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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast
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Doughnut debate: Isthmus' blind taste test reveals a clear winner for Madison
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Credit:Carolyn Fath

Isthmus hasn't indulged in the blind taste test since we did a roundup of cinnamon rolls a decade ago. We remain committed to our breakfast sweets, though. What office isn't? What continues to be the time-honored coworker birthday treat? Sure, bagels are a nice change of pace, and kringle has its devotees. But early-morning meetings really call for doughnuts.

This time, we performed an office-wide blind taste test on the sugary torus (look it up!). We gathered a dozen each from five bakeries: three local, two chain. We collected, to the extent that we could, similar doughnuts: raised glazed, powdered sugar, chocolate with chocolate icing, and chocolate-iced custard-filled, with a "wild card" flavor from each in the mix. These were purchased fresh between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning. They were placed, unidentified, onto plates for sampling. (Though this was not the point of the exercise, one staffer correctly guessed all five bakeries.)

Krispy Kreme
2019 Deming Way, Middleton, Dozen/$9

While residents used to long, quite vocally, for a Krispy Kreme franchise to come to town, the KK came out on the bottom of our test with not a single vote for overall favorite. The consensus? "Too sweet for my taste" summed it up. The texture - airy - was also much remarked on. Some liked it, terming these "fluffy," while others thought it a bit weird: "Tastes like air between frosting."

KK's chocolate-frosted custard-filled got a nod, while another taster found that variety, along with the rest, "tooth-achingly sweet." Krispy Kreme's product did get a Miss Congeniality award of sorts for looking the most perfect, though.

Greenbush Bakery
305 Regent St., Dozen/$11

This longtime campus-area favorite tied for third in our test. Multiple tasters dinged Greenbush's doughnuts as "too dry," and perhaps not seeming at the peak of freshness. There were also comments about a weak chocolate glaze on the custard-filled, though the custard itself wasn't bad. "The dough itself held little flavor," wrote one tester.

On the positive side, others thought these were "light, fluffy and not too sweet," and "the most doughnutty." A cake doughnut rolled in nuts was singled out as "very good - a nice addition."

People's Bakery
2810 E. Washington Ave., Dozen/$9.50

People's may be the least known doughnut shop in the test. East-siders are usually familiar with this small cafe that also serves Mediterranean and Lebanese food, but it's under the radar of many outside the neighborhood.

People's tied with Greenbush for third place, but no particular theme emerged from the comments. "Perfectly crisp, just moist enough and delicious glaze" was typical of the positive comments. "Serviceable but not distinguished" might best characterize the negative.

"Nice crumb" was noted as a plus. People's was also singled out for "great chocolate frosting!" and a sour cream doughnut that "has a little tang." On the minus side: Some felt the powdered sugar doughnut was about to go stale.

Dunkin' Donuts
739 S Gammon Rd., 801 S. Park St. Dozen/$8.75

This latest addition to Madison's doughnut world placed second. Across the board, Dunkin' received very enthusiastic comments on its chocolate frosted cocoa doughnut for its "genuine cocoa flavor" and "dark chocolate taste - yum!" "Almost verging on a brownie, but with a lighter texture, maybe a little nutty." The special blueberry cake doughnut won some love too.

But DD's other doughnuts generated a meh for the most part. Some tasters objected to them being too dense. Other comments included "acceptable" and "not too sweet." Most damning: "The 'white' doughnuts' dough have an odd noticeable grease aftertaste with notes of coffee in it."

Scott's Pastry Shoppe
6637 University Ave., Middleton, Dozen/$16

Our winner! Scott's generated many glowing comments: "Nice flavor to the orange cake doughnut. Nice and fresh." "Cake doughnut best in show." "Tastes like the dough is creamier." "Powdered sugar doughnut had an almost lemon taste - loved it!" "Least sweet (not necessarily a bad thing) and with a more bread-like dough." "Good dough flavor."

The chocolate frosting got a couple thumbs-up ("thick and tasty"), and the chocolate-frosted custard-filled variety was also singled out: "Lovely custard filling" and "Best of the bunch."

Note: Including filled or other specialty doughnuts may alter the price of a dozen.

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