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COVER STORY

Mmmmm, Doughnuts

They're greasily delicious, the non-P.C., anti-health food. Lets get a few dozen at O.C.'s favorite shops.

May 06, 1999|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a North Carolina-based doughnut chain opened its first California outlet in La Habra earlier this year, the response was immediate. Frenzied lines snaked from the Krispy Kreme shop halfway to Upland, and we began to reexamine our continuing love affair with the greasy breakfast treats.

From the day I first tasted a nutmeg-scented cake doughnut, hot from the fryer at a Massachusetts county fair, I have tried and failed repeatedly to find a doughnut as good.

My favorite doughnuts today come from Du-par's at Los Angeles' Farmers Market, in Studio City and in Thousand Oaks.

What makes Du-par's doughnuts great is that they are never from a mix or base, but are made from scratch daily. A Du-par's cake doughnut has a thick, crunchy crust and a springy texture inside. The raised doughnuts are yeasty and dense.

But even Du-par's doesn't measure up to a homemade doughnut hot from the fryer. One of the secrets to making those old-style treats is frying the dough in pure vegetable oil that remains in a liquid state at room temperature. For a doughnut chain like, say, Winchell's, to do that would require costly product reformulation and increased cost of the oil.

Nearly all doughnuts are fried in hydrogenated soybean oil or a blend of vegetable oils that remain in a solid state at room temperature. They may be better for you than the beef tallow or lard that Dutch immigrants used to make olykoeks, the forerunner of the doughnut, but no one is ready to call shortening a health food.

According to Margo Wootan, a senior scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest--those Washington-based grinches who tell us yummy foods like kung pao chicken, movie popcorn and fajitas are bad for us--vegetable shortening contains saturated fat and trans-fat, both of which raise blood cholesterol.

Yeah, yeah. We know. But committed doughnut lovers don't care. And we start young. Just look at Stan's Donuts in Westwood Village, where hungry UCLA students line up six deep to wolf down meltingly greasy and altogether delicious doughnuts in flavors ranging from Custard Puff to Reese's Peanut Butter Pockets.

Those kids don't need a course titled Doughnuts 101 to learn that doughnuts are a popular breakfast or snack because they contain four of the major junk food groups: sugar, salt, starch and grease. What's more, eating a doughnut encourages one to partake of a vital junk food beverage: coffee.

Plus, doughnuts are cheap. To most of us, paying $3 for one spinach croissant seems like a ripoff when you can get half a dozen fresh doughnuts for $4.

And we sure love a deal. In 1995 the Wall Street Journal reported that the Los Angeles area has more doughnut shops per capita--one for every 7,000 residents--than any other American city. So much for sprouts.

Another regional phenomenon is the number of Cambodian immigrants in the doughnut industry. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cambodian immigrants ran more than 2,450 doughnut shops in California.

Here at The Times, we know doughnuts are a favorite fatal attraction, so we encouraged our readers to write in and tell us about the best local shops.

They did so, and in large numbers. Based on the input, I visited several Orange County doughnut shops, in addition to making the pilgrimage to Krispy Kreme. Here's a roundup of some of my tasty investigations:

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, 1801 W. Imperial Highway, La Habra. (562) 690-2650. Open daily, 5:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Drive-thru open 24 hours. Original glazed, 60 cents each, $4.79 a dozen. Assorted 70 cents, $5.29 a dozen.

*

This Winston-Salem based doughnut giant was the overwhelming favorite in our readers poll, so it is the natural place to begin.

Even when I visit at 10 a.m. on a Monday, not even close to peak hour, the line at the counter is 30-plus. That's because the "Hot Donuts Now" light is on, indicating that the Krispy Kreme original glazed, hot, sweet puffs with a molten cast are rolling off a conveyor-like contraption visible behind a window. The assembly-line doughnut machine is the store's centerpiece, and it is great theater. But does it produce a great doughnut?

The short answer is yes, for most people who responded. A Krispy Kreme doughnut, in fact, is neither crispy nor creamy, but rather soft, yielding and slippery; it slithers down your gullet like a fish in a pelican's mouth.

Yes, they are good when hot, perfectly glazed with a diaphanous sugar frosting. But in my opinion, they don't come close to the cult status they have achieved. One friend who lives in the high desert telephoned me to beg for a box. A neighbor offered to pay me $10 to pick up a dozen for her.

What do the readers say? "The best," "orgasmic," "worth the drive from Los Angeles" and similar kudos. There are skeptics, though, who write "a scam," "like sawdust" and other salty epithets. Yeah, but what do you really think?

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