Homestead Does Hip Donuts
From Doughnut Dolly and Donut Savant to Pepples and Pican: Where to get your gourmet donut.
Donuts at Homestead
Remember those fairy tales in which a humble bumpkin becomes a king? That same arc spans the culinary scene, where the “bumpkins” are donuts.
Typecast as a plebeian treat for plebeians ever since they first appeared in the English-speaking world—and whether that was thanks to 18th-century Dutch immigrants or sailing-ship kitchens is up for debate—donuts, formerly and still sometimes known as doughnuts, are cheap and easy to make. A squirt of batter, boiling fat: They’re gloriously inglorious.
But they’ve come up in the world as chefs in the trendiest shops and restaurants draw on global traditions, top-quality components, and culture-bending East Bay artistry to transform the lowly donut into pricey gleaming golden gourmet beignets, fritters, crullers, cronuts, churros, youtiao, zeppole, twists, filled pillows, and classic rings.
“People just love donuts,” says Liz Sassen, co-chef and co-owner of Oakland’s Homestead restaurant (www.HomesteadOakland.com), where donuts are fried in canola oil and served sometimes as fluffy bites accompanied by an array of dipping sauces, sometimes as fruit fritters, sometimes stuffed with coconut cream.
“Sweetened breads have always been a part of our culture in one way or another and always a special treat. Deep fry it, douse it in some sugary coating and—at least if you are me—some sprinkles; it’s no surprise they’ve stuck around.
“But really why I think so many people love the donut, and why they are having a growth in popularity, is the trend toward local purveyors of food and the trend away from big-box stores. So many of us have childhood memories of donuts, and not from the chains but from the copious number of mom-and-pop donut shops. Every neighborhood seems to have one, and many have been operating for decades and serving generations.”
For Sassen, “nothing quite beats a Judy’s donut” from the shop she frequented while growing up in Clovis. Sassen has spent years trying to re-create the apple fritter at Johnny’s Cafe & Donuts, a Chinese takeaway/donut shop in Rockridge, where she lives. “It’s about the size of a baseball mitt and laden with apple-pie filling and has just the right amount of greasy-crispy crust and sugary icing without being gross.”
Sassen describes her ideal donut as “moist and chewy inside with a little bit of crispness around the edges and a lovely sticky icing that makes the perfect amount of mess while being eaten.”
She relishes the recent memory of being high-fived by a Homestead customer “not because we had created something new, but because we had re-created a moment from her childhood 60 years ago.”
This woman had loved a certain type of donut back East, “and here it was in California so many years later, bringing back a flood of wonderful memories. And that’s all people want out of the thing, I think.”
Where to Get Gourmet Donuts
In Temescal and Berkeley, Doughnut Dolly custom-fills sugar-dusted gems with flavored creams. Uptown’s Donut Savant specializes in indulgently flavored holes and bars. Check out the churros at Berkeley’s Tacubaya and Oakland’s Bocanova and Rumbo al Sur. Made in Oakland and sold at many cafes, Pepples Donut Farm donuts are 100 percent vegan. Oakland’s À Côté flaunts its fritters. For a beignet boost, try Oakland’s Hopscotch, Brown Sugar Kitchen, and Picán or Berkeley’s Pho Bar, Zut!, and Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen. Light-as-air donuts at Berkeley’s Hopkins Street Bakery are filled with fruit jam and vanilla cream. Downtown Berkeley’s Paris Baguette offers cronuts, cream-cheese donuts, and other dangerous dainties.