, for sure. But that also means it’s also one to remember. So if you’ll excuse all of us out here in Los Angeles, it’s back to the Insta-swiping, bitter tears, and growling stomach for now.