Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it damn sure had the opposite effect on donuts.
Located inside the multi-vendor Stockton Market in Stockton, NJ, Curiosity Doughnuts opened at the beginning of October, and the fried treats it serves are unlike any others. It’s not that they’re especially fancy, or come with toppings that are odd or eccentric. They’re definitely not crossed with some other pastry in an attempt to reinvent the wheel. Instead, what they are is donut as platonic ideal.
Their yeasted batter is made with so much butter, cream and buttermilk that it nearly bursts when fried, creating nooks and crannies in a crunchy, golden-brown exterior that greedily soaks up hand-dipped glaze. Pull them apart and the interior is almost pudding-like, full of soft airy dough that melts away instantly, leaving you with nothing but a craving for your next bite.
You could enjoy these donuts plain, but you don’t have to: Glazes in flavors like vanilla-buttermilk, butterscotch and strawberry (made from real freeze-dried berries) are worthy additions, or you can opt for one dusted in sugar tinged with lemon or cardamom and cinnamon. It only takes one bite to determine that $3 a pop is not at all a bad deal.
In fact, the only bad part about the best donut I’ve ever had is that I won’t be able to get it on the regular. The new Valhalla of donuts is located in a tiny New Jersey town with a population of less than 600 people, nearly an hour’s drive from both Philadelphia and NYC.
That’s actually by design.
“I want to bring delicious food to areas where I want to live,” says Alex Talbot, half of the husband-and-wife chef team behind the shop, which also sells tangy, housemade custard. “And I don’t want to live in New York City.”
Or Philly, apparently, although Talbot and partner Aki Kamozawa recently owned a home in Bucks County, and — after a year spent in New Hampshire — they’re coming back to that region soon. The pending return south is what made Curiosity Doughnuts possible, so it’s good news for anyone who’s a donut fan.
Talbot and Kamozawa are something of cult celebrities in the culinary world. Though they met working in a traditional kitchen back in 1997 (Ken Oringer’s Clio, in Boston), they have long made a living out of exploring new ideas in food. “Ideas in Food” is the title of their long-running daily blog, and also their first book. This fall, they focused their inquisitiveness on America’s favorite breakfast treat, and the attention paid off.
They only heard about the available spot at Stockton Market — which is home to dozens of other independent vendors selling everything from BBQ to pizza and produce to crepes — in August. It took them just over a month to perfect their recipe and launch the store.
“It only took us a month. More like, 20 years and a month,” Talbot says, pointing out that they built on two decades of past experience to come up with the end product so quickly.
Ideas in Food’s philosophy is to try everything, and keep what works. Ask Talbot how he got the donut’s craggy crust to be so fantastically appealing and he doesn’t pretend to know: “It just happened. I don’t plan shit.”
Not planning and just choosing the good side of the flow can have wonderful results. Witness Talbot’s invention of marbled chocolate and vanilla donuts, which are not only great to look at, but fun to eat, with swirls of differently flavored dough pulling apart in your mouth. They were a Week 2 creation, made when he wanted to find a use for the scraps left over after cutting out the original donuts’ shapes. (Because the dough undergoes a long fermentation, and is so full of fat, a second roll out doesn’t seem to have any adverse affect on texture.)
And then there’s what might be the most brilliant invention since, well, sliced bread: Clusters. Formed of extra donut holes smushed together in a flower pattern before being fried, they come out like a cross between a donut and monkey bread, and are super easy to eat or to share as you pull off the little nuggets of sugary crunch.
The custard was developed in the same way.
“I couldn’t figure out a way to get good custard mix delivered,” explains Talbot, who is currently commuting from New Hampshire every weekend, “so I decided, fuck it, I’ll create my own. I figured it out in a day. Well, a day plus 20 years.”
It’s good stuff, especially when piled between a donut in a super-luxe ice cream sandwich, or served in a cup drenched with coffee-caramel syrup as a “custard affogato.” There’s also a “Brain Freeze” sundae studded with donut holes and drizzled with caramel.
Stockton Market is only open on Saturdays (9 AM-4 PM) and Sundays (10 AM-4 PM), which adds to the difficulty of scoring these babies for yourself. But these donuts are definitely worth the drive.