We Ranked the Cake Doughnuts at World’s Best Donuts

The Grand Marais doughnut shop just got a best-in-the-U.S. shoutout, so we tasted them for ourselves
A dozen cake donuts from World's Best Donuts
A dozen cake donuts from World’s Best Donuts

Erik Tormoen

It’s time for Minnesota to get some more “Did you know?”-style national attention related to food. Some examples from the recent past: Wrecktangle has the country’s best pizza. Minneapolis is the eighth best city for burgers

News of this sort recently featured World’s Best Donuts. The family-owned, 50-plus-year-old Grand Marais outpost known for thick, fluffy cake doughnuts is one of the United States’ greatest makers of the lard-fried delicacy, according to the staff at Tasting Table.

Last month, the food-and-drink outlet rounded up the country’s best, state by state and doughnut by doughnut. It seems like doughnuts especially receive this sort of comprehensive, nation-scouring write-up. In this case, Grand Marais made the grade.

World's Best Donuts in Grand Marais
World’s Best Donuts in Grand Marais

Erik Tormoen

World’s Best Donuts is near East Bay and across from the fishing store where a giant toothy walleye careens through the roof. A sign on the window of this walk-up bakery assures those who don’t enjoy cake doughnuts (why? because they’re known to be dry? crumbly?) that they will enjoy these cake doughnuts.

Erik Tormoen

Sarah O’Phelan, of Tasting Table, picked the powdered-sugar cake doughnut as the standout here. A friend and I sampled and ranked six cake varieties to taste for ourselves.

First things first: All of them, whether whiskered with sugar or capped with chocolate, are excellent. This is an exercise in indulgence, first and foremost. We could not add any of the raised varieties to our dozen, so we contented ourselves with the denser, somehow more mature-seeming cake doughnuts.

And here they are, scientifically ranked from least-best to most-best:

Erik Tormoen

6) Sugar

Sugar crystals added just a little too much sweetness, and there’s a fine, sandy grit here that calls for milk.

Erik Tormoen

5) Glazed

Flaky, craggy, crackly—the glaze on this doughnut, like a choppy lake, does not match the mirror sheen of a Krispy Kreme. And so the glazed cake doughnut, as a phenomenon, may simply pale beside its raised, glazed counterpart. Still, it’s hard to say no to a glaze. This one delivers, but could it do with a denser glaze? My friend expected a tad more sweetness, and I coveted the Kreme’s ice-rink surface.

Erik Tormoen

4) Cinnamon-Sugar

Cinnamon gives depth to the sweet, sandy coating that I didn’t love on the sugar doughnut. And my friend was smitten. It reminded him of the cinnamon-sugar toast of his childhood. “I could’ve had six, but I was satisfied with a couple bites.”

Erik Tormoen

3) Powdered Sugar

I have never loved the metallic tinge of a powdered-sugar doughnut. But with this version, I came to enjoy the way the ultra-fine powder lightly cakes. If you’re a fan, definitely get one or two. If you’re a mega fan, my friend suggests there may not be enough powdered sugar. “Usually, a light inhale is enough to choke me with the amount of sugar on the doughnut.” I wasn’t expecting a fur coat of the stuff and appreciated the amount of sweetness.

Erik Tormoen

2) Chocolate-Dipped

This was my friend’s favorite. Growing up, my family occasionally got doughnuts from a neighborhood place where the chocolate ganache was sharp, tacky, and thin. Here, the ganache is rich, creamy, and thick. It isn’t sweet in a cloying way that would overpower the doughnut, either.

Erik Tormoen

1) Plain

I’m vouching for this as No. 1, although my friend would place it at No. 3 (behind chocolate and cinnamon).

My issue with the three sugary-powdery cake doughnuts further down this list (sugar, cinnamon, and powdered-sugar) has to do with added sweetness, although I also didn’t love how their granular coatings seemed to distract from the perfection of the doughnut exterior. That exterior is almost crispy. And with the plain doughnut, the moist, fluffy density goes unadorned. It seems like the ideal way to appreciate what World’s Best Donuts has to offer.