Two-Dozen Classic Donuts, Ranked
Maple frosted, jelly, glazed, old fashioned—which is the best?
What makes a perfect classic donut shop donut? Is cake or yeast a preferable base for glazes and cinnamon sugar? Is there really a place in the stomachs of people over the age of seven for sprinkles on donuts?
Our team fiercely debated all these questions as we argued over this American breakfast staple. And although, in general, all donuts are good donuts. (I mean they’re fried pieces of dough covered in sugar, where can you really go wrong here?) But there can only be one greatest donut. Here is how these classic donuts stack up.
24. Plain Cake
The manifestation of the sad trombone wah wah sound, plain cake is just not it. Of the simple, glaze-free donuts, there are just better options. Plain—it’s in the name!—is too dense, its tight crumb mocking you at every bite, unofficially voted by its peers most likely to be a choking hazard. It can barely survive more than two dunks in a cup of hot coffee, which is ostensibly its only redeeming quality.
23. Coconut Cake
There’s no way around it—coconut is controversial. Some are partial to the flavor for its undeniably tropical associations and others can’t stand it for that same reason. So when it comes to the flavor in donut form, it’s not our preferred pick for the baker’s dozen. Plus, there is something so off-putting about the scratchy texture of the shaved coconut strands on top that we’d rather opt out of selecting one entirely.
22. Lemon Jelly
The premise of a lemon jelly donut is sound, but the execution is usually disappointing. The “jelly” in these donuts are hardly jelly, but mostly gloppy cornstarch mixtures with an artificial lemon flavor in an unnatural shade of yellow. Unlike a raspberry or strawberry jelly donut, there is no discernable texture in the lemon filling besides gumminess. Maybe a fresh lemony donut would have ranked higher.
21. Chocolate Cake
If the plain cake is too dry, at least this one’s got a little flavor. But even still, the chocolate cake donut is one that you never want too much of. We much prefer a chocolate cake donut hole, which offers a perfect pop of richness without being too overpowering.
20. Cinnamon Bun
While this donut makes sense in theory—what’s not to love when it comes to cinnamon, glaze, and fried dough—it ultimately falls flat for us. They are definitely still worth it if you’re needing your sugar fix, but we’d rather just get the donut’s predecessor, a freshly baked cinnamon roll.
19. Strawberry Frosted
These are the kinds of donuts you reach for as a kid, not because they actually taste that good, but because they’re pretty to look at. The thing about the strawberry frosted is you know full well it isn’t going to taste like real strawberries. And that’s ok. It’s delightfully artificial.
18. Buttermilk Bar
The buttermilk bar could be higher on this list, if it wasn’t so dense and the old fashion donut wasn’t a better version of itself. Because of how thick buttermilk bars are, they take a bit longer to fry, and seemingly absorb more grease. The first bite is euphoric: crunchy, oily, with a tender crumb on the inside. But halfway through, it becomes more of a challenge. It’s still beloved and a great donut, but does not make our top 10.
17. Maple Glazed
Maybe it’s because fall is on the horizon, but maple-glazed donuts scored way higher than we expected in a very informal poll. One common complaint is that the beige-colored frosting tends to be overly sweet and taste artificial, but if you can find one glazed with pure maple syrup, ground cinnamon, and even a little cardamom, you could swear you’ve been transported to a farmstand on the side of the road in Vermont.
16. Bear Claw
Perhaps better known as a quirky character on New Girl, a bear claw is more Danish than donut. This hybrid treat seems like it’d be picked last for dodgeball despite its burly moniker. What makes this particular pastry low on the list is its flat, limp, yeasted-dough shape. The almond paste is nice, but there are so many other better almond pastries out there. We could be convinced that this isn’t a donut at all.
15. Sugar Round
These are the demure version of a powdered sugar donut; they are airy and subtle but still fulfill our perpetual craving for some sugary fried dough. While the sugar round, at times, can be a bit underwhelming compared to its counterparts, it is perfect for those times when a glaze is just too much, and it works great alongside a hot cup of coffee.
14. Powdered Sugar
This is a proletarian donut. A working class donut, the every man’s breakfast, a snack for stoners and perpetually food-stained children alike—there is an accessibility here. You need not seek it out at specialty bakeries where lines stretch down the block. Go to a convenience store and there it is! That’s dependability. But it’s kind of an arrogant treat, too. No other dessert snack humbles you like the powdered donut that announces its presence with snowy fingerprints on your face, shirt, fingers, or all of the above.
13. Apple Cider Cake
Once you spot these at the farmers’ market, you know it’s time for your annual Gilmore Girls rewatch. The apple cider donut, baked with cider-infused cake batter and dipped in cinnamon sugar, is the sweet kiss of fall. When done right, it’s slightly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. They’re best eaten warm, out of a grease-stained brown paper bag.
12. French Cruller
You might be wondering what the difference is between a French cruller and your typical glaze round; it’s all in the dough, choux pastry to be exact. The French cruller sets itself apart with fluffy texture and crispy ridges, which serve as the perfect base for the luscious glaze we know and love.
11. Boston Cream
Just like New England sports teams, this very specific donut variety has garnered as many fans as it has haters. Some may criticize it for being hole-less, a big round Berliner mound. Some might find the vanilla custard, or crème pâtissière (crème pât for you Great British Bake Off fans) a bit too oozy. And then there’s the literal chocolate icing on the cake, which could be seen as excessive. But, like Tom Brady’s career and Ben and J Lo’s on-again romance, when all the elements come together, it just seems to work.
10. Glaze Twist + Sugar Twist
We’ve thrown the twists together because they’re like sugar coated fraternal twins. They’re both a classic and the twist does feel special, maybe fancier than a regular round donut. The length always feels like you’re getting more bang for your buck, too. The downside is that, due to the braided nature of this pastry, when you peel apart the twists there’s unfried, soft, squishy centers. Some people might think of this as a bonus, but the way a round donut is fully fried is a little more appealing to us.
9. Blueberry Cake
The blueberry cake donut is severely underrated. When made correctly, it has a delightfully fried crunchy exterior and a soft, almost gooey center bursting with the flavor of blueberries. It’s fragrant, and one of the few donuts that actually has real fruit studded throughout. The only downside is that, like other cake donuts, it has the potential to dry up quite quickly.
8. Crumb Cake
Just when we thought donuts couldn’t get any better, the crumb cake comes along and sways us. There’s something inherently genius in adding a crunchy, buttery brown sugar topping to an already exquisite creation. The crumb cake donut subverts our expectations of a classic, soft treat, and we couldn’t be more impressed.
7. Chocolate Frosted
You could hardly ever go wrong with a chocolate frosted, whether it comes from a specialty shop or a box of Entenmann’s. It’s the best of both worlds—a plain donut base complemented by a decadent chocolate exterior—and offers a subtle contrast of texture. Unlike its strawberry and maple counterparts, this one doesn’t try too hard with the flavoring. It’s chocolate through and through.
6. Donut Holes
Donut holes pose an ingenious question: Why pick one donut type when you can have a bite of each one? It’s unclear whether these guys are actually made from the dough cut out of donuts, but it’s much more fun when you think about them that way. Have them glazed, sprinkled, chocolate-frosted, powder-sugared, jam-filled—or enjoy them plain, with an array of dippings like maple syrup and caramel. There are no rules with donut holes.
5. Apple Fritter
With little moments of apple dappled throughout this treat, the apple fritter may be the healthiest donut there is (do not fact-check this). There are bursts of cinnamon. There’s a light coating of icing. It’s deep fried and thus boasts lots of craggy, crispy edges to which sugar and spice cling. Whatever it lacks in actual roundness, it makes up for in its ability to deliver flavor—the flavor of fall!—in every single bite.
4. Raspberry Jelly
Raspberry jelly is a classic. The gooey sweet-tart combination is a sensory experience that we welcome wholeheartedly. Diving into the donut and finally reaching the jammy center feels like a gift—a sticky and wonderfully messy one at that. It’s a favorite for a reason.
3. Old Fashioned
This deserved its high place on this list (some may argue higher still than a sprinkled monstrosity, but ok). A cake doughnut of the crispiest order, an old fashioned, whether plain or glazed, has this ability to hold up against many coffee dippings. But it need not have this superior function to be beloved. Its ridges, apt for catching glaze, make eating this donut feel like a handheld, portable pound cake. And, like throwing out dynamite in a game of rock-paper-scissors, nothing beats cake.
2. Rainbow Sprinkles
We love sprinkles. We love them atop soft serve, bedazzling sugar cookies, when they come in creative shapes, and especially decorating a glazed donut. They add a sugary, textural element to the top of a soft, cakey donut that is simply unmatched. We’ll take a classic chocolate-frosted rainbow sprinkle any day of the week, and reserve special occasions for ones with strawberry icing and rainbow sprinkles, aka The Simpsons donut.
1. Glaze Round
This is the pinnacle of donuts everywhere. It’s the embodiment of the on-the-go American breakfast—fluffy, simple, sugary, and always desirable. It’s a go-to whether you’re strolling by the office break room or at a pit stop on a road trip. Overwhelmed by the donut selection? This consistent beauty won’t let you down. It’s a good litmus test for donut shops across the world. If a donut shop can’t perfect this classic, then will anything be any good? We don’t want to find out, but we do want an order of a dozen glazed donuts.