There are few words in the English language capable of making mouths salivate as intensely as the word “doughnut.” The deep-fried halo has served as the emblem of American breakfast since the early 20th century; as its long reign continues, establishments like Oliboli Doughnuts in Old Town Tustin continue to find creative takes on the classic confection.
Deriving its name from the Dutch pastry, oliebollen, this doughnut shop is not your run-of-the-mill neighborhood doughnut shop with the staple pink boxes. Ingredients like daily hand-milled grains, kefir and coconut oil for frying help set the store apart from the standard and are especially attractive to the crowd of consumers recent health-food trends have amassed.
Head chef and co-owner Brooke DesPrez also helped found Sidecar Doughnuts in 2012, another gourmet doughnut store in Costa Mesa with characteristically long lines and now several other locations.
From the rather small menu, I selected the orange, cactus pear and burnt butter bourbon bacon doughnuts. Other flavors seemed simple but refreshingly unconventional, like pistachio and lavender sugar, and others more elaborate, like vegan Bibingka and fry bread with house ricotta and pine jam.
As a firm loyalist to the blueberry cake doughnut, one bite of the orange cake made me question my allegiance. I was welcomed with the subtle yet vibrant aromatics of orange zest breaking into the slightly crisp exterior of the doughnut. The cake was alluringly moist and of an appropriate sweetness that highlighted the citrus notes.
Mass-produced donuts pale in comparison to the tender and delicate crumb of Oliboli’s, with the fermented magic of the kefir likely taking a substantial part in leavening the dough. My understanding of the cake doughnut was reinvented; Oliboli’s lacks the grog-inducing greasiness and density that usually prevents me from finishing more than one.
The yeast doughnuts, served hot, were equally pleasant. The proudly-advertised 40 hours of proofing was evident in both doughnuts’ large size and airy texture. That being said, the cactus pear doughnut was good, but not exceptional. The pretty pink glaze was merely sweet and faintly floral in taste, making the dough itself more of the star.
However, the bright savoriness of the bacon doughnut was a much-needed change of pace from all the sweet I was consuming. It was a skilled balance of richness, saltiness and sweetness from what I observed before the rest of my family inhaled it.
From a place that takes so much care in the quality of its process and ingredients, you should not expect an experience like one at your average doughnut shop — nor the wonderfully low prices that we know and love either. Around $3 to $4 a pop, a bite from Oliboli is more of an artisanal, occasional indulgence than the old faithful, classic glazed ring you can haul by the dozen. Do not let the prices scare you away, though. A visit to this endearing little joint will do a fine job of filling a (doughnut) hole in your heart.