Thursday, January 19, 2017

Johnny Doughnuts

Johnny Doughnuts has been on my radar for a while.  Because, well, I love donuts and always have my eye on places with good reviews.  I also semi-regularly have the need to provide donuts for my group at work for special occasions, and need to find places that can handle fairly large size orders, which, your average donut shop does not.

I had wanted to try Johnny Doughnuts many times, but, it was never a possibility.  For one, they are located in San Rafael, so, I never had a chance to just go myself in person to their shop,  But second, for delivery orders to San Francisco, they have a 2 dozen minimum, at $34 per dozen, plus a $50 delivery fee.  I haven't ever been able to arrange for this, as I just couldn't justify the higher costs compared to local options.

But finally, finally, we were able to order from Johnny Doughnuts for a team-wide all hands.  I was so excited to try them.  For that first order, we stuck with raised and old fashioned donuts (plus some fritters, because, um, my favorites), but Johnny Doughnuts also makes bismarks (filled with jams and custards), cro-doughs (croissant + donuts), cinnamon rolls and twists, and even vegan or gluten-free donuts, most of which I tried at subsequent events (keep reading!).

I still haven't visited the donut shop in San Rafael, but, it turns out they are opening one in San Francisco (in Hayes Valley), so, you can bet I'll check it out once they do.  They also proved great at handling catering orders (so we ordered from them for our next large team event too), and have multiple donut trucks that they can bring to your food truck party.  You'll find them at Off the Grid and other events around town too.

At both events I hosted with Johnny Doughnuts, the donuts were the best rated by the group, and, at this point, we have ordered donuts from a lot of places.  They blew trendy places like Dynamo out of the water.  They blew SF institutions like Bob's out of the water (stay tuned for review).  These are very good donuts, and I've never seen so many of my teammates go back for seconds.

The donuts are also huge.  On every single occasion we ordered them, most people immediately commented that they were too big.  And I'll admit, they kinda are.  I just saved part for later, knowing I'd want more, but most people took to hacking them up with knives to cut off reasonable size chunks.  This is one area where I do appreciate how Donut Savant makes the perfect size donuts, smaller than average, where these were much larger than average.  Even the donut holes were about 2x the size of normal!  But I'm not really complaining, who complains about too much donut?  And, obviously, if life gives you leftover donuts, waffle them the next morning (trust me).

Encounter #1, July 2016

We ordered several dozen assorted full size donuts, which included a mix of old fashioned, raised, and fritters.  Each box was different, and none were boring plain donuts.

We also ordered donut holes, to satisfy those who wanted a smaller treat.  The assortment was perfect.
Box #1: Dozen Assorted Donuts.  $34.00.
This box contained:
  • Old Fashioned: Maple Glazed, Chocolate Glazed, Vanilla Glazed, Chocolate Salted Caramel (1 each, back row and second row from back)
  • Raised: Blueberry, Classic Glazed, Sprinkly Guys (vanilla dipped with rainbow sprinkles). (1 each, middle rows)
  • Apple Fritters (2, second row) 
  • Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang (2, front row)
The raised donuts were good, the fritters were great, but, the old fashioned were absolutely insane.
Box #2: Dozen Assorted Donuts. $34.00.
The next box had a similar mix, but some differences:
  • Old Fashioned: Maple Glazed, Vanilla Glazed, Salted Caramel Chocolate (back row)
  • Raised: Classic Chocolate, Sprinkly Guys (chocolate dipped with sprinkles), Classic Glazed, Sugar Daddy, Lime Poppy Seed, Strawberry (middle rows).
  • Apple Fritter and Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang (1 each, front row)
We had several other boxes, all filled with similar mixes.  Combined, we received all varieties of raised donuts that they make other than the Zebra (glazed with chocolate drizzle) and all old fashioned except the plain non-glazed.

I really appreciated the thoughtful assortment.

Raised Donuts

So, let's start with the raised donuts.
"Our take on a “light and fluffy” doughnut. A Southern recipe dating back to the 1920’s, using fresh potato to the dough to give more of a bite.  The yeast in the recipe requires the dough to rise before being fried to give it that airy feel, hence the name – raised. Mix that unique dough with our unbelievably tasty homemade glazes and it’s a win-win every time."
These are available in 9 varieties, plus seasonal specialties:
  • Classic Glazed
  • Classic Chocolate
  • Lime Poppy Seed
  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry
  • Zebra (glazed with chocolate drizzle)
  • Sprinkly Guys (dipped in chocolate or vanilla and topped with sprinkles)
  • Sugar Daddy (rolled in sugar)
We had all but the Zebra.  They were all good, fluffy, raised donuts, massive in size.  The potato in the dough definitely gave them a little something extra.  The coatings were perfectly executed.

One co-worker had one of the dipped raised donuts, I forget which flavor, and said, "Well, I think that was honestly the best donut I've ever had!"  Victory!
Classic Glazed. $3.25.
I started with a classic glazed.  You can't judge the rest until you try a basic glazed donut, right?

It was a fine donut.  Very fluffy, massive.  Well coated in glaze on all sides.  Not too oily.  I think I sorta tasted the potato, not in a bad way though, just in a "hey, that dough has something a little more interesting about it" way, like if you ever have potato bread.  It was fresh tasting.  Not particularly earth shattering, but, unless it is hot and fresh out of the fryer, a classic glazed rarely is.
Sugar Daddy. $3.25.
On the basic side, I also tried the "Sugar Daddy", a sugar coated raised donut.  It was perfectly coated in sugar crystals, and tasty, but, sugar coated donuts always make me want them to be jelly filled (more on that soon).
Strawberry.
I also tried the strawberry iced.  Like all the iced options, it was perfectly dipped in strawberry frosting, and the icing was  thick.  The donut was the same as all the other raised donuts, fluffy, raised, massive, but the glaze was incredible.  It tasted like fresh strawberries.  It tasted like summer.  It wasn't a fake strawberry taste at all.  Just ripe, juicy, perfect berries at their peak.  Incredible how much flavor was captured in that glaze.

I also tried the blueberry, equally fruity.
Lime Poppy Seed. $3.25.
The lime poppy seed caught me by surprise as I thought it was vanilla bean (with specs of vanilla bean, not poppy seeds), so it caught me off guard when it was tangy.  If you like lime though, by all means, this was likely a great thing.
Sprinkly Guys (Vanilla Version). $3.25.
Next I moved on to one that looked far more fun: the Sprinkly Guys.  These are available in two versions, chocolate or vanilla, referring to the flavor of glaze they are coated in.  I picked vanilla.

The base was the same huge, yeasty, fluffy donut.

I adore sprinkles, so, this was right up my alley.  It was ridiculously generously coated in colorful rainbow sprinkles.  They added a bit of crunch and more sweetness.  The vanilla glaze was more appealing to me than the standard glaze from the classic, as it was sweeter and thicker.  My favorite of the toppings.

Overall, a fun donut, but VERY sweet.  I can't imagine eating a full one in one sitting without being on a ridiculous sugar high.  This would be better served as a donut hole in my opinion (and then, all sides could have sprinkles!)

Update: I had another, months later.  I didn't love it quite as much this time.  The vanilla glaze and sprinkles weren't as overwhelmingly sweet, and I tasted a lot more of the plain doughnut.  It was still a fine doughnut, but, it wasn't as magic for me as the first encounter.
Classic Chocolate Glazed.  $3.25.
I also grabbed a chocolate glazed for another co-worker.  I didn't try it, but, included the photo just to show you how well dipped it was in the chocolate.  It was pretty remarkable that the donuts didn't get messed up all in a box together, and transported all the way to us.

Donut Holes

Next up were the donut holes, ordered to accommodate those who just want "a little something."
"Our raised dough in easy-to-eat rounds of goodness. Available in Vanilla Glazed or Cinnamon Sugar."
We ordered a big box of vanilla glazed.
Vanilla Glazed Holes. $0.50/each.
When I think of donut holes, I think of Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins.  They were a big part of my formative years.  So, donut holes should be bite sized, in my mind.

But that is because the whole thing with donut holes is that they fill in the hole of the donut.  If the donut is ridiculously large, well, then the hole is ridiculous large, so, these holes were actually likely scaled accordingly.  They seemed about two times as big as any other donut hole I've encountered.

The donut holes were very similar to the full sized raised donuts.  Fluffy, well glazed.  The vanilla glaze was the same as what I had on the vanilla Sprinkly Guys.  These were actually a nice size for just wanting a donut, and not feeling overwhelmed.  The members of my group who had restraint actually just had one of these each, and said they were satisfied.

Old Fashioned

Johnny Doughnuts doesn't make basic cake donuts, but they make Old Fashioned, aka, non-yeasted cake donuts with jaggy edges.  As in, more interesting cake donuts.  At least, that is how I think of them.  They say:
"Combining recipes from the 1930’s we’ve come up with an Old Fashioned unlike any other. 
With seasonings like nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon in the dough - it’s no wonder these doughnuts are nicknamed The Life Changers. This cake-like doughnut has just enough crunch on the outside and moistness in the middle to truly make you wonder how you had ever gone without it."
Old Fashioned are available at Johnny Doughnuts in 5 varieties:
  • Classic (no glaze)
  • Vanilla Glazed
  • Maple Glazed
  • Salted Chocolate Caramel
  • Chocolate Maple Glazed
I was excited to see old fashioned donuts taken so seriously.  Often, old fashioned are only plain.  Why wouldn't you want the crunchy exterior of a old fashioned, plus the sweet deliciousness of glaze? Why do I need to pick?

Anyway, our assorted boxes had all but the plain ones.  The old fashioned turned out to be the best of our assortment.
Maple Glazed.  $3.25.
This was an incredible donut.  Let me just lead with that.  Like the raised donuts, it was also massive.

I'm not normally very excited about old fashioned donuts, so I took a chunk of one of these, just for purposes of reviewing really.  I was planning to gorge on fritters and raised donuts instead.  But, one bite into this, and I turned right back around and took more.

First, the texture was perfect.  Crunchy on the outside, dense and moist inside.  They also nailed the nooks and crannies and jaggy bits.

But that isn't what set this apart.  No, it was the flavor that set it apart.  The base dough was unlike anything I'd ever had before, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Which, honestly, doesn't seem appealing to me.  I thought it would just taste like Pumpkin Spice Season, Christmas, or something, trendy but not great.  But here, the spices were strong enough to taste, for sure, but subtle enough to not scream spice cake.  I was fascinated by the flavor, and really enjoyed it.

The maple glaze was also phenomenal.  Sweet, maple-y, and crusty in all the right ways.  The sweetness complimented the slightly savory base nicely.

This donut was an absolute winner.  Sweet crusty glaze, crispy but not oily fried exterior, moist, dense flavorful interior.  Hands down the best old fashioned donut I've ever had.  I'd get another in a heartbeat, and I'd love to try some of the other flavor glazes too.
Chocolate Salted Caramel. $3.25.
I loved the maple glazed so much that I was excited to try the chocolate salted caramel version.  It sounded like a winner, and the visible caramel made me quite excited.

Interesting, I didn't like this.  The chocolate and caramel just really didn't go with the base flavor, at least to me.

I'd love to try the classic vanilla glazed old fashioned too, but I think the maple is likely the winner.

Fritters

So, moving on.

Fritters tend to be my favorite donuts.  Does this surprise you in any way?  Take something already decadent, and make it even worse for you, and of course I'll want it.

Johnny Doughnuts makes a classic apple fritter, but they also make a blueberry caramel apple version (that I didn't get to try), and a "Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang", a gluten-free offering (although, they aren't a gluten-free facility, so, be careful if that matters to you).

Fritters are slightly more expensive than the regular donuts ($3.50 vs $3.25), and not included in the regular dozens, but, since I love fritters I asked that we order a few of those too.

The fritters were good, but, the old fashioned remained my favorite.
Blueberry Wheat-Free Fritter Thang. $3.50.
"The Fritter Thang is filled with chunks of fresh fruit, topped with vanilla glaze and heres the best part – it tastes like a doughnut should taste! With texture similar to our Old Fashioneds, this gem – a WHEAT FREE DOUGHNUT?! – is a rarity in the doughnut world, and loved by wheat-free and wheat-loving treatseekers alike."

I read many rave reviews about this, from gluten-free and non-gluten free folks.  It was actually the first thing I went for when our donuts arrived.  It was certainly the most unique.  It was also my least favorite.

It was a crazy looking thing, jagged and all over the place.  One of my co-workers said it looked like a chunk of coral.  It was coated in a thick layer of the tasty vanilla glaze.  I did like the crispy "legs" and the sweet glaze, but, I didn't really like the base flavor of the dough.  It tasted kinda like whole wheat to me (which is amusing given that it was wheat free).  Sorta too "healthy" tasting for me.  Inside the folds were juicy blueberries, a totally different sort of thing to put into a donut than the standard apple chunks.

My co-worker who really liked it said it was like a cross between a blueberry muffin and a fritter, which was a great description.  There is no reason not to combine these things, and I don't know why fritters are always apple.  Blueberries are better, and blueberry muffins are so standard, so, why not blueberries in donuts?

Anyway, I appreciated this for its uniqueness, but I wasn't really sold on the wheat-free base.  I would have happily consumed it, but, luckily, we had many other choices around, and I passed this off to someone else after I cut off a big chunk.
Apple Fritter. $3.50.
"Caramelized apple chunks folded into our raised dough in this rustic fritter."

And finally, the classic fritter.  The donut I always describe as "the king of donuts".  In a box of donuts, unless I'm in a really strange mood, it is the one I nearly always go for.

This was a very good, totally classic execution of a fritter.  It had plentiful chunks of soft, sweet apple, caramelized and nicely spiced.  The care put into the apple was unlike most fritters, as I don't think they are normally caramelized and spiced like this.  It was crazy moist inside, yet crispy outside.  It was a bit oily, but, that is true of most fritters.  It was big and dense, like a big ol' fritter should be.  While the other donuts all seemed super sized, this one seemed normal, but, that is because fritters are always freakishly huge.  It was perfectly coated in plenty of sweet glaze.

There was nothing unexpected here, but every aspect of it was spot on.  A very good fritter.  I'd gladly have another.

Encounter #2, October 2016

My office can be a wonderful place.  Like, when I get in on a Friday morning and there is an e-mail saying, "Whoops, we mis-ordered donuts, and have several extra dozen donuts today, from Johnny Donuts.  Come and get them."  Let's just say, I went running.

This group also ordered an assortment, including many of the raised and old fashioned donuts I had before, but also, they had a few new items: cinnamon rolls, cinnamon twists, and bismarks!

I was thrilled to get to try more items, but, my favorite this time around was the super sweet vanilla iced Sprinkly Guys.  I think I was just in a sweet mood.

Cinnamon

"Cinnamon lovers rejoice!  With cinnamon wrapped, rolled and twisted into the abyss of this specialty raised dough, you’ll get the perfect cinnamon flavor in every bite. Not to mention, with their twists and turns they are really like doughnut art."
Cinnamon creations are available in 4 varieties: vanilla glazed or chocolate maple glazed cinnamon rolls, or cinnamon sugar or glazed cinnamon twists.
Vanilla Glazed Cinnamon Roll.
I opted to try a vanilla glazed cinnamon roll.  Like all the donuts, these were massive.

The cinnamon roll itself was fairly unremarkable, just in that it didn't break the mold in quite the same way as some of the other Johnny Doughnuts do.  The dough was moist, there was ample cinnamon between the folds, and it was good, and I liked the sweet vanilla glaze, slightly crusty, but not in a bad way.  But overall, it was just a good donut-style cinnamon roll, not a game changer.

Bismarks

And finally ... the ones I had been waiting for: bismarks!
"What is a bismark you say? To put it simply, they are the Holy Grail of filled doughnuts. With homemade jams and custards oozing out of them, they are what we call ‘serious doughnuts.’ We suggest having a napkin and a friend nearby, because you will feel compelled to share these beauties with the rest of the world."
Bismarks are available with fruit fillings (wild berry jam, strawberry peach jam, raspberry jam) or custards (lime mascarpone, chocolate glazed with vanilla cream).
Wild Berry Jam .
The fruit filled bismarks are all coated in sugar.

The dough was the same nice yeasty dough as the other raised donuts, as expected.
Wild Berry Jam: inside.
The filling was quite generous, no skimping here.  It was a sweet berry goo.  I have no real reason why, but I didn't like it.  It was just ... berry goo.

I had kinda over-done it with donuts by the time I tried this one though, so I think this was my own fault.  I'd like to try it again when I wasn't overwhelmed with donuts.

Encounter #3, November 2016

Another month, another donut party.  We again ordered dozens.
Dozen and dozens of donuts.
This time the person making the order went more traditional, picking 2 raised (classic glazed and sugar daddy), 2 old fashioned (maple glazed and chocolate salted caramel), and 2 bismarks (wild berry jam and lime mascarpone), rather than the assortments, ordering by the dozen each.

Over the course of the day, I tried almost all of the donuts.
Sugar Daddy Raised Dozen.
The raised donuts were as I remembered - large, puffy, fluffy, moist, not oily, decent raised donuts.  The sugar daddy and classic glazed were perhaps boring choices, but likely the crowd pleasers.  They are classics for a reason.

Of the raised donuts though, I still prefer the sprinkly guys, as I'm a sucker for icing and sprinkles.
Lime Mascarpone Bismark, Dozen.
I wasn't into the wild berry bismark before, so this time I tried the lime mascarpone.  I was excited for a cream filled donut, and for mascarpone in particular, but, I don't care for lime, so I was a bit hesitant.

And ... yeah, while the donut itself was the expected fluffy raised donut, the lime mascarpone was too eggy and limey for my taste.
Maple Glazed Old Fashioned Dozen.
The maple glazed old fashioned remained my absolute favorite, and I managed to consume an entire one in one sitting, which, if you saw how big these were, you would realize actually is a bit of an accomplishment.

I just love the texture of the cake donut inside, and the spicing that makes it taste almost hearty or even healthy.  The slightly crispy exterior is great too, and the insanely generous amount of very sweet, crusty, maple glaze is to die for.  The glaze is very sweet, but the base donut isn't, so it just combines perfectly.

I tried the chocolate salted caramel old fashioned again too, to give it another chance, and this time, I tried it first, before I had any possible donut fatigue.  But ... yeah, I didn't like it, that flavor combination just does't work for me.

Encounter #4, December 2016: The Truck!

One very chilly day in December, I was walking down the street, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but ... a Johnny Doughnut truck.  I was excited to see it in person, but it was closed up, and not open for business.  I assume it was just out doing deliveries, ducked into a store to check out a sale rack, and didn't give it another though (ok, that's a lie, I did wonder who the lucky recipient of the donuts was).  To my amazement, when I emerged from the store a mere 10 minutes later, the truck was set up and opening for business.  The better part?  Um, they were giving free donuts to customers of the store I had just left.  My morning was suddenly looking *much* better!
"The Newb"
Johnny Doughnuts actually has 3 different trucks, "The Original", a serious truck used for large events like Off the Grid, "The Butler", a van with an amazing doughnut display bolted on the outside, and, "The Newb", which is the one I encountered.
Doughnut Display.
As you can see, the side of the truck raises up to form an awning, and behind it, a doughnut display!  This truck has some serious curb appeal.

The window revealed an assortment of raised doughnuts (Lime Poppy Seed, Zebra, Strawberry, Blueberry, Classic Glazed, both types of Sprinkly Guys, and Classic Chocolate), plus the Wheat-Free Fritter Thangs and Crodoughs (my first sighting!).

Not pictured here, because he was still doing it after I took the photo, is the names of all the doughnuts, written onto the glass.
Ordering Area.
The ordering window next to the display had another display, with even more options: Assorted Old Fashioned (classic glazed, salted caramel chocolate), Caramel Apple Fritters, Maple Glazed Bars, Bismarks (Wild Berry Jam, Lime Mascarpone, and a seasonally decorated Chocolate Vanilla Cream., and Cinnamon Rolls.

Crodough

When I encountered the truck, I had already tried nearly every doughnut they had on board.  I knew the raised doughnuts were solid, as were the fritters and cinnamon rolls, but that I really liked the Old Fashioned.  I knew the bismarks and fritter thangs were my least favorites.  But I also hadn't tried the crodough.  I didn't really have a choice, did I?

For the unfamiliar, the crodough is Johnny Doughnut's version of a Cronut, the trademarked famed croissant + doughnut hybrid of 2013 fame.  In the past 3 years, these sorts of items have been popping up everywhere, including the last place I ordered team donuts from, Donut Savant, where the cronut didn't impress, and even across the world in Sydney, where I had an ok version at B├ęcasse, and even at Dunkin' Donuts, where, yes, it is just as mediocre as you'd expect.

Johnny Doughnuts describes theirs as:
"This flaky piece of heaven! Our Crodough has laminated layers, just like a croissant. We let these unique doughnut-wanna-bes rise before gently placing them into the frier to become the doughnuts they so desperately want to be. Sometimes rolled in Cinnamon Sugar, or perhaps topped with Chocolate glaze, we make sure the custard is filled through every. Single. Layer."
I was very curious to see how a doughnut-croissant hybrid from a good place would be.  Spoiler: amazing, and my favorite Johnny Doughnut item so far (and it really isn't just because it is a hyped item, believe me, I've had a lot of mediocre cronuts!)
Cinnamon-Sugar Crodough.  $3.50.
Like all the Johnny Doughnuts, this thing was not for wimps.  While the other doughnuts are all massive in their diameter, this one is massive in its height!  Look at the thing!

It was absolutely coated in cinnamon and sugar, and the coating went perfectly with the crispy fried dough exterior.  I loved how it was slightly crisp on the outside from being fried.

It was a bit hard to just bite into as it was so tall, but I didn't mind ripping (and later, once I slowed down a bit, cutting) it into pieces.
Cinnamon-Sugar Crodough: Inside.
But the crodough isn't just a well fried hunk of doughnut dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  It was remarkable just in that way, like any good fried dough from a state fair, or a churro on the street, but this had more to give.

The dough was layered like a croissant, but, not flaky like one, as it is fried rather than baked.  It was dense, slightly sweet, and I liked the taste and texture of this dough more than the regular doughnuts event.

But it still had more to go.  Inside, was custard filling, a decent amount, all along the middle layer.  The cream distribution was pretty good, although you can see in this cross-section that the left-hand side didn't have any cream in this part.  The pastry cream inside was rich, creamy, vanilla custard, tasty on its own, and likely the same filling that goes into the chocolate glazed vanilla cream filled bismarks.

This was a winner all around.  I liked the crispy exterior and the dense interior.  I loved the cinnamon sugar coating.  The cream filling was quality.  If you like churros, state fair fried dough, boston cream doughnuts, or really, just tasty fried things, sugar, and cream, go for one of these, highly recommended.
Johnny Doughnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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