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Inside Magee's Bakery in Lexington, Ky. In the vast American heartland, where Germans and Scandinavian immigrants brought their baking skills with them, the doughnut culture survives in Kentucky despite large competitors like Dunkin' Donuts.

Christian Hansen, New York Times

STOPS ON KENTUCKY'S DOUGHNUT TRAIL

Burke's Bakery and Delicatessen, 121 W. Main St., Danville; 1-859-236-5661

Doughdaddy's, 3325 Lexington Road, Versailles; 1-859-873-1355; doughdaddys.com

Magee's Bakery, 726 E. Main St., Lexington; 1-859-255-9481; mageesbakery.com

Nord's, 2118 S. Preston St., Louisville; 1-502-634-0931; nordsbakery.biz

Spalding's Bakery, 760 Winchester Road, Lexington; 1-859-252-3737; spaldingsbakery.com

Stella Jane's Bakery, 809 Paint Lick Road, Berea; 1-859-358-6386

Susan's Country Bakery, 5427 Hwy. 643, Waynesburg; 1-606-355-2135

Twists and turns on Kentucky's doughnut trail

  • Article by: WILLIAM GRIMES
  • New York Times
  • November 3, 2012 - 3:05 PM

A road trip is always nice. But a quest is even better. Set a goal, and the miles become meaningful. And what goal could be more meaningful than the great American doughnut?

I have charted a horeshoe-shaped route in my frequent wanderings along the byways of central Kentucky in recent years, driven by the love of sweet fried dough.

Think of the state of Kentucky, despite its Southern accent and Southern ways, as the paunch hanging over the Midwestern bakery belt, the last calorie-filled province in an enormous swath of territory where the glazed twist, the apple fritter, the chocolate-iced Long John and the vanilla-cream Bismarck hold sway.

There is no maple bacon doughnut on that list. But you can find one at Nord's Bakery in Louisville, the first stop on the route.

Nord's is a venerable -- and venerated -- bakery on the edge of Germantown, near the University of Louisville. There's a small cafe area in the rear, but the action swirls around the display cases up front. The straight-ahead glazed yeast doughnuts, in toroidal and twist forms, are dark, fragrant and honeyed, a quality that should not be confused with cloying sweetness. They set the tone for a procession of all-stars, led by the toasted-coconut Long Johns.

The maple bacon doughnut, a local favorite that sells out fast, is alarmingly literal. This is a rectangular yeast doughnut smeared with maple icing and topped with a hefty strip of fried bacon -- one of those what-the-hell taste experiences not for the faint of heart.

For the doughnut hound, the next point of interest is Danville, a town of about 18,000 that regularly pops up on lists of America's most livable places. Route 127 (not the bypass) leads straight into town. Sweeping past the picture-postcard campus of Centre College, a small liberal-arts institution, Route 127 becomes Main Street, which is as all-American as the name suggests. There you'll find Burke's Bakery and Delicatessen, with a first-class lineup of chubby cake doughnuts iced in chocolate, vanilla and maple. Some are rolled in toasted coconut, others in cake crumbs. All have a fresh, fluffy interior. Do not overlook the sugary cinnamon-pecan pinwheels.

South of Danville, Route 643 leads to baked goods. The turnoff is about a mile north of Brodhead on Route 150, once known as the Wilderness Road. To the west, the road runs past tidy farms for nearly 6 miles before reaching Susan's Country Bakery, which turns out pies, rolls, breads and cookies in an outbuilding on an Amish farm. The glazed yeast doughnuts are hand-formed and as different from each other as snowflakes. Buy twice as many as you think you want.

It takes a little backtracking to link up with Interstate 75 in Mount Vernon, but from there it is just 14 miles to Berea. The town is home to Stella Jane's Bakery, recognizable by the pink-frosted doughnut painted on the front window. Stella Jane's excels at glazed jelly doughnuts, plain yeast doughnuts, iced cake doughnuts, apple fritters with flavorful chunks of fresh apple, and doughnut holes.

From Berea, it's a 35-mile trip up the interstate to Lexington, the beating heart of American horse racing, where two bakeries compete for top honors. Spalding's Bakery, on the industrial outskirts of town, does doughnuts in minimalist surroundings. There are no chairs, no tables, no coffees -- just doughnuts. Spalding's turns out a very dark, undeniably oily, rough-looking yeast doughnut that qualifies for the hall of fame, as well as a fearsome-looking yeast ball, dense and knotted, with pastry cream erupting out the top. It is a frightening sight, but it might be the best doughnut you will ever eat.

Spalding's main rival, Magee's Bakery, is a large, airy cafe. Cake and yeast doughnuts, with all sorts of icings, rank high, and particular note should be made of the two varieties of cinnamon swirl, with and without pecans on top.

The final stop is the weirdest. A couple of miles outside Lexington, heading west on Route 60, a strange hybrid appears. At first glance, it seems to be a BP gas station with a convenience store attached. But it's Doughdaddy's, a full-tilt celebration of fried dough in all its forms -- tray after tray tagged and laden with Bavarian Long Johns, "fluffy" Long Johns, cream horns, cinnamon buns. There are buttermilk cream cheese doughnuts, sour cream doughnuts, sour cream and cream cheese doughnuts, lemon-filled doughnuts.

Food writers often lament the death of road culture and the slow strangulation of homey American foods. But in this corner of Kentucky, at least, you can still find a plump round of fried dough filled to bursting with caramel and apple for $1.29. All is not lost.

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