The cupcake had its day; now artisanal doughnuts are bubbling up from the depths of the fryer. Doughnuts—or donuts, depending on who you ask—have become both a food of nostalgia and a blank canvas for unexpected toppings ready for their social media debut. Doughnuts are everywhere, and there’s one for every mood: mom-and-pop shop classics, upscale artisanal flavors, savory takes, and, at some spots, even doughnuts dosed with cheese.
Surprised? Don’t be—doughnuts are supremely versatile, thanks to their variety of textures. From yeasted to cake to old-fashioned, there are options for every consistency of curd.
Plus, their format is easily remixed: Matt Fein of Philadelphia’s Federal Donuts recommends slicing doughnuts into rounds and frying them a second time for doughnut chips (then dip ’em into melted brie), while Josh Danoff of Union Square Donuts in Somerville, Mass., says their brioche-style dough can be baked into rolls (serve with raclette) or turned into crostini (a sturdy base for Taleggio).
Sometimes referred to as raised, these doughnuts have a pillowy, open texture. Yeast helps gluten develop, giving these doughnuts more chew than your average round. Their stretchy interior means they’re perfect to pull apart, so try them with softer cheeses, especially ones that turn gooey when warm. (Double and triple creams are tops.) Tear the doughnut into small pieces and use it to scrape up the rich, runny paste.
Another way to match yeasted doughnuts and cheese is a spin on the classic blue-and-honey pairing: Danoff suggests serving glazed doughnuts with a piquant blue like Jasper Hill Farm’s Bayley Hazen Blue: “In the first bite you get the honey, but the blue cheese brings out the flavors in the brioche dough.”
Cake doughnuts are fluffed up by baking powder, not yeast, giving them a dense texture that’s a little crumbly. That fall-apart texture is melt-in-your-mouth heavenly, but it doesn’t work so well with soft cheeses. Instead, opt for harder, snackable cheeses that easily hold their shape. Nibble a bit of each and let them mingle on your palate, or place slices of cheese atop the doughnut before taking a bite. Riff on the cheddar-and-apple-pie combo by matching an apple cider doughnut with a tangy clothbound cheddar. Or try a chocolate cake doughnut alongside savory Parmigiano Reggiano for a hit of umami to cut through the dense cocoa flavor.
A subset of the cake doughnut, old-fashioned doughnuts crack as they cook, resulting in a crunchy, craggy exterior. They are usually dressed simply—expect flavors like plain glazed, cinnamon sugar, or chocolate glazed—and the little cracks in the dough create crevices for the glaze to slip into. Pair that sweetness and crunch with savory cheeses like Gruyerè, or mimic a doughnut’s flavors with a spice-rubbed cheese.
Photography by Evi Abeler