If you've been looking for great donuts, this is where they've been hiding.
But for other yeast-raised or non-cider cake donuts, Bella Napoli in Troy is the place. And the pinnacle of their craft is realized in the Boston cream.
These are not the newfangled big city donuts you may have been reading about. I could easily imagine how a hand-crafted pastry cream made with local farm-fresh eggs, pure heavy cream and mounds of real vanilla beans could take this donut to extraordinary heights.
But these are the donuts of the past, the classic Northeastern style of donuts that inspired places like Dunkin' to take up the mantle of donutdom and spread it to the masses. These are the donuts that are hard to find anymore, and we are very lucky to have them in our midst. Because Bella Napoli has been making donuts before the hot pastry chefs of today were in short pants. And they know how to do it right.
Let me tell you what that means.
It starts with a donut shell, which needs to be impossibly light, crisp and tender. Its lightness comes in part from the rise, and the shells at Bella Napoli are remarkably tall. They puff up when they are fried in hot oil, and this is where the donuts get their golden color and the crisp little bits of outer crust. Inside, the crumb is moist with a tender chew that is rich and offers just a bit of resistance.
The chocolate icing tastes deeply of cocoa. A thick schmear is spread generously on the top, and it has a smooth, glossy sheen. When you bite into the donut (or jostle them) the topping cracks to reveal a softer layer down below. So beyond a rich chocolate flavor it adds another layer of texture.
The cream brings it all into balance. I'm under no illusions about the provenance of the filling. I suspect it's a slightly better than average food service product. It tastes like you would expect. But it is generously piped through the shell pushing the total weight of each donut to an impressive four ounces. With this amount of filling, it's a challenge to maintain the donut's structural integrity as you eat it. But it's oddly refreshing and almost acts like a sip of milk to cleanse the palate after the rich chocolaty icing and fried dough, urging you on to take another bite.
Here's a pro tip: Start from the hole.
Every filled donut has a hole in the side where the filling tip was inserted. If you start eating from anyplace else on the donut, invariably the filling will squeeze out the hole. But if you begin from the hole, the filling has nowhere to go.
All the same, the Bella Napoli Boston cream donuts can burst in the final bites. And that's fine so long as you are expecting it, and don't mind licking your fingers. But you may not want to eat these in your car.
The downside to getting your donuts in Troy is that this smaller location has no seating.
The upside is that the donuts are actually better here. A former employee once told me that all of Bella Napoli's donuts are made in Troy, with a few batches being sent over to their Latham location. That would explain the difference in quality. Donuts are fragile things. They do not like being put on trucks or in vans and moved, especially not in the heat of summer nor the cold of winter.
So get a box and take them to go. A half dozen will set you back $4.95, with a dozen costing a mere three dollars more. It's almost a crime to walk out of Bella Napoli with fewer than a dozen donuts.
Now here is your homework assignment. Bring a box of these Boston cream donuts to your next meeting. Hopefully everyone will be so floored by how good they are you'll never have to eat Dunkin' again.
If you are getting a dozen just for you, I'd recommend branching out and try some of their cake or jelly filled donuts. Just be warned, powdered sugar is even messier than cream.
And don't forget to pick up coffee and milk. You're going to need it.
This post originally stated that the donuts at Bella Napoli's Latham location are made in Troy. That is incorrect -- they're made in Latham, too. Sorry about that.
Daniel is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.
721 River Street
Troy, NY 12180
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