I’m not sure what possessed me. I had been wanting to review Pepples Donuts for some time, but knew I couldn’t handle a full tasting on my own and many of my friends who often join me in these ventures were unavailable. So I headed to the Ferry Plaza, originally with the intention of just trying one or two flavors and thinking I would return with a full crew to help me in my endeavors. Arriving at the north end of the building and seeing a growing line across from Sur la Table, a giant frosted doughnut sign beckoned and with a line already established at the small stand, I knew I was in the right place. And seeing the two large trays with so many flavors, I knew there was no way I could only taste just a few.
There was a nice guy standing in line in front of me and a thought ran through my head; maybe he wouldn’t mind sharing a few. I asked if I could buy him a doughnut or two and help me taste them but when it came to choosing, I lost complete control. “Just give me one of each,” I instructed. Incredulity prevailed and I assured Kevin — as we were now introduced — that it was a matter of getting a thorough review. Exactly a dozen were placed in the ubiquitous pink box, with none touching each other and potentially destroying their perfect frostings. “Very conscientious,” I thought to myself! She was careful to not stack or otherwise maul the frosting on the doughnuts before we had an opportunity to taste them. A remaining four were placed in individual bags giving us the full sweep of all 16 flavors:
Far West Candy Cap
Kaffir Lime Leaf Glaze
Matcha Organic Green Tea
Kevin – with sincere apologies to his girlfriend, Sarah-Jane who was unable to participate due to gluten allergies – and I headed to the benches behind the Blue Bottle Coffee stall at the front of the Plaza. Thanks goes to Kevin for treating me to a coffee to help wash down the tastings. As a matter of record, to date this is the most expensive tasting I have endeavored; with each doughnut costing $2.00 to $3.00 each, we were about to feast on more than $40 worth of tasty cakes.
Unlike other doughnut shops, Pepples is 100% a cake company; no raised, no fritters, no crullers. And one of their huge selling points is that their doughnuts are organic and 100% vegan. I am intrigued by this as I am unsure what leavening agents replace eggs or what binders replace butter or milk in vegan baking. This fact might make me a little more critical in tasting these doughnuts, but I would like to think not, considering their popularity. As this report shows, many who ultimately tasted through the bounty had no idea these doughnuts were vegan!
Kevin enjoyed the tasting, indicating the offerings were rich but not too sweet with a good crumb. I broke into the cinnamon and was a bit surprised that instead of a simple dusting of cinnamon and sugar, the spice was encased in a frosting which somewhat chunked off in bites and I found a tad on the sweet side. Kevin didn’t mind as much and I’m sorry he couldn’t stay to work through all sixteen flavors. Laura had been watching us and spying the brightest colored, dived into the blueberry. Not actually blue but pink, she admitted to not really being a doughnut fan but was impressed by how really good and not greasy it was.
Sitting on an empty bench with an open box of jeweled colors drew the attention of other Blue Bottle customers and I proceeded to invite others to join in on the tasting. Joanne was one of the first to sit down and introduced me to little Emi who was quite thrilled to finish off the blueberry doughnut all on her very own. Emi’s Dad also told me about Emi’s favorite book I am going to have to look into, a children’s book called The Donut Chef! Well that sealed it – Emi is already a doughnut aficionado and perfectly delightful! We both enjoyed the blueberry, although I found its flavors a bit more muted than anticipated. I am chalking this up to the fact that all the flavors which are used are derived from natural ingredients and not the more pungent, artificial flavors that our palates have grown accustomed to.
Stephanie and her friend, Katherine stopped by next, tasting the Kaffir lime leaf with coconut and like me with the blueberry, Stephanie found it a bit too subtle, wishing it were more pronounced. Katherine also wished for stronger flavors, but genuinely liked the Matcha green tea. There was a bit of a growing mess around me as clumps of frosting broke off and fell to the ground – not quite adhering to the doughnuts. But that just drew that many more people willing to help me get through this monumental effort.
Steve was another eager helper, tasting and being especially fond of the orangesicle and the salted caramel, surprised they were not too oily or overpowering. John and Greg were shocked to learn the doughnuts were vegan and both enjoyed the candy cap, thinking it was maple. I explained that candy cap was a mushroom, giving it a slight earthy taste but having a good friend who makes candy cap syrup, agrees that it often has maple-like components to its flavor structure. John thought the actual cake flavor was a bit doughy while Greg said they were more moist than he was anticipating. John dived into the sprinkles, that being a favorite of his.
Tony was my last helper of the day and told me that he had a severe addiction to Pepples back when they were using coconut oil. He was working hard at the Blue Bottle stall and I left the remainder of our samples with him to share with his friends. We chatted for a bit, telling him I didn’t realize their oil had been changed. I loved that someone was able to provide a little background information on the company with insight as to its growth.
And me? Well, yes, I tasted every single one – starting with the more demur flavors; plain, vanilla, and cinnamon sugar. Frankly, the aroma of the cakes was that of uncooked batter and in several cases, the predominant TASTE hinted at rawness, similar to what John was saying. I found the Matcha green tea to give a hint of dustiness and the lemon poppy with not enough of a citrus component. I can’t say that about the orange creamsicle which was delightfully tangy. I enjoyed the blueberry but wished it had a similar tang of strength of fruit that the orange did. The coconut was one of the bigger, richer tastes with a good quality coconut. Without knowing what it was I was tasting, I don’t think I could have picked out the flavor of salted caramel other than it was sweet.
I held off and tasted the darker, chocolate doughnuts at the end. There are two different ways to experience Pepple’s chocolate; with chocolate frosting on a vanilla doughnut and as a full-on chocolate doughnut with a variety of toppings; just chocolate, chocolate cookie, and chocolate whiteout with coconut. There is also the coffee doughnut with chocolate icing with coffee bits. I was a bit surprised that Pepples promoted the candy cap doughnut was being a Far West Fungi mushroom, but does not indicate the coffee supplier for that doughnut. Being a Bay Area company, one would think it would be Ritual Roasters or Blue Bottle coffee, but who knows? Being a tremendous fan of a rich chocolate doughnut, I would not necessarily have known the chocolate doughnuts were vegan either and preferred the chocolate cake with chocolate icing. I really wanted the coffee to be a favorite and while it produced some aromatics, it lacked the rich, piquant coffee tastes — although I would happily taste it again with a glass of milk instead of a cup of coffee. I will grant that I might have distracted my own taste buds with the beverage choice.
But the hands-down favorite? By yours truly and as a general consensus by all who tasted it, there is no doubt the Kaffir lime leaf with coconut is the stand-out offering. It is a combination of exotic flavors without being bizarre or gimmicky. I did not detect the raw, doughy sensation with Kaffir lime doughnut like I did with the others. It was intriguing and one of the most exciting doughnuts I have experienced since I started documenting my love of fried dough. This is a Hall of Fame doughnut. But there is no way in the world I could have figured this out on my own and I wish to offer very special, heartfelt gratitude to everyone who helped out, were willing participants in tasting, talking, and picture-taking. Thank you all, so very, very much!
One Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, CA 94111
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