A few weeks ago, a friend and I were discussing a certain gourmet doughnut shop. “It’s not that their doughnuts are bad,” I said. “They’re just not...” My voice trailed off.
He nodded. “The doughnuts I like best from there are the simplest ones,” he said. “The blue-collar doughnuts.”
That’s when it clicked and I realized exactly why I’ve been disappointed, time and time again, by Instagrammable doughnuts bedecked with breakfast cereal and cookie dough: My childhood introduction to breakfast pastries was a box of assorted Hostess cake doughnuts from what my grandpa referred to as the “bread thrift store.” My sister would eat the powdered sugar ones, I got the crunch, and we split our favorites, the ones coated with a waxy chocolate icing.
My allegiance ultimately switched to raised glazed after a fateful visit to Krispy Kreme, but my taste in doughnuts is still decidedly blue-collar. I like doughnuts that are meant to be downed with a cup of black coffee on a 15-minute break, cheap enough that my retired steelworker grandpa wouldn’t wince at the price of a dozen.
Could I find such doughnuts in the Twin Cities in 2019, during the age of artisanal pastries? I decided to find out. I compiled a list of bakeries based on recommendations from carbohydrate-obsessed friends, and then I ate an undisclosed number of doughnuts in the name of journalistic research. To ensure an even playing field, I ordered a raised glazed doughnut at each bakery, as well as a cake or old-fashioned.
After racking up over 100 miles crisscrossing the Twin Cities, here are my favorite blue-collar doughnuts, for brightening up your work day with a flurry of sprinkles or a simple raised glaze.
Stellar cake doughnuts: Sarah Jane’s Bakery
The glass cases at Sarah Jane’s Bakery read like an encyclopedia of classic baked goods: danishes and bars, turnovers and muffins, cookies and cupcakes and doughnuts, of course. Orderly rows of raised and cake doughnuts with chocolate stripes and coconut, bismarcks bursting with raspberry jam, and filled doughnuts shaped like the state of Minnesota.
My raised glazed doughnut ($1.15) was good, with a lofty chew and rich yeasty flavor. But the chocolate-frosted cake doughnut with sprinkles ($1.15) was the best rendition of a cake doughnut I came across. The frosting has a rich cocoa flavor, and the doughnut itself manages to be both light in texture and substantial enough to get you through the rest of your morning. 2853 Johnson St. NE, Minneapolis; 612-789-2827; sarahjanesbakery.com
Amazing raised doughnuts: SugaRush Bakery
Tucked into a small storefront on University, SugaRush Bakery seems more focused on its thriving wholesale business than on the ambiance of its seating area, where stacks of bakery trays and buckets of glaze share space with a four-top and a few well-worn chairs.
But don’t let the no-frills surroundings dissuade you. The raised glazed doughnut ($1.35) was the best version of the many I sampled, with an extra-puffy texture reminiscent of fry bread. That created an ideal doughnut-to-glaze ratio, as a doughy interior perfectly balanced the delicate coating of sugar.
Are you the sort of person whose favorite part of a loaf of bread is the crust? Go for the old-fashioned ($1.35)—especially the chocolate-glazed version, with thick globs of sugary goodness pooled in the nooks and crannies of the doughnut’s delightfully crunchy exterior. 712 University Ave. W., St. Paul; 651-797-3354; sugarushdonuts.com
A touch of whimsy: Mel-O-Glaze Bakery
Stepping into Mel-O-Glaze Bakery is like diving into a box of crayons. The walls are painted vibrant shades of pink, red, and yellow, and the case of doughnuts is a delightful jumble of rainbow sprinkles, pink icing, and M&Ms. The staffer behind the counter ordered me to eat a lemon doughnut hole from the freebie plate as soon as I walked through the door, and things only got better from there.
My raised glazed doughnut ($1) was denser and chewier than the typical raised pastry, which gave it a heartiness I appreciated. However, that didn’t keep me from eating my way through a behemoth of a cherry cake doughnut that had been glazed, dipped in chocolate, and doused with sprinkles ($2.50). As you may suspect, this was not a subtle pastry—it had a bright pink interior and tasted like jamming your mouth full of maraschino cherries. Sure, it’s a bit much, but in a heartfelt, exuberant way that reminds you of your favorite aunt. 4800 28th Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-729-9316; meloglazebakery.com
For nostalgia: Hans’ Bakery
Hans’ Bakery is a reboot of a beloved Anoka landmark founded by German immigrants Hans and Traudy Birkner back in 1973, and uses many of the original bakery’s recipes. The packed pastry case looks like a blast from the past thanks to trays upon trays of basic cake, old-fashioned, and raised doughnuts, with the occasional maple bacon long john and plate-sized Texas doughnut thrown in.
The raised glazed doughnut ($1.50) had a soothing Wonderbread-like texture and an impressive girth my frugal nature appreciated. The chocolate icing on my cake doughnut ($1.25) didn’t have much of a cocoa flavor, although it served as a fine adhesive for the sprinkles. Despite a pleasantly fluffy texture, I’d written “Good but not memorable” in my notes leaving Hans’... and then the unexpected happened.
As I drove out of the parking lot, the memories came crashing back: doughnuts in church basements after Mass. Doughnuts at my grandparents’ kitchen table. Doughnuts at elementary school birthday parties with tiny cartons of milk.
That’s what the ideal doughnut is to me: a chance to revisit a time in my life when total bliss came in the form of sprinkles and chocolate icing. Does that mean I want to give up on adulthood and regress to my youth? Of course not. But I’ll always relish the delectable simplicity of a blue-collar doughnut. 1423 Fifth Ave., Anoka and 10400 Baltimore St. NE, Blaine; 763-421-4200; hans-bakery.com