Kate Rockwood

The A to Z of Gourmet Donuts

Chocolate-chipotle. Vanilla-Froot Loops. Blueberry-bourbon-basil. Salted-toffee. These are just a handful of the adventurous gourmet donut flavors available at independent bakeries across North America these days. Once coffee got fancy and cupcakes went crazy, it was only a matter of time before donuts became gourmet—and started raking in the dough.

The annual “What’s Hot 2018 Culinary Forecast” from the National Restaurant Association listed donuts with non-traditional fillings on its short list of major emerging trends. Separate research conducted by YouGov found 82 percent of millennials and Gen Zers want to try new and unique donut flavors, with top picks being s’mores, mango, alcohol-inspired, breakfast cereal, bacon-infused and peanut butter and jelly.

But that doesn’t mean traditional flavors or formats are on their way out. More than 50 percent of donut lovers still prefer classics like chocolate, plain and old-fashioned.

In many instances, building off traditional flavors by mixing premium ingredients into donut batter or icing, or using them as a topping, can be an effective way for bakeries to balance consumers’ love for classics with the innovation of gourmet donuts. Suppliers can be a great resource for help identifying trending flavors and developing new recipes.

Another is social media, which Roberto Armanino, owner of PinkBox Doughnuts in Nevada, credits as a primary driver of the gourmet category. “People buy with their eyes,” he says. 

For instance, a humble glazed donut doesn’t pop on Instagram the way a unicorn-themed donut decorated with colorful sprinkles, edible glitter and frosting mounds shaped like a horn, eyes and ears will. 

“A lot of times we’ll do our flavor profiles based on the response we get on social media,” Armanino says. “To keep people’s attention, you have to keep creating new stuff.”

In addition to expecting ongoing donut innovation, consumers are comfortable paying premium prices for these unique creations, which can go for upward of $4 in some metropolitan markets. 

If bakers cost out ingredients and price strategically, gourmet donut offerings can be a major profit booster.

With these factors in mind, it’s time to start experimenting. Use this guide on premium ingredients you can use to mix in, ice, glaze, frost or top your donuts. 

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A — Alcohol. Guinness, Kahlúa, whiskey, sangria and gin-flavored donuts are showing up everywhere. Fun fact: 21 percent of the group most interested in trying alcohol-flavored donuts are parents. 

B — Bacon.Think beyond strips: Mojo Donuts in Miami gets its bacon extra crispy by cooking it, frying it, chopping it up and frying it again before using it to top donuts, according to owner Jimmy Piedrahita.

C — Cereal. Toppings straight out of childhood cereal bowls are big these days—like the Cap’n Crunch, Froot Loops and Lucky Charms at California Donuts in Los Angeles, and the Fruity Pebbles at PinkBox. 

D — Dates.Middle Eastern flavors are on trend, according to the NRA forecast, and dates are a familiar, yet not overused, ingredient.

E  — Espresso Cream.What’s better than coffee and donuts? Coffee in donuts, like the ones sold at Firecakes in Chicago . 

F — Flaked Sea Salt. Equal parts visually pleasing (the large crystal flakes are gorgeous on top of donuts) and palate-pleasing when paired with chocolate, caramel or maple (salty meets sweet).

G — Ganache. Simple, yet so sophisticated.

H — Horchata.To forecast popular donut flavors, Armanino recommends bakery owners keep an eye on Starbucks, which launched the Horchata Almond milk Frappuccino in 2017. Add horchata to cake donut mix, or to powdered sugar to make a glaze.

I — Ice Cream Flavors.Ice cream donut sandwiches have cropped up across North America, but bakers are also channeling frozen dessert flavors in donuts without using actual ice cream. Think cake batter, rocky road and banana split. 

J — Jalapeno. To soften jalapeno’s spiciness while preserving its flavor, Gourdough’s in Austin, Texas, turns it into a jelly that joins candied bacon and cream cheese atop a yeast donut called the Porky.

K — Key Lime. Whether it’s juice, mousse, custard or cream, key lime is a unique, yet familiar, premium citrus flavor.

L — Lavender Sprinkles. The grown-up version of rainbow sprinkles. Voodoo Doughnut, based in Portland, Oregon, pairs them with vanilla frosting and grape dust for its Grape Ape donut.

M — Matcha. Matcha’s grassy green color looks stunning on donuts, especially when blended with cane sugar and a little salt to make a twinkly coating, like the one covering yeast donuts at Dough in New York City.

N — Nutella.Just say “Nutella” and ears perk up. At Stan’s Donuts in Chicago, customers flock to the Chocolate Pockets with Nutella and Chocolate Pockets with Nutella & Banana, which are topped with white “N” piping to signal the popular ingredient. 

O — Oreo Cookie Crumbs. The king of cookie toppings isn’t just for kids. Trou de Beigne in Montreal pairs them with an elegant Lindt white chocolate drizzle on a chocolate cake donut. 

P — Peanut Butter. Peanut butter is versatile: It can be mixed into donut batter or frosting and creates a delicious icing, filling, glaze or drizzle. 

Q — Quinoa. Gluten-free is now mainstream. Quinoa can be made into a flour used in donut batter or baked into granola for a crunchy, hearty topping. 

R — Rosemary. Adding fresh herbs to rolling sugar is an easy way to elevate traditional sugar donuts.

S — Strawberry. Try the fresh route like The Donut Man in Los Angeles, which tosses strawberries in glaze before stuffing them into yeast donuts.

T — Toasted Coconut. Tap into the market for the Girl Scouts’ second-best-selling cookie, the Samoa. Da Vinci’s Donuts, a regional chain in Georgia, piles generous amounts of toasted coconut, caramel and chocolate icing onto a cake donut.

U — Ube. The purple yam gives mixes, glazes and frostings a rich purple hue, making it a prime choice for a natural—and social media-friendly—pop of color.

V — Vanilla.Vanilla is a secret weapon for custom donut creations since it pairs well with almost everything—from fruit to nuts to candy.

W — Whoppers. Chop up malted milk balls for a topping that catches eyes and adds unique texture.

X — Xocolatl. “Chocolate is king,” says Piedrahita. And a premium kind, like those sold by Atlanta’s small-batch confectioner Xocolatl, can up the price point of traditional favorites like chocolate old-fashioneds. 

Y — Yuzu Curd. Orange and lemon are expected, but their Japanese cousin, yuzu, stands out on a menu. At Dough, a tangy yuzu curd-filled yeast donut is rolled in citrus sugar and topped with candied lemon peel.

Z — Zucchini. Go sweet by working the veggie into chocolate cake donuts or savory by pairing it with a cheese topping.