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Doughnuts can be vegan, too

Who doesn’t love doughnuts? They’re the perfect combination of carbohydrate and sugar (which I guess is really just sugar and sugar), and can be as simple or as complicated as one likes. Take a hole from the middle, or fill it with stuff. Sweet and savory combinations are endless. The availability of vegan sweet treats is on the rise in our towns, and Pandamonium Doughnuts is the best way to fulfill your doughnut desires.

chai cake doughnut, top right

Pandamonium Doughnuts, C-U’s newest food upstart sans brick and mortar store, is holding a series of pop up shops: the first was last weekend, the second this weekend, and the third April 4-6. In addition to typical (and atypical) non-vegan doughnut options, Panda Doughnuts, as they affectionately call themselves, also regularly serves at least one vegan option. One doughnut is no sweets assortment like those at Strawberry Fields or Common Ground Food Co-op, but it is impressive considering Panda Doughnuts has no real storefront, and only makes appearances at Urbana’s Market at the Square and other local events, like the Hatch Festival. With a food truck in the works for debut this spring, that could very well change.

The pop up series has a set menu that will remain the same over the three weekends. The vegan option on Friday and Sunday was chai cake, and banana cake on Saturday. I had both, and can tell you that they are worth the wait in line.

The vegan doughnuts were a little smaller than their non-vegan counterparts, which was a little disappointing when comparing sizes among all the doughnut options, especially the puffed up and rotund yeast doughnuts. The cake doughnuts were generally smaller, though, which made them look a little sad, but was at least consistent across the board. (Banana cake doughnut, left center.)

Both vegan options were cake doughnuts, which means they had a rich, dense, crumbly inside that resembles cake. The chai cake doughnut not only had chai in the cake, but also had a chai glaze over top. The glaze was a speckled beige color, and had dripped down the sides. The cake was mild in flavor: not too sweet, and not too much in the way of tea or chai spices. The exterior was crunchy fried cake goodness, and gave way to a moist cake interior. The glaze wasn’t too sweet, either, and had a warm, spiced flavor. I enjoyed the play of textures, and especially enjoyed the crunch of the outside against the smooth glaze.

The flavors of the chai doughnut weren’t particularly strong, and there was no hint of tea. Chai tea generally contains warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger, and there was a little bit of that coming through in the cake, and more in the glaze. I’d like to see Panda push the flavors a little further and really develop the tea component.

Saturday’s banana cake doughnut was similar in size to Friday’s chai, and against the yeast doughnuts, looked a little small. It was really beautiful, though, with a lovely dark, shiny chocolate glaze with banana (?) drizzle over the top. The consistency and texture of the cake was consistent with the chai; it was crunchy on the outside, and moist on the inside. The cake had notes of cinnamon, and very little in the way of banana. If I didn’t know I was eating a banana cake doughnut, I don’t know that I would have picked up on it, honestly. The beautiful chocolate glaze on top was rich, and tasted of the slight bitterness of cocoa. The glaze overpowered the cake, so it tasted more like a plain cake doughnut with chocolate sauce than anything else. The banana drizzle was inconsequential flavor-wise, but sure did make it look lovely. I didn’t mind too much that I couldn’t taste the banana, because the chocolate was so yummy and the texture of the doughnut was spot on.

The doughnuts were $1.50, which was cheaper than some of the non-vegan ones (which ranged in price from $1.50 to $2.75). It’s not exactly a 79-cent doughnut from Carmella’s or Dunkin Donuts (gross), but it is locally produced with high-quality ingredients, and, of course, vegan. (Cash and credit accepted, FYI.)

Both doughnuts were good, and perfect for dipping in coffee. I can’t say that they were the most innovative or flavorful. The non-vegan doughnuts have interesting flavors, and I think that there is definitely room to develop interesting, complicated, and sophisticated flavors for the vegan doughnuts. I’d also like to see some yeast options in the future. If the success of the first weekend’s popup is any indicator, I think there will be plenty more to come from Pandamonium Doughnuts. Keep an eye out for their food truck, slated to be ready to go sometime this spring.

Pandamonium Doughnuts will have two more popup shops in [co][lab], 206 West Main Street, Urbana: March 26-28 and April 4-6. Friday popups open at 5 p.m., Saturdays at 8 a.m., and Sundays at 10 a.m. Each popup will last until all the doughnuts are gone (about an hour to an hour and a half), so get there early. For more information, visit the Panda Doughnuts Facebook page or follow it on Twitter.

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