Sunday, June 2, 2019

Santa Barbara Donuts

People do not know how to order donuts.  While standing in line on a Sunday morning at Anna’s Bakery, I observed dozens of people lined up to pick up more than dozens of donuts--but nobody knows what to call them.  I’ve witnessed patrons get to the front of the line only to experience ordering anxiety, temporary amnesia, lack of awareness or feigned lack of practice at choosing their morning treat.  I can help.
A large selection at Anna's Bakery
If you’ve ever been to a donut shop and been suddenly perplexed, you’re not alone.  We lack a common language for donuts.  The word itself even has two spellings!  “Donut” is the commonly accepted American word, while the international word is “Doughnut.”  In Santa Barbara, we have both: Eller’s Donut House on Milpas and Eller’s Doughnut House on upper State.With National Doughtnut Day approaching on June 7, I hope to raise (get it?) your donut IQ to remove some of the confusion around the ordering process to save time and frustration for all and to share my take on Santa Barbara’s donut offerings based on years of thorough personal research.

Typically, donuts are fried dough shaped into a ring and are often coated or filled with a liquid frosting.  There are many variations once the initial donut is created (filled, coated with chocolate, dusted with sugar, etc.) but there are really only eight main types of donut:

Star Wars donuts from Hook and Press for May-The-Fourth
1) Yeast round donut – like the standard Krispy Kreme, this has a yeasty batter base that is cut into a circle with the “hole” removed.  It is then fried and typically coated on both sides with a thin coat of icing, hence the common name of “glazed.”  There are also chocolate varieties and those coated with chocolate or crumbs in addition to the glaze.  These are a standard donut in most shops and cost between a dollar and $1.50 anywhere in town.  Hook and Press, which can be found at Mosaic, sells the nicest of these in Santa Barbara for $3.25.   To order, ask for a “glazed” Except at Hook and Press where they are all yeast raised and fancy!

2) Bars and twists - Like their cousin, the yeast round, the bars and twists are an elongated yeast batter base cut into a rectangle bar (usually around 3”x6”) and potentially twisted before being fried – no hole removed.  Usually they are coated with glaze and can then be left as-is or coated with chocolate, maple, or other icing.  Occasionally they can be found filled, but it is uncommon in this shape, and would most certainly take on “fancy” premium pricing.  Chocolate coated bear the name of “long johns.”  Dunkin Donuts has a glaze twist in the shape of a bowtie while some shops in town offer a fancy cinnamon twist.  To order, ask for a “twist” or “maple bar.”

Billy Jankowski eating a raspberry cream from Handlebars
3) Filled – typically these are the dense yeast dough but the “hole” is left intact.  Once fried, it is injected with a filling such as jelly or a cream.  These are often glazed and can sometimes be coated with powdered sugar or icing.  Filled donuts always bear premium “fancy” pricing with the most expensive and delicious in town coming from Handlebar Coffee Roasters (either location).  There, $5 will give you whichever delicious filled donut they have chosen to create this week.  Raspberry cream, blueberry and lemon, pistachio, peaches and cream – their new kitchen on De La Vina is producing some of the finest fancy donuts in town.  To order, ask for a “raspberry filled.”

3A) Boston Cream – while technically just a filled donut with a cream filling and coated in chocolate, the specific type of donut will leave anyone that’s ever been to Boston saying “it’s good, but not as good as the real thing” following that the chocolate or cream is just not right.  Boston Cream donuts are most certainly “fancy.”

4) Cake – This donut is made from a cake batter.  It is usually coated with chocolate or icing and often sprinkles - the kind you would see Homer Simpson eating.  This is usually smaller than a yeast round and denser.  You can order these “plain,” without any icing, glaze or chocolate.  The sprinkles used on cake donuts can bring out their personality – while they are generally colored rainbow, seasonally one can find them with orange and black for Halloween or red, white and blue for Independence Day.  Depending on the types of sprinkles, these donuts can move from the standard pricing into “fancy.”  When ordering, mention both the topping and type of cake: “the rainbow sprinkles on chocolate.” 

4A) Crumb – This is usually a cake donut (though potentially a yeast) coated with icing and then sugar-cinnamon crumbles.  Variations include cake crumbs (such as those found at Anna’s Bakery).  Some shops have both the cake and yeast round donuts with crumb coating, making things quite confusing when ordering.   Order again by its topping: “I’ll have a crumb”

Red Kettle Coffee Donut Holes
5) Holes – These are just fried balls of dough usually coated with icing.  They can be cake or a dense dough.  Eller’s uses the holes from their yeast rounds while Winchell’s sells a bag of cake donut holes.  These can be coated with sprinkles in addition to their glaze.  At Eller’s and the Bagel Market Café one can find jelly-filled holes!  Often Eller’s will toss in a handful of holes if you purchase a dozen or more.  To order, ask for “A dozen donut holes.”

6) Old Fashioned – These are a cake donut typically made with buttermilk, though like at Eller’s, can contain sourdough.  This is a heavier donut usually with cuts to the top in a square or triangle.  These crevices do a great job of holding icing, but coating an old fashioned is optional.  Some old fashioned will be coated with powdered sugar, cinnamon, chocolate or some combination.  A variation on the Old Fashioned is the Sour Cream Old Fashioned, made with sour cream instead of buttermilk.  Depending on the shop, the Old Fashioned is a special or regular donut.  Some are considered fancy if they have a coating while others are already considered fancy without.  Order by name: “I’ll have an old fashioned.”

6A) “Buttermilk” bar – This usually has the heavier buttermilk and is the densest of normal donuts.  This bar is shorter than a glazed bar, but taller like a miniature loaf of bread.  Often these are coated with a thick glaze but can be coated with chocolate or other toppings. To order one of these you usually have to point.

7) Cruller – Sometimes called a “French cruller,” it is typically an extruded yeast dough in a circular shape (though sometimes square) often coated with powdered sugar or icing. This looks an awful lot like a fancy yeast round and typically comes with the fancy pricing as well.  After being fried, the dough is usually light, fluffy and full of holes.  These take some work to create and are not offered in every donut shop.  When they are, they are considered “fancy.” To order, you will get points with your local donut baker by asking for a “cruller” pronounced like “crawler” and not “crueler.”

Eller's Doughnut House on Upper State
8) Fritters - Usually this is an apple fritter: large, heavily fried and filled with solid fruit.  Variations include other savory donuts filled with bacon.  Fritters may be plain like a corn fritter (aka hush puppy) but these are not usually found in Santa Barbara ever since Tupelo Junction and Georgia’s Smokehouse left.  Fritters are always on the high-end of the fancy scale often with their own price tier.  If you see an apple fritter, you can ask for it by name.

8A) The Bear claw is a fritter that is in the rough shape of a bear’s paw and, depending on the shop, will have apples in a solid or mushy form.  There are bear claws that have no apples in them, so be sure to ask if your preference is one way or the other.  Crumb-coated bear claws can be found and take the “fancy” to a new level.  Bear claws can be requested by name.

Muffins, cinnamon rolls, scones, danishes and other pastries may be delicious, but outside of the scope of this Donut Day article.  Still, if you visit your favorite donut shop, you may find hybrids and other items for sale:

1) Cronut - Becoming more common are the “cronut” or “dossaunt.”  This is a combination donut-croissant.  While the “cronut” itself is trademarked, one can find “dossaunts” at Spudnuts.  These are a layered, flakier pastry (like a croissant) but shaped in a ring (like a donut).  

2) Beignets – This New Orleans tradition comes and goes from different restaurants in town.  These are a rounded square donut coated with excessive powdered sugar.

3) Beavertails - Once sold in a shop on State Street in the 90s bearing this name, these are long, flat donuts resembling naan and usually coated with sugar and cinnamon, but chocolate may be used as well.  

4) Churros – depending on who you ask, a churro is considered a donut or is very much not a donut.  Churros are typically extruded and round like a cruller, but thin and long, so not necessarily like a donut.  They are usually just fried dough covered with cinnamon and sugar.  Costco may have cornered the market on regular churro sales in town, though vendors at Fiesta have fancy churros filled with cream, chocolate or fruit.

Blue Owl Donuts and Pastries
There are various toppings that can make a donut catch your eye – glaze, chocolate, maple, cinnamon sugar, plain sugar, powdered sugar, sprinkles, flavored glaze, coconut and even peanut butter.  Becoming more common are premium coatings such as breakfast cereal, mini marshmallows, pretzel bits, toffee, bacon, chocolate chips and graham crackers.  Donuts are a confectionary canvas that can be adorned with many colors and textures..  Santa Barbara has not yet caught up with other major metropolitan areas that have donut ice cream sandwiches (a warm yeast glaze cut in half with ice cream in the middle).  We’re far from the donut cheeseburger.  

Until recently, Yelp users rated Spudnuts on upper State Street as the best donuts in town.  This beat out Eller’s on Milpas, which presently has the highest rating on Trip Advisor.  In my opinion, the most delicious donut goes to Hook and Press It has a selection of delicious, unique donut flavors.  This is followed closely by Handlebar on De La Vina, made fresh in front of you in its new kitchen, visible from line.  That said, there is not much to the selection.  If you want the raspberry donut and peaches are in season, you are out of luck.  My favorite donuts overall are at Anna’s Bakery in the Camino Real Marketplace – there is a great selection and the quality is good.  Through the past year, during my extensive research, I found the selection of donuts throughout town to be an opportunity for innovation.  Hook and Press has already shown that this is not just possible but that Santa Barbara is ready.  Other towns have donut delivery, donuts in different shapes and creative toppings.  One might say that there is a gaping hole in the Santa Barbara donut potential.

Handlebar Donuts at original Canon Perdido location

Because the donuts found in town are so similar between shops, it is good to compare prices.  See the chart below to help you choose.  My research extended primarily toward donut shops, though basic glazed rounds and twists can be found in many grocery stores.  One can also find donuts at other pastry or bread shops, but the selection is inconsistent.

Dozen Regular
Dozen Holes


Anna's Bakery
7018 Marketplace Dr.
Bagel Market Café
2000 Cliff Dr.
Blue Owl
5 W. Canon Perdido



$1 Churros
Dunkin’ Donuts
3771 State

Eller's on State
4217 State
Eller's Donut House 
22 N. Milpas
Fat Uncle Farms
Farmers Market Saturday

Handlebar Coffee Roasters
2720 De La Vina


Helena Avenue Bakery
131 Anacapa


Hook & Press
1131 State St.

Red Kettle Coffee
2275 #A Ortega Hill Rd

Spudnuts Carrillo
220 W. Carrillo
Spudnuts Goleta
5718 Hollister
Spudnuts Isla Vista
6530 Seville Rd. #101
Spudnuts Upper State
3629 State
Tyler's Donuts in Carpinteria
1002 Casitas Pass
202 N. Milpas
 $12.99 (14 donuts)
 $2.99 (14)

Eller’s on State has the least-expensive donut from a donut shop if you just want to buy one for $1.  Tyler’s in Carpinteria will match that as well.  7-11 will beat this by a penny, but I don’t believe that their staff are making the donuts in the back like they are at a normal donut shop.  Most expensive is Handlebar, but it’s worth it to try if you haven’t.  The least expensive dozen is Eller’s on State – what’s more is that they usually come with a handful of holes!  Spudnuts charges the most for its dozen - $13 (if you don’t count the donut shops that don’t cut a deal on dozens).  Winchell’s will also charge $13 for a dozen, but its dozen is 14 donuts!  Eller’s on Milpas and Tyler’s in Carpentaria have the least expensive donut holes at $2 per dozen.  Red Kettle and Hook and Press will charge the most at $3 for a dozen.
My son with a variety of samples from our research
As my research has concluded for this article, my children have begun to ask why we aren’t buying another dozen each weekend.  I look forward to revisiting this research in the future.  Hopefully by next Donut Day we will have additional innovations and flavors for all of Santa Barbara to enjoy.

My kids making some tough choices at Spudnuts in Goleta

Special thanks on this article to Liz Alves for your many edits and to Billy Jankowski and my family for trying so many donuts.