Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Stownut's Donuts

Most of my childhood was spent growing up in Stow, Ohio. I attended elementary and middle schools there and spent a lot of my time riding my bicycle from place to place exploring with my friends. One of the places I used to bike to quite often was the Lawson's located in the shopping plaza located at the corner of Fishcreek and Graham Roads. Here I was usually stopping for one thing, chip chop ham (or is it chipped chopped ham ... fellow Northeast Ohioans, what do you remember it being called?). I remember nothing better than a sandwich made from white bread slathered in Miracle Whip, a slice of American cheese, and a small pile of this Spam-like product on a fairly regular basis in my house. Not exactly the powerhouse of nutrition, but hey, it kept the family fed and it was pretty darn cheap.

In the same plaza about halfway down was the local Dairy Queen that we used to go to for a cool treat after my little league games. Fortunately, my love of cool treats outlasted my desire to play baseball (two seasons, from what I remember). Driving by the plaza more recently, I discovered that not only is the Lawson's corner store long gone, but in place of the Dairy Queen is a local and unique donut and diner shop called the Stownut Donut and Diner:

After checking out their website, I decided to stop in today and sample the various homemade selections. I walked in and asked the gentleman working behind the counter to give me six of their best donuts. After packing up the donuts in a box and paying my $5.25, I headed out to the car to take a photo of the box:

Deciding that I didn't want to do donuts-on-the-knee photography, I headed out to a local park to photograph and sample my spoils from the shop.

Before I talk about each donut individually, I will take just a little bit of time to talk about them collectively, as they shared many of the same attributes. First, I verified with the counter person that all the donuts are made in-house on a daily basis. Second, the donuts come in two general varieties: cake and yeast-raised. All the donuts, regardless of the type, were fresh and delicious, although some were bigger successes than others. That being said, let's get to the donuts.

First up, a picture of the honey bun donut:

And the interior:

This was a very good donut. Yeast raised, it was light and airy and had a wonderful crumb to the interior. The cinnamon spice was just the right level and the flavor of the honey was definitely present. I liked this donut quite a bit and could see myself returning for just a dozen of these alone.

Next up, the sour cream donut:

And a shot of the interior:

First, the good. This had a lovely vanilla flavor to it with just a shade of a citrus undercurrent. The bad? It didn't taste anything like sour cream. At all. If they wanted to relabel this as a vanilla cake donut, I'd have no problem with it. But as a sour cream version? This just simply didn't work for me.

Third on the chopping block was the simple glazed donut:

And a shot of the interior:

This was a nice version, but because the yeast dough was sort of your "Plain Jane" variety, it didn't tip the scales as a version you immediately thought of when craving this kind of donut. That honor goes to the version served at Johnnie's Pastry Shop in Massillon, Ohio.

Next, the blueberry cake donut:

And a shot of the interior:

By the time I got to this donut, I began to realize that every single donut had a glaze on it. I loved the intense blueberry flavor of this cake donut, but honestly, I felt that the sugar glaze on top just added too much sweetness to an already delicious donut. It felt superfluous to me. I think it's often a good idea to offer some less sweet versions of your products as not everyone has such an intense sweet tooth. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this donut, but I think it would've worked much better naked.

Fifth in the line-up was the chocolate glazed Bavarian cream filled yeast donut:

And a shot of the interior:

And an extremely close-up shot of the Bavarian cream:

I could immediately tell that the filling in this donut was homemade because the Bavarian cream (also known as pastry cream) had clearly been cooked just a wee bit too long. You can tell because the cream had a slightly clumpy look to it (which happens when it is cooked too long). Had they been using a commercial version, surely this would've been caught in the quality control tests. No matter ... how did it TASTE? Despite the clumpy appearance, the mouthfeel was completely smooth and creamy. A nice vanilla aroma worked well with the chocolate glaze on top. A successful donut to be sure, however it could've used just a bit more filling.

Finally, the donut to which I wasn't looking forward. When I asked the gentleman behind the counter to select any six donuts, one of his choices was a maple creamstick. As I've mentioned in some of my other blog entries on donuts before, I absolutely abhor the notion of eating vegetable shortening sweetened with powdered sugar. It just makes my stomach turn. So when I saw he had selected this to be my sixth and final example from the shop, I was worried. Expecting the worst, I went ahead and photographed the donut:

And the inside:

From the minute I laid my eyes on the white creamy filling, I knew that something was different about this creamstick. It had a gloss and shine not normally associated with shortening and sugar. I then decided that before eating the creamstick as a whole, I would try and taste the filling just by itself. It had an amazingly smooth mouthfeel and a deep vanilla essence. It didn't have that gummy, waxy flavor that I associate with shortening at all. Things began to race through my head. Was this a vanilla pudding? No, it couldn't be since it was completely white and a pudding uses egg yolks.

The last time I had seen a filling this white with this texture, flavor, and shininess, it was in a cooking class and we were doing meringues. French, Italian, and Swiss. From my I remembered (along with a sizable boost from Google on my cellphone), I managed to track down what I thought this filling might actually be. It seems that with an Italian meringue, you beat the egg whites in one bowl and at the same time cook a sugar syrup down until it reaches the soft crack stage. At this point, you slowly drizzle the syrup into the still beating egg whites to both cook the whites and continue to whip more air into them. You know when the Italian meringue is done because they will have doubled in size and taken on an amazing shine to them. The mouthfeel will be creamy and smooth, just like this filling was.

At this point I finally sampled the donut as a whole and probably enjoyed my first creamstick ever. And honestly, it wasn't that the yeast-based donut was all that remarkable. It was the fact that the filling was so good.

Curious as to what this filling actually was, I returned to the Stownut Donut shop. Obviously the person behind the counter who had helped me before was surprised to see me so soon after my last visit. I told him that their creamstick had won my heart over and I had to know the secret of the filling. Unfortunately, it was his wife working in the kitchen who held that secret. When she came to the counter, all I could manage to get out of her was that it was similar to a buttercream. I consulted with several of my culinary colleagues and picked their brains as to what the mystery filling could be. The problem, as we all agreed, is that the particular recipe for this filling could be something that was handed down from mother to daughter and called one thing when in actuality it was known by another name. Perhaps this really is more of an Italian meringue. Perhaps this is actually a buttercream. Without actually seeing it made, I may never know.

In the interest of conveying the texture, consistency, and taste to you, gentle reader, I personally think it is more of an Italian meringue. My two colleagues agreed with my assessment given my description of the filling. However, I'm going to leave it to you to try them for yourself and make your own call. Just remember this: they were very good! And I suppose that is probably the most important part of all in this discussion of picking at the minutiae of the filling.

If you want a fresh donut with some interesting flavors, I highly recommend that you check out Stownut Donut and Diner. Pick up a dozen for your next office meeting and you'll be the talk of the table.

Stownut Donut on Urbanspoon

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