It’s a fool’s errand trying to select the best type of doughnut, so instead, let’s land on the best 13, fittingly a baker’s dozen. On any given day and at any given doughnut shop, any style can be the best or the worst with variables beginning with ingredients, then freshness but must also take into account size, appearance/aesthetics, value, and quite simply what kind of mood you’re in.
Doughnuts are not all round with a hole in the middle. Many are yeasted, but cake doughnuts beg the question, should they be called batternuts since they’re not made from dough? From bars to Bismarks, fritters to “donut holes”—and that’s even before we tackle oliebollen, frybread, zeppole, pączki, and loukoumades—it stands to reason that one of America’s favorite treats boasts plenty of diversity.
Americans eat over ten billion doughnuts a year, meaning the average person eats over 30 annually. From veering your car toward the illuminated “Hot Now” neon sign at Krispy Kreme, to the late-night grease traps in mini malls, to the bougie morsels designed (and priced) for Instagram influencers, there’s a doughnut out there for every budget, mood, and palate. Here is the unquestionable, indisputable, irrefutable countdown of the 13 best doughnuts out there.
13. Pink Frosted with Sprinkles
If there’s a singular image or visual cue for doughnuts, it’s a pink circle with multicolored hyphens scattered about its surface. Most doughnuts don’t have artificial strawberry icing and rainbow sprinkles, but that combo in any form, from a canvas to, say, pairs of boxers or novelty socks always connotes the Platonic ideal of doughnuts. And of course, a healthy dose of the blame must be placed on one of the doughnut’s most notorious spokesmodels, Homer Simpson. “Mmmm... doughnuts.”
12. Cinnamon Powdered Sugar
Somewhere between ironic and oxymoronic lies the cake doughnut coated in cinnamon powdered sugar. It’s a magic carpet ride of nostalgia, evoking convenience store or vending-machine-dispensed “Popettes,” but also stirs mature arousals due to cinnamon’s aphrodisiacal qualities. If you catch yourself thinking it’s been forever since you’ve had one, what else haven’t you had the pleasure of enjoying in ages?
11. French Cruller
It’s become conventional for cosmopolitan doughnutiers to gild their lilies with photogenic toppings like candied lilacs or brûléed marshmallows, but the cruller is made ornate by the body itself. A spiral appearance, a soufflé-like texture. It’s the only type of doughnut featured at famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Daily Provisions, where it’s adorned in either cinnamon sugar, maple icing, or a flavor du jour. The cruller is common enough for cops, pretty enough for pinky-ups.
10. Apple Cider Doughnut
Beyond the allure of sweet baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg intermingling with the distinct tang of apple cider, this autumnal snack is one of the few varieties you’re expected to eat in multiples. Plus there’s just something so rustic and charming about the idea of a bunch of doughnuts that are more frequently made at an apple orchard or cider mill than a traditional shop. This small cake doughnut comes fried or baked and deserves to make fall foliage Vermont’s second most popular attraction.
9. Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake
Ordinarily, a chocolate version of any dessert is the best, from cake to ice cream. The doughnut world isn’t necessarily as reliant on cocoa to make its offerings rich and indulgent, but for true chocoholics, there’s no better bite than a sweet, moist ring of devil’s food cake, frosted with chocolate, and topped with chocolate sprinkles or, better yet, chocolate chips.
Another regional delicacy that’s obscure enough to warrant visible question marks above some people’s heads and quotidian enough to be found at many a café and bakery—if you’re lucky enough to live in New Orleans, that is. As part of the city’s melting pot of culinary delights, this gift descended from the French and French Acadians (i.e. Cajuns), despite being unrecognizable to French tourists.
The beignet (pronounced ben-yay) is light and airy, a veritable micro-pillow of peanut-oil-fried dough that somehow bears the weight of a massive amount of powdered sugar sprinkled (shoveled?) over it. It’s no coincidence that it’s the best way to fend off Bourbon Street hangovers, and it dunks smashingly in a cup of café au lait.
7. Buckeye/Peanut Butter Pocket
Ohioans know a Buckeye chiefly as the Ohio State University mascot and secondarily as a ball of peanut butter (or peanut butter fudge) enrobed in chocolate. It isn’t completely covered in chocolate, so as to imitate the appearance of the buckeye nut from the official state buckeye tree. Enterprising doughnutiers have turned it into a doughnut filled with peanut butter and frosted with chocolate (except for the center so as to resemble the famous candy). If any regional doughnut deserves to go national, it’s this one.
6. Jelly Doughnut
There’s a reason the McKenzie Brothers, when offering up the last doughnut to bribe the receptionist in Strange Brew, proclaim, “It’s a jelly!”
Jelly doughnuts are an extra special version of doughnut. It’s like, how can you take something that’d be perfect on its own then make it more special? You inject it full of preserved fruit. Strawberry and raspberry are the most popular varietals, but take it from me: the bright, citrusy pop of lemon jelly and its visual burst of sunshiny yellow make it the Cinderella of jellies. Always go for the lemon.
5. Maple-Bacon Bar
It’s hard to say at what point this became a staple, but suffice to say it’s become de rigueur for doughnut shops to offer something that features smoky, salty bacon and sweet maple syrup. Most often it’s found as a longjohn, which can showcase the strips of bacon lengthwise. Not only does it playfully interact with the mythical sweet, salty, and umami sections of your tongue, it’s packed with protein so you can trick yourself into thinking it’s part of a nutritious, balanced breakfast.
4. Boston Cream
Given that a Boston Cream “Pie” is actually a cake, kudos to doughnut makers for stealing it back to turn it into a doughnut. And kudos to Bostonians for sharing this doughnut with the rest of us. The trinity of spongy pastry, decadent chocolate ganache, and velvety custard could easily be the answer to the question, “If you could only eat one type of doughnut for the rest of your life what would it be?”
Some bakeries take shortcuts, like using regular chocolate frosting or piping in Bavarian or whipped cream, but the fact that even those half-hearted ones taste divine is a testament to this doughnut’s greatness.
3. Buttermilk Bar
This may seem like a dark horse to make this list, let alone make the podium, especially since there are pockets of this country that don’t even offer them. But a buttermilk bar is the augmented version of an old fashioned. It’s ameliorated both by the use of buttermilk in the cake batter in lieu of regular milk (there’s a reason pancakes are made with buttermilk!) and by its brick shape instead of a craggy ring. When your doughnut is this good, you want more of it.
Pro tip: Nuke it for 20 seconds and serve with coffee or hot cocoa.
Second pro tip: If the shop offers buttermilk bars in blueberry or banana, get both.
Final pro tip: Do not fall for maple glazed buttermilk bars, as the maple sweetness oddly doesn’t gibe well with the overall sweetness of the cake.
2. Glazed Yeast Round
In a perfect world, the plain cake doughnut would be the standard-bearer of these hole-y confections, but whereas the beauty of the plain cake lies in its ability to complement a cup of coffee by being dunked in it, the glazed doughnut is essentially the vanilla ice cream of every corner bakery. And like vanilla ice cream, it’s the best-selling variety. Whether you deem the vanilla glazed doughnut boring or perfect in its simplicity, the people have spoken.
1. Apple Fritter
Wanna know why the apple fritter is the best doughnut there is? Ask doughnut makers which singular doughnut best represents their shop and they’re more than likely to point to the tray of fritters. It’s the feather in any self-respecting doughnut maker’s cap. Whereas virtually any doughnut will elicit some measure of excitement in the customer, extend to them an apple fritter and their pupils widen to the size of the craggy, chunky doughnut itself. Often prepared double the size of other doughnuts, the fritter enables those with a sweet tooth the gluttonous dismissal of having eaten “just one” doughnut.