Since he began frying doughnuts in his East Village basement twelve years ago, using his North Carolina baker grandfather’s recipe, Mark Isreal has made himself and his doughnuts New York City landmarks, selling to carriage-trade shops like Dean & Deluca and Zabar’s and coyly (and correctly) refusing to ship them anywhere. What sets his doughnuts apart is the quality of the ingredients, particularly the butter—yes, doughnut batter has a lot of it—and the flavorings.
These days practically the first thing a visitor sees at the Doughnut Plant, Isreal’s utilitarian Lower East Side shop, is a sign: NO TRANS FATS. Liquid oil (he fries in corn oil) is no problem for yeast doughnuts—airy, if very large, delights, which he makes in flavors like Valrhona chocolate and pistachio. But cake doughnuts are hard to make without trans-fat shortening, which thickens when it cools and gives Dunkin’ Donuts’ and other good commercial cake doughnuts the velvety, mouth-coating texture that virtuous corn oil can’t quite match.
Isreal is as secretive about his recipes as he is talkative, so he wouldn’t tell me which three milks he uses for Tres Leches, the best of his cake doughnuts. But I suspect that condensed or evaporated milk, sweet and very thick, is his workaround for the mouthfeel challenge. None of his doughnuts are ascetic, but these are lush.