Old school or artisan, there’s a doughnut for every Canadian.
For most people, the sweet indulgence — preferably a Boston cream, apple fritter or honey cruller — comes from Tim Hortons for 95 cents.
Others gravitate to the 99 cent caramel sea salt doughnut from 7-Eleven (best if warmed in the store’s microwave), or the $1.09 original glazed at Krispy Kreme.
In Toronto this summer, three artisan doughnut makers joined the fray, sparking fierce debates about prices (outrageous or worth it?), styles (cake versus yeast?), flavours (wacky or welcome?), and cooking methods (fried or baked?).
Paulette’s Original Donuts and Chicken in Leslieville sells fried, cake-based doughnuts for $2.75 in sophisticated flavours like blueberry balsamic, grapefruit maple and passion fruit poppyseed.
Pastry chef Rachelle Cadwell throws open the back door to Beast restaurant at 8 a.m. on Thursday mornings for her “Dough by Rachelle” pop-up featuring $3 fried, yeast-based doughnuts like bacon maple and brown butter.
At Glory Hole Doughnuts in Parkdale (also in the yeast and fried camp), flavours range from cinnamon sugar ($3), to beer ($3.50), to Elvis with marshmallows ($4.50). Some doughnuts are dressed to order with whipped cream and fresh fruit toppings.
“This elevation of doughnuts, it’s from the mundane to the sublime,” notes Toronto-based food trends expert Dana McCauley. “I think it’s interesting that doughnuts have migrated from the blue collar to the fact that Pangaea can’t take its warm mini doughnuts off the menu.”
She’s talking about her husband Martin Kouprie’s Yorkville restaurant, where yeast-based warm citrus doughnuts with ricotta are rolled in sugar and served with an orange cardamom shake and arak poached oranges — for $8.
“Most people don’t deep-fry at home, so a doughnut is an affordable indulgence,” points out McCauley, who confesses she has been “so over doughnuts” for more than a year.
“Doughnuts didn’t used to have to be awesome — they just had to be doughnuts.”
Maybe they still are at Tim Hortons, which reports that it sold 500,136,000 doughnuts in Canada in 2011 (not counting Timbits). The iconic brand’s market share at “quick service restaurants” is 96.8 per cent, according to consumer market research company the NPD Group.
Timmy’s makes all its doughnuts at a Brantford, Ont. plant, flash-freezes them and ships them to its franchises for the final bake and finish (with fillings, glazes and icing). It boasts 74 regular flavours, plus 15 seasonal ones. Recent doughnut experiments have included caramel crunch, s’more s, pumpkin spice, candy cane chocolate and gingerbread.
With this surge in doughnut creativity, you might be shocked to learn that consumption is actually falling in Canada.
It peaked in 2010, then declined by 4 per cent in 2010/2011 and another 1 per cent in 2011/2012, according to NPD’s executive director of food service, Robert Carter.
Doughnuts sell well in the “p.m. snacking” zone between lunch and dinner, and after dinner, but have slipped during the “morning meal” hours. Carter figures that’s due to breakfast-sandwich innovations.
Still, you don’t have to feel sorry for our friend the doughnut. It’s in 11th place on the list of food items consumed out of home or from restaurants in Canada.
“Doughnuts have pretty much been the most consumed baked good and they’re ripe for innovation,” said Carter. He’s confident that niche doughnut shops “creating a little innovation” will spark increased sales across the country.
On a recent Thursday morning, doughnut enthusiasts in the know started heading to the Dough by Rachelle pop-up, near King and Bathurst, beginning at 8 a.m.
Cadwell tweets her flavours as she pulls an all-nighter making them.
Two women walking a dog stop and gawk, trying to figure out what’s going on before crossing the street to discover that people are lining up for $3, handcrafted doughnuts.
“That’s so funny,” says Rachel Girardi, a personal trainer.
“I have money,” announces her client, Cathy Mills. “Want to buy some?”
The women snag one bacon maple doughnut and an apple fritter. Girardi swears they’re for her husband.
“He’s six-foot-three and 180 pounds. He can have some doughnuts in his life.”