Saturday, April 24, 2004

The hole truth

Like it? 
It has happened. Some dreaded its coming, others eagerly anticipated its arrival. Now that it's here, we have only to get in line with it or be run over.

No, it's not the LNG tank, but it will give the city gas.

Yes, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts has arrived in Fall River, like a sugary, fattening wind from the South. They're available at Shaw's Supermarkets for $5.99 a dozen.

I'm both excited and scared. I like a good doughnut, but this is Dunkin' Donuts turf, always has been. Others have tried to claim this territory--Bess Eaton, Sip and Dip, and that one with the bear--but all have failed. Krispy Kreme is a major contender. I anticipate entertaining street rumbles of the Sharks-and-Jets variety.

Before we all bow down to our new breakfast pastry masters, let's examine the Krispy Kreme hype. Its heritage goes back to 1937, and it's based in North Carolina. Pretty much everywhere in America where Dunkin' Donuts isn't, you'll find a Krispy Kreme.

According to anecdotal evidence from people who've tried them, Krispy Kremes are--quoting now from anonymous sources--"light and airy" and "great." Interestingly, I have also heard Dunkin' Donuts described as "light and airy" and "great." The nice thing about being in America is all the choice we have as consumers.

The biggest difference between Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kremes is temperature. Krispy Kremes are best served hot.

"Put them in the microwave for eight seconds!" someone at work told me. Potential Krispy Kremers, take note! I said eight seconds--not seven, and certainly not nine.

I decided recently to have a taste test between Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts. Before I embarked on this journey, I asked myself if I was up to the task. Could I potentially eat a doughnut or two--nay, several--and report my findings accurately and scientifically?

Yes, I told myself. Yes, I can.

Let's start with the purchase. I went to Shaw's in the North End and almost tripped over a stack of boxed Krispy Kremes right at the front door. I wandered over to the bakery section, dodging people toting boxes of Krispy Kremes all the way, and found a cabinet with a measly selection of doughnuts. Some looked handled, as if people had stuck their fingers into them, or licked them to claim them later. So for ambiance, let's just say C-minus.

Somebody had hidden the tongs, and all the doughnuts in front were taken. So I had to crawl inside the cabinet and pick out three glazed doughnuts with my fingers, which left a pleasantly sugary glaze on them that I sucked off partially, wiping the rest on a nearby copy of Soap Opera Digest as I waited in line. The total cost of three Krispy Kremes: $2.25.

Then I went to the Dunkin' Donuts in the Stop & Shop in Somerset. They didn't have any glazed ones left, so in a huff I departed forthwith. But with the construction going on I got lost in the parking lot. I ended up in a dead end, surrounded by parked cars. I succumbed to hunger after the first hour and ate one of the Krispy Kremes. Or, rather, I stuffed the entire pastry into my mouth and swallowed it without chewing.

Eventually, I escaped and found my way to another Dunkin' Donuts by following a trail of other Dunkin' Donuts stores.

Upon entering, I was displeased that neither Shaw's nor Dunkin' Donuts even offered to valet my car or take my coat. But I found the maitre d' quite friendly and accepted my order despite my lack of a reservation.

I bought three glazed Dunkin' Donuts. The total cost: $2.17. Score one for the home team.

As for plate appeal, the sturdy-looking, inch-thick glaze on the Krispy Kremes makes for an attractive presentation, and could be spruced up even further with a dusting of chopped parsley, let's say, or another doughnut on the side. The Dunkin' doughnut looks more bland--it fairly cries out for something to liven it up, like a dollop of banana cream and chocolate jimmies on top.

I took out a ruler and measured these babies. A Dunkin', at its widest point, is 3.875 inches in diameter. A Krispy Kreme is 3.5 inches. The Dunkin' is also a quarter-inch thicker.

But the Krispy Kreme had an interestingly complex bouquet, reminiscent of melted sugar mixed with corn syrup and honey. It felt airy under my teeth, but part of glaze shell broke apart and shattered like glass on the floor. My dog ate this and indicated her pleasure by drooling on my shoe.

The Krispy Kreme also has a rich, nicely bitter aftertaste, and a piquant oak tone with a fruity nose. I could see it going well with red sauces, lamb, beef and swordfish.

The Dunkin' Donuts is more yellow inside, perhaps signaling the chef's fanciful inclusion of more yellow dye in his recipe. The sugar glaze stayed mostly intact, except for a crumb that became lodged in my beard unnoticed until it fell off two hours later.

It also smells more like actual dough, which is good in a doughnut. It tastes cleaner, and would probably complement a dish of pork, chicken or alfredo pasta with lemon shrimp.

According to each company's Web site, Krispy Kreme has more calories, too--200, compared to 180 for Dunkin' Donuts. But the Krispy Kremes have 2 percent Vitamin C, whereas Dunkin' Donuts have no vitamins and more carbohydrates. So Krispy Kremes are better for you.

I think.

Dunkin' Donuts' site also states that glazed doughnuts do not contain crustaceans or fish, for people allergic to those things. Nice to know! Krispy Kremes contain "maltogenic amylase." That could be a crustacean--I'm really not sure.

The initial verdict: Krispy Kreme hasn't yet lived up to the hype. But I still have a battery of tests to complete before I publish my final conclusions, which will require many dozens of samples and much coffee. Confidential to my wife: I'll be driving back and forth somewhere between Shaw's and Starbucks, honey--leave the porch light on.
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