Serving Up a Treat: Trendy doughnuts

Next in the long line of sugary treats to become trendy are doughnuts. Charlotte Richardson Andrews discovers that the fried treats have evolved and are now filled with exotic ingredients and transformed into new, hybrid creations


Issue 9

Signature treat: the doughnut-muffin and a doughnut café

Vo is a trained pastry chef, and opened Bea's, an independent bakery and tearoom, in 2008 after stints at Nobu and Asia de Cuba. Bea's signature treat is the duffin, a doughnut-muffin.

"They are muffins that are made with a fairly soft batter that is then dipped in melted butter for that faux-fried taste and rolled in sugar," explains Vo.

"Doughnut muffins have been around for quite some time; Nigella Lawson had a recipe for duffins - although it didn't involve dipping them in melted butter. What makes my version different is that I wanted it to have the feeling of the cake doughnuts I had in Amish country, along with the crumb of a sour cream doughnut with big airy uneven bubbles.

"Finally, I love the traditional jam doughnuts here in the UK, thus my version with buttermilk, nutmeg and raspberry jam."

While Vo looked to both Amish and British traditions when creating her duffin recipe, artisan doughnut chef Paul Hurley has brought the influences and skills he picked up while living in Europe to Dum Dums, a dedicated doughnut café and bakery that opened its doors earlier this year in Shoreditch's Box Park.

Hurley began making doughnuts in 1997 with iconic US company Dunkin Doughnuts before going solo: "During that time, I lived in France and Italy for three years; it was then that the idea for a donutterie evolved; its my idea of combining the amazing independent donut shops that you find in the US and the artisan European patisserie."

Interestingly, Hurley has eschewed the traditional deep-fried method of doughnut-making - opting instead for a baked alternative: "Fried doughnuts float in oil the whole cooking time, so the oil absorption cannot be controlled. With the baking process we are able to choose what oil we use and the exact amount. We use the perfect amount for taste and stop there."

Classic British puddings: artisan crafts and gourmet flavour combinations

Start-up company Glazed & Confused - a joint venture by professional foodies Dan Tse and Tim Pearson - is built on the same commitment to artisan doughnut craft. While G&C lack a donutterie of their own, preferring to stock their doughnuts with a number of respected indie coffee shops alongside a home/business delivery services, they boast a completely hand-made product.

"When we say hand-made, we mean every step from start to finish - from kneading the dough, weighting-out and molding each individual dough ball, monitoring the proofing (we use fresh yeast), frying and finishing," says Tse.

"We even make our own fillings, glazes and toppings. It's a lot of work for a two-man operation, but we don't want to just hollowly claim our doughnuts to be gourmet - we want to be involved every step of the way."

Flavour is everything for G&C, who take inspiration from classic British puddings and desserts including Sticky Toffee Pudding, Eton Mess, Banana Split and Coffee Toffee Nut - their ode to coffee and walnut cake.

"We even emulated a Tunnocks Teacake in doughnut form," says Tse, "whipping up a fresh batch of marshmallow every night, filling a dough ball with this gooey treat and glazing it with a thick slab of milk chocolate.

"Aside from the British dessert adaptations, we have also taken inspiration from desserts from beyond these shores: Black Forest Gateau, Crème Brûlée, Pavlova - and we try out our own flavour combinations from time to time too, such as Kiwi White Chocolate and Passionfruit Blood Orange."

Portmanteau patisserie: adventurous twists

Hurley says his Crème Brulee doughnut is Dum Dums' signature treat: "It has a vanilla crème au buerre filling with a pure crunchy caramel topping, like a real crème brulee.

"I loved similar choux pastries in France and created it with [business partner and patisserie chef] Chris Pilgrim."

Their banoffee option is popular too, says Hurley: "It is filled with crème that has been whipped with real banana puree, topped with dulce de leche and decorated with digestive crumb."

But their most unusual menu item at Dum Dums is The Zebra. "We layer croissant dough with chocolate croissant dough so it looks like a zebra pattern," says Hurley.

"Then we make our own chocolate buttercream that we inject inside and then top with our own chocolate fondant."

G&C like to mix things up too, but aren't out to hitch their wagon to the portmanteau patisserie trend: "Our Cherry Bakewell has marzipan twisted into the dough, is molded similarly to a croissant, proved, fried, glazed with a plain glaze, then topped with heaps of toasted almond flakes and kirsch-steeped sour cherries," says Tse.

"But don't you dare call it a CherryBonut! It's a doughnut - an extravagant, unusual doughnut. Similarly, our Lemon Raspberry Pavlova is served as a sandwich with a half-doughnut base, a meringue top and a raspberry cream and lemon curd fill, but it's a doughnut. Don't you dare call it a pavlonut."

Patents and trademarks: taking the ideas to market

The portmanteau patisserie business can be a fraught one when it comes to trademarking, as Vo knows from bitter experience. When Rich Products, the multi-billion pound global business and Starbucks' factory supplier, trademarked the name Duffin last summer, uproar from Bea's loyal customers followed, with #duffingate trending in response on Twitter.

"I never trademarked the name duffin because I didn't think it was necessary," says Vo. "I think when large corporations copy ideas and claim them as their own, there isn't normally much recourse - but as we have been fortunate to already have documented press and evidence that they had definitely, at the very least, been inspired by our duffin [a recipe for the duffin was published in Vo's 2011 cookbook Tea with Bea], it was indeed not right to copyright something they had not invented."

For now, Starbucks says it won't use the trademark to stop Bea's selling their signature duffins, but it's a precarious security. "We're a tiny independent - can we afford to fight this trademark and any future cease-and-desist letters? No."

Hurley, on the other hand, had the foresight to patent his Dum Dums baking method: "We patented the process across Europe and the US years ago because we knew that we had achieved something unique. The trend this year seems to be for trademarks of clever names.

"Although this is interesting, it doesn't mean the product is new or different. For example, the cronut is a great name/brand, but croissant doughnuts have been around for decades.

"They used to be called a Yum Yum in the UK. Our doughnuts are unique worldwide. The patent acknowledges the uniqueness - but we're just trying to make amazing doughnuts."