Thursday, June 08, 2017

Dynamo Donuts

By now, you may have realized that I really like donuts.  I have them at least once a week (usually Fridays).  I can appreciate a classic, simple donut (like a simple glazed from Super Duper) just as much as a super trendy donut (like those from Psycho Donuts that turned out to be amazing) or a stuffed and torched to order Gastro Tank from Fill 'R Up.  Am I a bit of a traitor to New England if I admit I don't really love Dunkin' Donuts though?  Anyway, I eat a lot of donuts.  I have opinions about donuts.

If you ask San Franciscans about donuts, there is no doubt that Dynamo will be one of the first places mentioned.    They are been so popular that they opened a second shop in the Marina (in addition to the original Mission location) and they distribute to coffee shops all over town.  They make 30+ varieties of donuts, in fairly unique flavors, that rotate on a daily basis.  The most famous is the Maple Glazed Bacon Apple (OMG! Bacon on a donut!  Hype hype hype!).

It somehow took me a few years before finally trying them, when last year our admin ordered them for an event in my office.  I was super excited, particularly because she had plenty of the famed bacon topped donuts.  But ... sadly, I didn't really like any of them.  A few months later, I tried one at Red Door Cafe.  I still wasn't impressed.  And then this summer, someone brought them to a brunch I attended.  At this point, I've tried enough of the donuts to say that I just don't like their regular donuts.  The chocolate based donuts have some redeeming qualities, and the gluten-free weren't awful, but, overall, these just aren't the donuts for me.

I'll add a caveat though - there are a few varieties I'd still gladly try, as they sound pretty amazing, like the Monte Cristo: "Ham and Gruyere cheese base filled with our seasonal homemade plum-ginger jam."  That does sound kinda awesome, right?

Visit #1: August 2015

My first encounter was at my office, where our admin brought in 2 dozen assorted donuts, plus a box of just the maple bacon and a box of gluten-free.

Each box had 11 flavors in it.  There was a flavor card, but since they were just checked off on a list, they, didn't correspond to positions in the box.  Thus, it was a guess as to what each was.  I later looked them up online where they had pictures.
Dozen Donuts (several missing).
I wasn't the first one to reach the donuts, so, a couple had been taken when I arrived.
Another Dozen Donuts (several missing)
The same was true of the second box.  If you combine these two photos though, you can fill in all the blanks, except the bottom left.  It must have been a crowd pleaser.

By rows, starting on top row:
  • Spiced Chocolate: "Chocolate base tossed in cinnamon-chipotle sugar". $2.75 each. 
  • Passionfruit Milk Chocolate: "Vanilla bean base glazed with tangy passion fruit and milk chocolate". $2.75 
  • Caramel de sel: "Vanilla bean base glazed with our homemade sticky caramel and sprinkled with Fleur de Sel."  $2.25
  • Candied Orange Blossom: "Candied orange zest base glazed with orange blossom water and drizzled with bittersweet chocolate". $2.75
I started with several that were topped with glazes.  I had no idea what kinds I was having at the time. One turned out to be Candied Orange Blossom.  The donut itself was a raised donut but was really greasy, oily, and I don't really like orange flavors, so this was a fail for me.  I wouldn't have picked it had I known what kind it was.

Middle Row:
  • Hazelnut Lavender: "Hazelnut base topped with a chocolate lavender glaze and rolled in candied hazelnuts". $2.50
  • Coconut: "Coconut base glazed with sweet coconut milk and topped with toasted coconut". $2.75
  • Chocolate Rose: "Chocolate base topped with a sweet rose water and lemon zest glaze." $2.75 
  • Chocolate Star Anise: "Chocolate base glazed with chocolate-star anise and sprinkled with cocoa nibs." $2.75
I also tried the hazelnut lavender, trying to identify it for Ojan who was seeking it out.  It too was a heavy, greasy donut.  I didn't really taste hazelnut, but the lavender was strong.   Lavender can work really well in sweets, but it is also tricky to balance, and the balance wasn't right for me here.  Too floral, and I didn't care for it.  Crunchy bits of hazelnut were nice though.

Bottom Row:
  • { No donut in either box in this position, and the card had only 11 choices, so, perhaps we got only 11 in each? No idea.}
  • Strawberry Earl Grey: "Fresh California strawberries in a semolina base topped with double bergamot Earl Grey glaze."
  • Vanilla Bean: "Vanilla and orange zest base with a vanilla bean glaze". $2.25
  • Maple Glazed Bacon Apple (see below)
Maple Glazed Bacon Apple. $3.99.
"Diced Fatted Calf Heritage Bacon and sautéed apple base, glazed with real organic maple and topped with crispy bacon."

Well, hello.  This is their most famous donut, and, in addition to the two boxes of mixed donuts, we also had a dozen of these.

I was very excited to try one.  But, like the candied orange blossom and the hazelnut lavender, I really didn't like the base.  So greasy.  Maybe these are good when fresh?  Although, its not like these were more than an hour or so old.  I don't know.  I don't mind fried food, I don't mind oil, but these just really were not appealing.

Side note: I didn't actually find any apples in mine either, but the maple glaze on top was sweet and tasty, and bits of bacon appreciated, but still, the base just ruined it for me entirely.
Lemon Buttermilk.  $3.75.
"A wheat free buttermilk-lemon base tossed in confectioners sugar. In lieu of wheat flour, these donuts are made with coconut, rice, brown rice and tapioca flours. They contain no potato starch. However, they are fried in the same oil as wheat-based donuts."

And last but not least, she also brought in some gluten-free donuts.  I don't care for lemon flavors, but the donut base was more appealing than the others, dense, not greasy.  It was slightly crispy, and I loved the powdered sugar.  So, besides the essence of lemon, this was pretty good, and really great for a gluten-free item.

Visit #2: November 2015

A few months later, I was at Red Door Cafe, and wanted a treat.  I knew the donuts were Dynamo, so I didn't want a donut.  But I saw a sticky bun, and I couldn't resist.  I mean, I even like the cinnamon rolls from 7-Eleven!
Sticky Bun.
"Donut holes combined, rolled, and baked in a sweet, sticky glaze."

I didn't actually realize this was one of the Dynamo offerings, as I didn't know they made items other than donuts.  I also had no idea what kind of sticky bun it was, the cashier just said “its ... like a sticky bun?”

After a few bites, I thought it was a pumpkin sticky bun, as I definitely found some subtle pumpkin spices between the layers, and, well it was November.  But then I also randomly found a cranberry or two.  And … then one chocolate chip?  I was pretty confused.  How did these all go together?  And why in such strange distribution?

The dough also wasn’t normal sticky bun dough, but I couldn’t quite place it.  It was only after, when I went online to find out who made it, and what it was, that I discovered it was made from donut holes and leftover donut dough, presumably random ones, hence the different flavors, and the unexpected type of dough.

I think that the majority of my roll was made from Dynamo's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip donut,  “bittersweet chocolate in a pumpkin base", as it was the donut of the day when I got the sticky bun, and matches the pumpkin and chocolate I found.

As you can see, it was very burnt on top.  Also fairly dried out.  Someone definitely left this in the oven too long.
Sticky Bun: Side Profile.
The sticky bottom was honey-like, quite tasty, but certainly not a traditional caramel based sticky bun coating.

Overall, this was pretty mediocre, due to being dried out and burnt.  I also think there is a lot left to chance here, based on which donut dough is used to make a particular bun, so no sticky bun will be the same.  Mine was pretty plain.  Meh.

Visit #3: August 2016

A year later, I attended a brunch, and someone showed up with a box of donuts (yay!)  I remembered not like the regular donuts before, so this time, I tried the chocolate ones.  They were more successful.
Assorted Donuts (August 2016)
Back Row:  Passionfruit Milk Chocolate / Caramel Apple / Maple Glazed Bacon Apple / Vanilla Bean
Front Row: Spiced Chocolate / Chocolate Rose / Lemon Pistachio / Cornmeal Rosemary Cherry

Caramel Apple: "Crisp apples fried in a vanilla base dipped in caramel and coated in toasted spiced peanuts."

Ojan selected this donut, and I stole a bite, as the caramel glaze looked gooey and awesome, and I like peanuts.  It was ... ok.  Like all the donuts I had on the first day, I didn't really care for the greasy base.  The caramel was sweet, tasty, and plentiful, but the peanuts didn't really make sense to me.  The peanut flavor was somehow really strong, and took over the whole thing.  Just like the Maple Glazed Bacon Apple, I didn't taste the apples.

Spiced Chocolate: "Chocolate base tossed in cinnamon-chipotle sugar."

Since I knew I didn't like the plain base, I went for a chocolate one.

The spiced chocolate ended up being my favorite the first time I tried Dynamo Donuts, and my second favorite this time.  It had a dense, cakey chocolate base, with plentiful cinnamon sugar coating.  Not the type of donut I normally go for, but it was the only donut base that I enjoyed, as it wasn't as greasy as the regular bases.

Chocolate Rose: "Chocolate base topped with a sweet rose water and lemon zest glaze."

Still not satisfied, Ojan and I decided to split a third.  This was my pick, since I knew I didn't like the plain bases.  This was even better than the spiced chocolate.

The base was again super dense, with a crispy exterior.  The glaze was sweet and went well with the chocolately base.  I didn't pick out the rose or lemon exactly, but, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I'd gladly have another.

Visit #4: March 2017

Another day, another event where someone brought Dynamo Donuts.

I didn't snap a photo, but our host had a full box of assorted Dynamo Donuts.  From my past experiences , I knew that I never really like Dynamo's regular donuts and only really like the chocolate base (which is crazy, given that I don't normally like chocolate based donuts).  I had my eye on the prize, and snatched up the sole chocolate donut, before anyone else.  I also got a chance to try another kind, which confirmed my thoughts on the matter.  Yup, I like their chocolate donuts, and dislike the others.
Caramel de Sel.  $2.50.
"Vanilla bean base glazed with our homemade sticky caramel and sprinkled with Fleur de Sel."

A friend went for the caramel de sel, and, when I realized I hadn't actually tried it before, I asked to snag a bite ... just to make sure.

And ... yup, I just don't like the raised base Dynamo uses.  It tastes greasy and oily to me, in not a good way.  It is strangely moist.  I just don't like it.

The caramel on top was sweet and sticky, good caramel, but actually a bit of a mess to eat.  The salt was too subtle and didn't deliver the extra pop I was looking for.

I wouldn't try this again, but my friend loved it, and always picks this one.
Chocolate Rose. $3.00.
"Chocolate base topped with a sweet rose water and lemon zest glaze."

Since I really liked the chocolate base donuts before, my selection was easy: the one sole chocolate donut in the box.

And ... I loved it.

A dense chocolate cake donut, moist inside, but awesomely crispy on the outside, particularly the bottom.  I loved the crunch and texture.

On top was sweet glaze, generously coated, super sweet, perfect compliment to the chocolate.

I did taste the rose water and thought it added a nice dimension to the donut.

A fabulous donut, and I'd gladly get it again.

Visit #5: June 2017 - National Donut Day

National Donut Day.  Yes, it is a "real" holiday.  And yes, we celebrated it at my office.  And yes, I was in charge.

I needed somewhere that would deliver me a large quantity of donuts ... more than 100.  In the past, I went for Donut Savant for these needs (but, alas, they no longer deliver to SF) or my absolute favorite, Johnny Doughnuts (but, alas, too pricey for this quantity).  When I saw that Dynamo delivered, for a reasonable $15 delivery fee, it was an easy pick.
Boxes of Donuts ... Delivered!
I ordered ... all the donuts.   They were delivered via Kudos, and a message was sent to me as the donuts were loaded on the truck, and once they were delivered.  They came nicely tied together.  A wonderful ordering experience, really.

For National Donut Day, Dynamo offered 15 different varieties, 3 of which were gluten-free.  We got them all.
Baker's Choice Dozen. $33 ($2.75 each)
First up were boxes of assorted "Baker's Choice", which included one each of the 12 not gluten-free options.

The lineup pictured here was (left to right):
Top Row: Chocolate Star Anise, Coconut, Ginger Orange, Maple Glazed Bacon Apple
Middle Row: Chocolate Rose,  Caramel de Sel, Vanilla Bean, Cornmeal Blueberry
Bottom Row: Passionfruit Milk Chocolate, Candied Orange Blossom, Spiced Chocolate, Apricot Cardamom

I didn't try them *all*, but, many people wanted to try multiples, so quickly started cutting them up.  This allowed me to try bites of all that I was interested in.  I tried 5 of the regular donuts: all 3 of the chocolate based ones, since the chocolate bases had been my favorites before, plus the two most interesting sounding regular bases.  More details below!
iNag Baker's Choice Dozen. $45. ($3.75 each)
I also ordered the baker's choice of the I'm Not a Gluten offerings of the day, 3 varieties:
  • Lemon Buttermilk
  • Chocolate with Raspberry Black Pepper Glaze
  • Carrot Cake 
My gluten-free folks were thrilled to have choices!  I had liked the gluten-free ones I had tried in the past, so I tried all three.  (Yes, if you are counting, that is 3 chocolate, 3 gluten-free, and 2 regular.  I didn't have them all at once, and they weren't all full donuts!  I'm not *that* crazy).
Piles of Donuts.
We had ... a lot of donuts.  This is just the table full of regular donuts.

They vanished.  Very, very quickly.

Regular Base

I've never been a fan of Dynamo's regular base.  It has always seemed too oily, heavy, and spongy before.  We had 9 different varieties that fell into this category, but I only tried two, given my past experiences.

They actually were much better than I remembered, and one turned out to my favorite of the day.
Coconut.
"Coconut base glazed with sweet coconut milk and topped with toasted coconut."

While I've never liked the plain Dynamo base before, I figured if I'd ever like one, it would be the coconut.

And it was better than most others I've tried.  The dough was still kinda spongy yet light yet oily in a strange way, which I didn't care for, but it was lighter and loftier than I remembered from past tries, and it wasn't too bad.

The coconut milk glaze was pretty tasty, great coconut flavor.  The donut was topped with large shreds of toasted coconut.

Overall, it was better than most others I've tried with the regular bases, and great coconut flavor, but not something I'd go running back for.  Middle of the batch for me in that I didn't dislike it, nor love it.
Cornmeal Blueberry.
"Lemon cornmeal base with fresh blueberries topped with a sweet lavender glaze."

This was, hands down, the best regular Dynamo donut I've had.

The base was light and moist and had a cornmeal grit to it, and it was loaded with big, juicy blueberries.  The blueberries were bursting with flavor.  They really made this donut incredible.  The glaze on top didn't taste too much like lavender, which was my concern, and just added a great sweetness.

This was sorta like a hybrid of my favorite two muffins (corn and blueberry) merged with a donut.  I really liked it, and would love another.  I wish I had kept an extra one for myself, although I did smartly take a full one of these.  My new favorite.

Chocolate Base 

I don't normally like chocolate based donuts, but with Dynamo, I had always preferred their chocolate base.  We had 3 varieties, and I tried all three, only one of which I liked.
Chocolate Star Anise.
"Chocolate base glazed with chocolate-star anise and sprinkled with cocoa nibs." 

This was the biggest disappointment of the day.  Given the success of past chocolate bases, and my love of cocoa nibs, I was most eagerly awaiting trying this one.

And ... the cake was dry and crumbly, not dense and delicious as in the past.

I didn't taste star anise, and although the glaze looked great, it didn't offer anything, and the amount of nibs was too few to actually taste or enjoy the crunch from.

Sadness.  Second to last pick.
Spiced Chocolate.
"Chocolate base tossed in cinnamon-chipotle sugar."

Further sadness came from the spiced chocolate, one I had also enjoyed before.  Just like the chocolate star anise, the cake donut was just dry and not particularly good.

This has been in my top 5 before, but here I was glad I only tried a small chunk.  I didn't want more.  Least favorite.
Chocolate Rose.
"Chocolate base topped with a sweet rose water and lemon zest glaze."

The chocolate base donuts redeemed themselves with the Chocolate Rose though, which has always been my top pick.  It was exactly as I remembered.  Moist, dense base, crispy exterior, and awesome sweet glaze.  I still couldn't taste the rosewater nor lemon zest, but I didn't care.

The best of the chocolate donuts, my third pick overall of the day.

I Am Not a Gluten Donut

And finally, the gluten-free options, which had surprised me in the past.  We had 3, I tried them all.
Carrot Cake.
"Fresh carrots & currants in a wheat-free base, tossed in cinnamon-brown sugar." 

I love carrot cake, so these sounded great, but, alas, were not winners.

The cake was dry, very dry.  Yes it had carrots and currants in it, but it was just dry and tasted a bit strange.  The cinnamon-sugar coating added to the dryness.

3rd to last pick.
Chocolate with Raspberry Black Pepper Glaze.
"Wheat-free chocolate donut with a raspberry balsamic and black pepper glaze."

This one I also did not like.

The donut was rather dry and just a boring chocolate base.  The frosting was sweet and tangy, and did taste like raspberry, but I didn't taste balsamic nor black pepper.  

I wouldn't get this again, and was glad I only cut off a tiny chunk.  4th to least favorite, with the flavorful glaze being the only interesting aspect.
Lemon Buttermilk.
"A wheat free buttermilk-lemon base tossed in confectioners sugar."

When I had this donut the first time, it was the first Dynamo donut I really liked, and I was surprised, given the gluten-free nature of it and the fact that it is lemon based, and I don't care for lemon generally.

I again liked it.  Just a cake donut, lightly lemon flavored, and coated in confectioner's sugar.  Really simple, but, well done.  And it continues to amaze me, because there is nothing about this that really screams out as something I'd like.

My second favorite.
Dynamo Donuts & Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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