Review: Holy Donut

Holy potatoes! Yep, spuds are the not-so-secret ingredient in these doughnuts
By BRIAN DUFF  |  May 9, 2012

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GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES The Holy Donut’s doughnuts look — and taste — divine.

All cuisines rely on the experience of regression for their deepest appeal. Only by recapturing, to some extent, the barely human experiences of childhood can we lend depth of feeling and profound meaning to the maxillary activities of chewing and swallowing foodstuffs. See, for example, the climatic scene of the film Ratatouille, where a bite of the titular dish hurls Anton Ego back to boyhood meals in his mother's rustic kitchen.

The doughnut can take us significantly further back. Fluffy, sugary, and (especially when still warm) melting in texture — a good doughnut can trigger childhood pleasure centers with a directness that borders on the chemical. This is especially true of the classic raised doughnut, which forms the backbone of traditional New England doughnut culture. As they say in some Maine towns, "make it raised and glazed, or don't bother."

The new Holy Donut shop in Portland toys with tradition in three ways: they serve cake doughnut and not raised, they make liberal use of an unusual ingredient (potato), and they offer doughnuts in some creative flavors. In short, these doughnuts are pretty grown up.

It's risky, but it pays off. The potato in the dough sounds like the most radical departure from tradition, but in fact the difference is subtle. Dryness is the number-one sin of the cake doughnut, and the potato dough lends a texture that is moist and dense but not heavy. While some doughnuts are explicitly labeled "potato," it seems that some of the tuber makes it into most or all of the doughnuts. We tried a dozen varieties, and there was not a dry one in the bunch.

The flavors of the doughnuts are a more notable departure. Rather than wash in sugars, you can actually detect upon your palate more sophisticated ingredients. This is especially notable in the several varieties of dark chocolate doughnut. The chocolate has real cocoa flavor, and this allows the cake to better complement the sweetness of a vanilla glaze or sugar, or a sweet peanut butter glaze. A version with a bit of sea salt enhances the rich chocolate even further. A coffee brandy doughnut also seems adult — with a genuine aroma of beans, and subtler notes of the liquor. In general the frostings kept a creamy ganache texture, rather than becoming hard.

The whole experience sort of pulls you one step out of the traditional simple experience of eating doughnuts, and it's pretty pleasant out there. They manage to make their unusual flavors distinct, but subtle enough that the doughnut never turns into a sugary cartoon of the flavor it is supposed to represent. A sweet potato ginger had a sort of ambiguous spiciness, and the pomegranate a pleasant tang of fruit. The pistachio has plenty of nuts (allergic types, you've been warned). Only the lemon disappointed a bit — seeming a bit candied rather than genuinely sour.

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