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Who doesn’t love a good donut? Some are deep-fried rings topped with sugary but delicious toppings like jimmies and icing. Some are filled with jams and custards. Sounds amazing, and now I need to have a warm apple-filled donut in hand. Sounds delicious!
Donuts — or doughnuts, as they may be formally spelled — have a long history. They were introduced to America by the Dutch. They came to Manhattan, which was still New Amsterdam then, under the name of "olykoeks," which means "oily cakes."
In the mid-19th century, Elizabeth Gregory, a New England ship captain's mother, made deep-fried dough using her son's spice cargo of nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon rind. Her son Hanson, who was born in Rockport and crew could store the donuts for long voyages. Hanson is credited with putting the hole in the donut.
We thought it would be interesting to see how today's version fared in a kind of donut showdown. Mainebiz staffers participated in a blind taste test of donuts from five shops in the Portland area.
Each judge ranked the donut samplings in order of preference, giving a rank of No. 1 to his or her favorite while the least-fave ranked No. 5. All donuts were purchased that morning or on the previous afternoon. The selection of donuts was made by the shops' employees, based on the most popular varieties.
After the donut samples were assigned random numbers to conceal their identities, pastries went to our panel of taste testers: Peter Van Allen, Will Hall, Renee Cordes, Ken Hanson, Allison Spies and Alison Nason.
“There are some real winners and a few losers in this mix,” said Hall.
The results might surprise you.
Taking the No.1 spot for the best donut in the area was HiFi Donuts, at 30 City Center in Portland. Our testers gave it an average score of 1.83 on the scale of 1 to 5. We averaged out the six scores to determine the ranking.
The taste testers found the donuts to be perfectly soft, fresh and just the right amount of sweet. The bakery had a variety of donuts to choose from, and the taste testers tried the French Crueller, the Churro, Simpsons, Portland Fog, Salted Chocolate Crueller and the Hibiscus Salted Chocolate. Out of all of the donuts, the French Crueller and the Salted Chocolate Crueller were everyone’s favorite.
“A nice variety of flavors and colors, very pretty pastries,” said Cordes. “The chocolate doughnut was delicate; the frosting was nice, soft and chewy. I am normally not a chocolate doughnut person, but I liked this one.”
Coming in second was the Cookie Jar at 554 Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth. It received an average score of 2.33.
The testers tried the Chocolate Coconut, Red Velvet, Traditional Glazed and Blueberry Glazed. Out of all four donuts, the group highly recommended the classic Glazed donut. The taste testers said it was fluffy and soft. Another top contender was the Chocolate Coconut, which Hall said was perfect and had a lot of coconut.
“The blueberry glazed was soft inside and not too dry and the glaze wasn’t too sweet, “ said Spies.
“Very good, maybe a bit too firm of a cake though,” said Hanson.
The third spot was Eighty 8 Donuts, at 225 Federal St. in Portland, which received an average score of 3.
The donuts were warm and perfect if you are trying to satisfy that doughnut craving. The downside is that they are small and only served by the six-pack (per flavor), leading us to try only two flavors instead of a variety. The flavors we tried were the Maple Glazed and the Cinnamon Sugar. But, out of all the donuts these two were the first to go.
“Very fluffy,” said Cordes. “The glazed one was delicate and pillowy soft.”
The well-known Maine potato donut from Holy Donut, at 177 Commercial St. in Portland, received an average score of 3.16.
The two donuts chosen to taste test were their popular summer flavors, including the Blueberry Holy Cannoli and the popular Honey Lavender donut. The taste testers found the donuts to be dry and too sweet. If they had to rank their favorite, it would've been the Blueberry Holy Cannoli. But our testers found the Honey Lavender to be a no-go.
“The cream cheese-topped donut was just delicious and had the right balance of fluff and moisture,” said Nason.
“The purple frosting is sweet heaven on a plate,” said Cordes. “It was a bit dry on the interior.”
Coming in at No.5 is Tony’s Donut Shop at 9 Bolton St. in Portland. The shop received an average score of 4.16.
The donuts that were recommended to try were their popular Maple, Glazed and Blueberry Jelly. The taste testers found the doughnuts to be fairly dry but the blueberry jelly was everyone's favorite.
“Great jelly doughnut but the jelly was the highlight. The dough was a bit dry,” said Van Allen.
We couldn’t try every local contender, so here's a list of other shops where you can conduct your own doughnut tour.
Congdon's Doughnuts, at 1090 Post Road in Wells, has been making its signature pastry as well as breakfast since 1955. If you are in the mood for doughnuts, pastries, doughnut holes, whoopie pies, breakfast bowls and breakfast sandwiches, this place is a go-to. There are also gluten-free options. The shop is open daily except Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., but be sure to get there early because inventory runs out fast.
The Donut Hole, at 4 Pierce Drive in Buxton, has nearly every flavor of doughnut you can imagine. The shop's motto is “the way donuts should be,” and even connoisseurs may be challenged by all the choices. Flavors include Apple-Filled, Blueberry, Bavarian Creme, Maple Bacon Frosted, Gingerbread and many more.
Frosty's Donuts, at 54 Maine St. in Brunswick, has been serving up coffee and doughnuts since 1965. The menu consists of cake donuts, raised donuts, bagels and drinks. According to a Mainebiz staff member, Frosty’s Glazed beats all others. Frosty’s is open Friday to Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lovebirds Donuts, at 450 U.S. Route 1 in Kittery, specializes in the slow-raised yeast variety. This process gives the doughnuts a complex depth of flavor. There are also cake doughnuts in changing flavors, as well as swanky donuts, classic doughnuts, big doughnuts and gluten-free ones. Lovebirds is open Thursday through Monday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Village Donut Shop & Bakery, at 1246 Roosevelt Trail in Raymond, has everything when it comes to morning pastries, including donuts, muffins, scones, fruit pies and coffee. The bakery is open all week from 5 a.m. to noon.
And last but certainly not least is the classic and well-known Dunkin, which has 163 locations in Maine. The chain serves up its signature breakfast items, a variety of donuts, holes and many coffee drinks.
Be on the lookout for these donut shops' fall flavors like pumpkin, apple cider and more.
Stay tuned for more Mainebiz taste tests; where and what should we try next time? The Mainebiz Food Insider wants to know! Contact Alexis Wells at email@example.com.