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Pastry Chefs Face Off on ‘Donut Showdown’

By Neil Genzlinger July 2, 2013

It is not true that Benjamin Franklin thought that the national symbol for the newly formed United States should be a doughnut. But if he were alive today, surrounded by American paunch and poundage, he would certainly have it on the shortlist.

So it makes perfect sense that the Cooking Channel chose the week that we celebrate American independence to introduce "Donut Showdown," a doughnut-making competition show that will leave you embarrassed to settle for a mere glazed ever again. The creations seen in Wednesday night’s premiere may have just as many calories as generic supermarket doughnuts, but at least the weight gain would be memorable.

Three contestants begin the cook-off, with three judges eliminating one, then awarding a $10,000 prize to the better of the remaining two. Perhaps Franklin would have to disqualify the doughnut from national-symbol consideration because it is too international: one competitor in the premiere, Michelle Edgar, is from the Sweet Escape Patisserie in Toronto, which, we are told, is known for its pumpkin pie doughnut. Another, Del Hernandez, is a founder of  Frost Doughnuts in Mill Creek, Wash., home to a concoction called a maple bacon bar. And the third, Dawn Lee, is a founder of the Donut Cooperative in Minneapolis.

Just hearing them introduced may make you realize that there’s a whole world of doughnutting out there that you were unaware of, but the real fun is in the kitchen bustle. The structure mimics that of other cooking shows, with the competitors facing a time limit for creating something using particular ingredients or following a given theme, but somehow having doughnuts as the focus adds an amusing absurdity to the beat-the-clock tension.

“They’re looking a little oily,” one cook frets in Round 1, while another, dismayed at what has happened in the deep fryer, says earnestly, “Don’t want to serve the judges raw doughnuts.”

The judges, too, get in the spirit, assessing the offerings as they might a fine wine or a high-priced cigar.

“It’s so soft,” Zane Caplansky, a restaurateur and one of the judges, says of Mr. Hernandez’s first-round creation. “It’s so luxurious. Del’s doughnut is like falling into a pillow.”

No time for slumber in Round 2; the two remaining contestants are told to bake to the theme of “Good morning.” Each has to make three doughnut varieties, two dozen of each. Because here in Ben Franklin’s America, it’s not a good morning unless you consume 144 doughnuts.