Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Flour Vanilla Doughnut

I have a friend in Pennsylvania* who bakes beautifully and does so every day. She runs an inn and serves memorable hot breakfasts, accompanied by two kinds of homemade bread and something sweet: muffins, popovers, coffee cake.... In the afternoon, she keeps a cookie jar filled for her guests, too.

Yesterday, she emailed out of the blue to ask if I tried the vanilla cream doughnuts at the new Flour Bakery on Clarendon, because she's trying out Joanne Chang's recipe and wishes she could visit one of the bakeries in person. She told me to "feel free" to review it here whenever it was convenient.

I leaped into action with my typical speed; it took me 24 hours to go over there. And it was a good thing, too, because Flour only sells doughnuts on Sunday. (What's the matter with doughnuts on weekdays? Such a Puritanical attitude— and those often appeal to me, being a Proper Bostonian. But not when sugar is involved!) 

I'd already been contemplating a visit to Flour this weekend, since I was home alone and in need of a treat. I love it when friends read my mind and ask me for favors, especially when the favor is sitting at the tippy-top of the Food Pyramid.

I spent some of Saturday wondering how my friend in PA even knew about Flour, and searching online for the answer because that's what I do. I learned that the cookbook is #23 on Amazon's Bestsellers in Baking list. So Flour is nationally known and deservedly so, but I still didn't understand how she knew there was a new Flour in my neighborhood since she lives 350 miles away and plenty of Bostonians don't know about it. I know my friend skims this blog once in a while but I never mentioned it. Every branch of Flour is a zoo whenever I go, with a long line and nowhere to sit. So I keep quiet about Flour in self defense.

I dutifully trotted to Clarendon Street today and discovered that zillions of people know it's there, where the Hard Rock Café was. It's not my fault. I found the back of the line, far away from the bakery display. You spend your time in line trying to figure out what you want, not knowing if it will be gone by the time you get there.

I snagged the last vanilla cream-filled doughnut. It wasn't easy. "That one?" asked my bubbly server. "Yes," I said. "The last one?" she asked. Was she imagining I'd say, "Oh, gee, I don't want to deprive someone else, so I'll take a raspberry?" "Yes!" I said again, emphatically. "I'm not sure I can reach it!" she exclaimed. It was in the very front of the display. I was about to go for it myself when she moved a cake stand and grabbed it.

I carried it all over the South End. I had to go to Formaggio because I needed more Robiola a Due Latte, a soft, stinky, $15 cheese that's so mild you can eat the rind without incident. Forget Brie, this is what you really want. I probably shouldn't have told you, because Formaggio is a zoo, too. The next time I go, they'll probably be out of Robiola. And the Robiola at Foodie's is $22. I can't figure that out, either.

Anyway, I came home and greeted my husband, who had just flown in from Philadelphia (he has friends in Pennsylvania). I told him I'd bought a huge doughnut, and then I cut it carefully in half. Then I ate both halves. I was the one charged with reviewing the doughnut; he hadn't been mentioned. And he'd bought a giant Starbucks' white chocolate mocha somewhere between Logan and here, so he wasn't deprived.

It was a very good doughnut, but not what I expected. Before you get the wrong impression, I should say that I was not expecting a Dunkin Donuts experience, and it didn't taste anything like Dunkin Donuts, so that's not what I mean. But a lot of New Englanders use Dunkin Donuts as their doughnut aesthetic baseline, which is a shame. There are plenty of excellent doughnut shops around Boston, as will show you every other week. But there still aren't nearly enough — because of Dunkin Donuts. I like Ohlin's in Belmont, and Lyndell's, of course. (Long ago, when Krispy Kreme's northernmost outpost was Penn Station, I used to race off the train (traveling Boston–Philly, or vice-versa), run upstairs, buy a bag, and fling myself back on the train as the doors were closing. Those Krispy Kremes never saw New England. But when they starting selling doughnuts up here, I tried a hundred or so and decided they were cloyingly sweet.)

But I digress. Back to the doughnut in hand. I think of doughnuts as light and airy. Even cake and cider doughnuts should be light and fluffy, so you have room for more than one. The Flour doughnut is heavier, with a chewy, bread-like texture. Look at the photo above to see how dense it is. It was delicious, but it didn't taste doughnutty. Even fritters are lighter.

I was initially disappointed when I saw how little cream there was inside. Usually, a cream or jelly donut is just a vehicle for a ridiculous amount of filling — too much. But this one was just right. The filling flavored almost every bite, and it was delicate and light, with authentic vanilla flavor.

The outside of the doughnut was dusted in crunchy sugar and I was happy about that, too. Overall, it was a fine variation on the cream-filled doughnut. But too heavy — I'd rather save room for three different flavors from Ohlin's. And for $3.16 ($2.95 + tax), I could buy three Ohlin's doughnuts, too.

* The state motto used to be "You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania." I always thought it was fawning and awkwardly constructed. Plenty of people don't have friends in Pennsylvania. And that's fine. Pennsylvanians can be friendly enough but we're not in the same class as Golden Retrievers.

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