National Doughnut Day falls on the first Friday in June -- or Nov. 5, depending whom you ask. To honor the sweet treats, we rounded up 10 doughnut lovers for a hands-on blind tasting to identify the best cheap doughnuts. We sampled a variety of classics (glazed, chocolate, iced/sprinkled, and jelly-filled) from the top doughnut chains -- Dunkin' Donuts, Krispy Kreme, and Tim Hortons -- and from Entenmann's, a regional brand found in many grocery stores.
Doughnut Taste Test
At the outset, our panel members were asked to name their favorite doughnut shop, and many responded with Krispy Kreme. The end results confirmed this predisposition: Krispy Kreme came out tops in two categories (glazed and jelly). But many tasters were surprised to learn that they preferred the Entenmann's chocolate doughnut to the others. Dunkin' Donuts held the lead in the iced/sprinkled doughnuts grouping, and Tim Hortons fell short in all departments.
We quickly learned during our testing session that several factors affect tasters' opinions of a cheap doughnut. Flavor was an underlying criterion for all the winning entries, regardless whether the confection was jelly-filled, glazed, or sprinkled. Our doughnut tasters were united in the opinion that dryness is not a preferred quality in doughnuts. They gravitated toward those that were comparatively moist rather than those that seemed crumbly or stiff (stale, perhaps?). And while cake-like doughnuts are favored by many consumers, our doughnut panelists fancied the lighter, airier varieties (glazed, jelly-filled, and iced/sprinkled) that they considered more pastry-like over the cakey doughnut (chocolate, in this case) which seemed dense and thick in comparison.
Pricewise, doughnuts are cheap -- at least at the chain stores and in the supermarket. You can get a good cheap doughnut for $1 or less. Specialty doughnuts and those produced by smaller bakeries and cafes easily run to $2 or more.
Among the doughnuts sampled, Krispy Kreme was the most expensive. At 99 cents each, its version of the classic glazed doughnut just barely settled in the Cheapism price niche. Other varieties such as jelly-filled, chocolate, and iced/sprinkled cost $1.09. All the doughnut chains give a discount for buying in bulk. We bought an even dozen (three of each variety) and paid $7.79 at Tim Hortons and $8.49 at Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme. Entenmann's falls into a price category of its own: A prepackaged box of eight doughnuts goes for about $5.29, which translates to 66 cents each. This really counts as cheap, but you don't get much variety. The display at our local market in Columbus, Ohio, showcased an assorted box including cake, glazed, chocolate-covered, and crumb doughnuts.
Glazed Doughnuts.Krispy Kreme has made a name for itself based on its Original Glazed doughnut. Many of our 10 tasters correctly identified the Krispy Kreme entry in the glazed doughnut crowd. Among the reasons seven of the 10 reviewers named this their favorite was the glaze itself. Testers said the glaze was thick, plentiful, and very sweet. And, one added, it "helped to keep the doughnut very moist." They described the dough as "light, fluffy, and delicious." Entenmann's received two votes for best glazed doughnut in our review, Tim Hortons garnered one nod, and Dunkin' Donuts struck out. Tasters concluded that Dunkin' Donuts' glazed sample was bland, dry, dense, and almost stale. They also said it lacked enough glaze.
Chocolate Doughnuts.The one cakey variety in the test, the chocolate doughnut samples competed on a more level playing field. Of the nine tasters who participated in the chocolate doughnut review, Dunkin' Donuts, Tim Hortons, and Krispy Kreme each garnered two votes, leaving Entenmann's to take the cake with three. One taster favored Entenmann's chocolate doughnut due to a "richer taste that really hit the spot." Others considered the sweetness level to be just right. All the tasters wanted a dense chocolate flavor but disagreed on which brand provided it. Although Entenmann's won overall, two panelists described Dunkin' Donuts' chocolate treat as dense and yummy, while those that hankered after Tim Hortons described a rich chocolate cake flavor. Testers who chose Krispy Kreme similarly liked the "good chocolatey cake flavor." Despite the two positive votes, Tim Hortons attracted the most negative comments; it was labeled "dry" and "almost bitter." One reviewer said it looked unappealing before even taking a bite.
Doughnuts With Sprinkles.Doughnuts can't be sprinkled without first being iced, so for this category our review panel sampled raised doughnuts covered with chocolate icing and sprinkles. This is where we really started losing our tasters. Doughnuts are rich to begin with, and not everyone had the stomach to taste all four varieties. Of the seven willing to keep going, four voted Dunkin' Donuts the best. Comments ranged from "good chocolate flavor" to "sweeter" and "good taste." Two votes went to Tim Hortons, largely on the strength of the copious amount of sprinkles. Krispy Kreme earned a vote for "crunchy sprinkles." Entenmann's was out of the running here, as we didn't find a chocolate-frosted doughnut with sprinkles the day we shopped.
Jelly-Filled Doughnuts.With just six tasters still at the table, we pulled out the jelly doughnuts. The samples from Dunkin' Donuts, Tim Hortons, and Krispy Kreme (again, no Entenmann's) all seemed to be filled with raspberry jelly, although when we bought them, the sales associates at Tim Hortons and Dunkin' Donuts seemed unsure about that technicality. Regardless, Krispy Kreme won hands down. Everyone who participated in this review round voted Krispy Kreme the No. 1 jelly doughnut. As one reviewer opined: "The glaze, jelly, and pastry all work great together. These are the best of the bunch." Others commented on the fresh, sweet flavor of the jelly filling. Flavor was the downfall of the Tim Hortons jelly doughnut. Several panelists found it lacking, and one described the jelly flavor as "fake." Several also found fault with Dunkin' Donuts' filling, saying it just didn't compare to the Krispy Kreme.
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