Blackbird Doughnuts, June 2020 (National Donut Day!)

National Donut Day! Doughnut?

Maybe this should be settled (spoiler alert, I’m not going to settle it).

I did extensive research (Wikipedia) to find the etymology of the word, and didn’t really get a whole in-depth explanation. Which is surprising. Wikipedia is the go-to for all important information and is completely exhaustive in its clarity. What I did find, though, will be good enough for me.

“Dough”, obvious. “Do-“, abbreviated by an automated doughnut machine manufacturer so it was easier to pronounce by foreign immigrants. “-nut” because small cakes were sometimes referred to as nuts. So TECHNICALLY, doughnut holes are the original doughnuts. I, personally, will be sticking with “donut”, because it’s easier to pronounce of the economy of characters when writing long entries. Unless a proper name dictates otherwise, such as the case with Blackbird.

Enough of this now. A lot to cover today. Not every week’s intro is going to be a winner.

Actually, I lied. One more prologue.

Blackbird Doughnuts. While I grew up on some small blue-collar places in Pennsylvania, and Dunkin Donuts dominated most donut runs when I was a kid, I’d like to think Blackbird was my first. I technically want to say Union Square Donuts were my first of the specialty donut shops of this new artisan era, but there was something that didn’t stick about them. I made a trek out there, sampled a few, but nothing stood out. Blackbird changed it.

They had a table at an event I went to a few years back and I was excited to try it, but by the time I made my way over to them, they were already out for the day. Elusive. Slipped through my grasp… that I never hustled fast enough for… But one day I knew I’d get to their shop. I guess I could’ve just… gone? Seems like too much work. The first time I finally had them was maybe a year or two later when an officemate brought them in. And that’s when I knew.

Love at first bite, I became enamored with their offerings. Their menu changes. The quality. The branding, stupidly enough. It was simple. Everything fit. And their one staple that, if you haven’t had it, you absolutely need to try. I’ll get to that.

But! There was a rift. Summer of 2019. New menu, and of course I jumped on it the first day. They had s’mores! I love anything s’mores and I’ve always liked what Blackbird does with theirs. That year’s was a filled donut, topped with chocolate frosting graham cracker crumbs and filled with a burnt marshmallow cream. Quality stuff. There was also a bubble gum flavor on the menu, which, I’m never quite on board with, but had to try it. However, that’s not what caused the rift.

Summer of 2019 introduced the lychee ginger lemonade flavor. Of course I tossed it in my order because I had to try it, but I didn’t have high hopes. Now, even if I’m not a fan of something, I generally can tolerate it enough to get a solid taste test in. Not this. This was different. This was so offensive to my palate that I forced the first small bite down, just because there were people around and I didn’t want to be rude. I can be a little over the top in an office setting, but I have a line. I guess, if only, with spitting out food. Later in the day, I tried another bite to see if my thoughts have changed after a proper lunch and a day of work. I like to give things a three-taste run to try and give if the benefit of the doubt.

This bite ended up in the trash, along with the rest of the donut. Which, by the way, of all the people in the office that were taking samples of things, my two sections were the only ones missing. No one dared venture near it. This donut seemed to be getting a lot of hype on their social media. Positive comments along the lines of “wow”, and “Can’t wait to try it!”, but never a positive review, something in the past tense showing evidence of having sampled it. This is where my role comes in.

“Trash.” I commented.

I’ve never been blocked on social media, but that was a swift one.

Suffice it to say, that flavor didn’t last long on their menu. The beginning of 2020 had a lovely looking menu and I sent a humble apology letter to Mr. Blackbird (or whoever reads them, I imagine the bird is), asking for forgiveness and ending my self-imposed boycott. But, I did also point out that flavor didn’t last long.

So, we’ve since made up, and thank goodness, because they’re a formidable entry into these donut roundups, and I had found one of my all-time favorite donuts in that menu.

Covid-specific Process

Online pre-order! With some quirkiness. Pre-order that day for your location and time of pickup. And, while they just started doing singles, at first it was just pre-picked 6-packs. Makes sense while they were figuring out their process after being closed after a while, control variables, I get it.

So you pop on, staring at 9am, pick the pack at your pickup time (instead of selecting a time when you initially start), then head to that shop at your scheduled time, or later. Not earlier, but they’ll hold them afterward. It’s confusing to explain unless you’ve seen it, or are better with words… But it’s worth going through the process. They post what their menu will be on their instagram, and instead of a set seasonal offering, it’s been rotating. Which is great for sampling! But also bad if you have no self control…. which brings me to….

The Donuts

Ok. This is a double episode. I… uh… pre-ordered for Friday (OK. National Donut Day was an advanced pre-order instead of same-day, so I already had those on the book about a week ahead of time). But what they had on Wednesday was SOLID, and a lot of their staples. I knew I had to capture those, so I grabbed a pack on impulse, FOR YOUR BENEFIT. You think I like eating all these?? (I do.)

Part 1.

Chocolate Old Fashioned (cake)
Three and a half donuts (I STILL HAVEN’T MADE MY GRAPHIC)
Blackbird’s cake donuts are some of my favorites I’ve determined. I’d say a little less traditional than other donut shops, being that these are a lighter cake, but not too dry or too moist. They’re just right. And they keep the size reasonable. You’re not trying to fit a whole huge angel food sized cake in your mouth, and easy to grab a single cake donut and have that as a snack instead of feeling like you need to share it or split it into multiple portions. Or, crush a dozen. nbd.

As for calling it an “old fashioned”, I think that may be another debate. I’ll save it for another time. I’ll allow a “cake” to be an “old fashioned” for now.

Glaze is a smooth, almost, waxy I would say? consistency, which is perfectly fine! I’d rather have it a little stiff like that so I can grab it and not feel like I have to wash my hands before I touch anything else. I love finger food that I can eat while working. It’s a good thickness as well, not too thick to be overwhelming, but a perfect compliment to the rest of the donut. And back to the donut itself quick, chocolate flavor isn’t too rich (RICH. That’s the word I needed last week for Kane’s), but it’s still there. Really solid in the old fashioned/cake department.

This on also holds up NICE the next day. I’ve noticed their chocolate cake stays the best the next day vs plain cake. Plain cake gets a little drier, but still ok. Brioche gets the toughest. Just to cover that all now.

The Blackbird (cake)
Three donuts
Another old fashioned, PLAIN STYLE. Because it’s plain, and the consitency of this one, I’d put it more into the old fashioned department. But, the Blackbird is similar cake consitency, but… well… plain. But it’s a great plain flavor! Cake is a little denser, but overall it’s a thinner barreled donut. So it kinda evens out overall, or something. I’d say there’s a little bit of a citrusy kick to it but nothing crazy, just a balancing flavor. And this one the glaze was a little less smooth, but still not coming off on my hand. Again, the gripe about it only really covering the top 1/4 or 1/3. More glaze. Glaze it up, baby. Giving it three donuts, because it’s good, but not top of my list. If I was only getting one, it wouldn’t be this.

Chocolate Sprinkle (brioche)
Three donuts
Their brioche is definitely different than others I’ve had, but in a way that I kinda like. It’s chewier, but still has some good airiness to it and spring. No extra glaze on this one, so it keeps it less rich 😉 😉 and easy to get through a whole if you were so inclined. A little greasy on this one, so I definitely felt compelled to rinse my hands before I went back to typing notes, but nothing overly heavy. Now, the chocolate frosting is a little rich. Very chocolatey, which, not my favorite. A strong chocolate flavor is never my go-to, and it’s a little damp? thick? buttery? than I’d prefer. A thin snappy layer is more what I’m a fan of, but because it’s not covering the whole thing, or really anymore than that top portion, it’s not too offensive.

Raspberry White Chocolate Glazed (brioche)
Four donuts
Their first non-staple in this pack. (Usually their seasonal menus will include their staples, plus some unique ones for that period).

Another brioche, so all the same description from before, but yowza! I’ve always felt what Blackbird excels at is their fruitwork. Whenever there is something with citrus or a berry, it POPS. Immediately hit with raspberriness and the white chocolate drizzle is a perfect compliment. I love dark chocolate and raspberry, and always a little skeptical of white chocolate because of it’s sweetness, but it’s just the right amount to balance out the raspberry, and that frosting and the light glaze on the donut are a perfect harmony with the brioche. And no kitschy crap to get in the way of anything. For a different sort of flavor, there’s no need to overdo it with actual fruit or whatever on top. Easy to eat. Winner winner donut dinner.

And being that it’s brioche, it got a little stale the next day, and the topping did something weird… like… disappeared. It was against a piece of wax paper it was packaged with, but I didn’t see it on the paper or, in the box, or… did it ooze into the donut? Evaporate? I still tasted it… but…

Vanilla Glazed
Four donuts
If there was a honey dipped equivalent at Blackbird, this would be it. Straight brioche, glazed, but with that good solid vanilla flavor. This is usually my go to– as a second… more on that in a bit. If I’m just going for a dessert donut and don’t want something heavy, Vanilla Glazed all day.

Strawberry Rhubarb Bismarck (filled brioche)
Two donuts
It’s… fine? Filled brioche. Not a greasy outside. Sprinkled all over with sugar (not powdered… are powdered donuts really a thing anymore?). The innards… are fine. I got their strawberry jam Bismarck a few weeks back and it was also… fine. I like what they do with fruit, but strawberry is probably the lamest berry to do a jam with. I like strawberries! But like, whole. And maybe dipped in chocolate because ooo la la so fancy. The rhubarb didn’t really add anything I felt. It was just… fine. But I didn’t feel like eating the whole thing. It’s heavy. Like it would ruin the rest of my day if I ate the whole thing. Literally only ate a quarter of all these so far and the Bismarck is kinda putting a damper on everything.

Part 2 (National Donut Day Pack)

They were offering three different 6-packs for this order, and now I can’t find the listings of what they had, but I think one was called classics… and I forget what was in there, but they weren’t Blackbird staples from what I remember. Another was vegan, and I don’t even think I read that one. Sorry vegans. But it was only three flavors, just two of each. Maybe someday I’ll cover vegan stuff. MAYBE.

I got the “fan faves” pack. I really want to meet these fans now. Some of them I can see as being favorites, but the rest– what are you people eating! The favorites should be the staples. That’s why they’re staples. Classic and solid. Can’t go wrong. I don’t get people, man.

Speaking of not getting people, proceeds from the packs on Friday were donated to the NAACPLDF, ACLU, Fenway Health, and Campaign Zero. Which, if you’ve been following the news at all, stuuuufffff’s beeeeeennnn haaaappppennnning. Without really getting into it, I was struggling to find different ways to get involved, and you can really get a down a rabbit hole with looking into charities and organizations, but in the end, every one is doing something good, and every one needs support. I was happy to see Blackbird was aligned with organizations I was getting behind (and PVD did something similar, but only a portion of their profits… WHAT’S UP, PVD?). So, yeah, my donut preferences and political ideology are linked. NEAT.

Everything bagel (brioche with whipped cream)
Four and a half donuts (remember, perfect score commitment issues)
This is one of their all-the-time staples, THANK GOD. Brioche, but without a glaze, everything bagel topping, whipped cream cheese sandwiched between the two halves. Perfection. Like eating a bagel but not having to get through the chewiness. Which, don’t get me wrong, bagels are amazing, but this is something special. Yeah, you’re adding in a some extra ingredients as opposed to a bagel to get the brioche, but I think the way it works out is it’s still less calories than a bagel. Win win.

Mocha Chip (cake)
Three donuts
I don’t really remember seeing this before, but it’s a fan favorite I guess. Their classic Chocolate cake, plus mocha glaze I believe, and mini chocolate chips adorn the top. I like texture of chocolate chips, especially mini for some reason. And this isn’t overly coffee which is great because coffee flavor can usually go to hell. Except for tirimisu. But that’s a balance that just works well.

Charms…? (brioche) I can’t find it on their instagram page anymore so I forget the exact name, but…
Three donuts
Brioche donut, chocolate frosting similar to choc sprinkle, COSMIC SPARKLY SPRINKLE DUST, and Lucky Charms marshmallows. Kitschy crap! An aggressive amount, but still easy to eat. Only gripe on this, aside maybe from it being a weird concept, is the marshmallows either are like this for some reason, or they pick up a moisture from the rest of the pack, but they were super soft. Also not complaining (a few days prior I had made eggs and started eating WAY too fast and may have burnt the roof of my mouth pretty bad…) But it was weird and not expected. Otherwise, not bad. My one thought though, as with the mocha chip— the flavor isn’t crazy intense, which is great if you don’t want to be blasted with something intense, but then why does the flavor exist? The fruit? Yes. Clear standouts. But these are a different breed.

Cinnamon sugar (cake)
Three and a half donuts
Plain cake, and almost like a powdered donut, but, like a not Scarface amount of powder. Think churro quantity. Which is perfect. I don’t want to be finding powder in random place after I have a donut. Cake is light and the sugar and cinnamon add a perfect gritty texture and sweetness/flavor that makes this a great addition to a cake lineup, if you didn’t want a glaze on it. Like a dry rub on a wing. Sauced wings are good, but sometimes you want a good dry rub.

Salted Toffee (brioche)
Three donuts
Ok. Now the flavor hits ya. I love toffee and caramel and all that stuff, and this donut delivers. But maybe it’s not what I want in a donut. I like small caramel and toffee candies, and usually hit my max quick. Unless they’re the caramel cream bullseyes. Those will be the death of me some day. If you really like toffee though, this might be your pick.

Ice Cream Cake (filled brioche)
4.99999999999repeating donuts
I understand how this is a fan favorite, but in general, I don’t understand this one. Existentially.

It’s magic. It’s other-worldly. It’s amazing. This is what was on that January 2020 menu that made me glad I atoned for my transgression.

Brioche filled, with a perfect chocolate cream. Not gritty, not goopy, perfect consistency. And flavor. Just the right creamy chocolate hit. And the top. The little confetti sprinkles and chocolate cookie crumbles and the icing. How is this icing so perfect? I know what ice cream is, but what I can’t understand is how this icing captures the flavor profile of ice cream so dead on.
This whole thing is magical. It’s meaty donut without being heavy. I could easily take down a whole 6 pack of these bad boys.

Cost

$3 a pop. $3.50 for singles if not going with a pack for these Covid-times. In the before-times they were $3 a pop as well. Fine price in this category, unless you enjoy bringing them into the office and have to sample every flavor. Don’t waste these on simple palate folks, unless you’re trying to pull favors or impress. Savor these. Be selfish.

Coffee

You can throw their coffee into your order, and woorrrtthh iiittt. I love their cold brew, and have only done cold brew. All day e’ry day. You can also get the beans they use and cold brew concentrate. I’ve been trying to get my cold brew making down, so I grabbed a single cold brew and a bag of beans to re-up my supply, but have a quick taste check as well so I knew my benchmark.

Their coffee is strong, like bull. Fazenda beans, and a specific blackbird blend (I’ve never had other Fazenda, so can’t say if it’s actually something different). Local roasters! Hurray! Strong coffee that goes down smooth like a good cold brew should. Dunkin’ cold brew never sits well with me, and I like Starbucks, but I’m always going to rank Blackbird’s ahead of all. I like to get cold brew when I’m up at Congdon’s in Maine, and I forget who does theirs, but there something a little off about that one. Great for when I’m driving and need something, but would never be my go-to.

Donut Album of the Morning

Because I did a two-fer for this one, I’m doing two albums. I also damaged my record player’s needle. I was all excited because a version of something I was looking for finally arrived, I’m all proud, popping it in and giving it a listen, and stupidly forgot what I was listening to it on and dropped the sleeve on the player and after it skipped a few grooves, everything sounded dull and distorted after that. This is why I can’t have nice things. So, CDs and streaming for a bit…

For this round: two from Bloc Party. A Weekend in the City and Four. Every now and then I get on Bloc Party kicks and I don’t necessarily think it was coincidence this week was Bloc Party week. All their albums have some really nice mellow tracks, and then some where they sound like they go all out. And each album progresses their style a bit more, so you’re never getting a Bloc Party fatigue if you binge everything. Two songs in particular grabbed me this week, “Where is Home” from A Weekend in the City (released in 2007) and “Kettling” from Four (2013). It seems like a while ago now, but it’s really not. They still seem incredibly relevant right now. And they’re from England! These kinds of things SHOULDN’T have to be relevant.

Lead singer Kele Okereke posted a version of him playing “Kettling” on his Instagram feed the other day. No caption. Just that.


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