We are in the grip of a global doughnut obsession. Far from abating, our bizarre fascination keeps growing, elevating this humble deep-fried food to cult status.
Witness the cronut, that crazy Frankenfood croissant/doughie hybrid that spurred a worldwide frenzy, a Beatles-esque mania in the food world, with salivating punters queuing around the block in New York and beyond.
In England, baker Justin Gellatly regularly sells 2000 doughnuts on a Saturday in London's Borough Market. His are fancy, fermented for 24 hours and with top-notch fillings such as caramel custard topped with salted honeycomb.
Now, let's head to Fawkner, a quiet residential suburb in Melbourne's north. Three weeks ago Zena Samia and Jimmy Othman started selling Nutella-filled doughnuts from their backstreet milk bar, "Jimmy's Place". They posted a pic on Facebook (their page had 165 likes), and placed an order for 75 doughnuts. Within three hours, all the doughnuts were pre-sold.
Day two: they increased their order to 200. Those doughnuts sold out by 10.30am. "Within one week we upped our order to 800," says Samia. At last count, Jimmy's had 2930 likes (and rising), and sells 1000 doughnuts a day, most of which are gone by 6pm. That's 7000 doughnuts a week. Massive!
What's interesting is that these aren't "name" doughnuts – there's no "Zumbo" or Tivoli Road tag attached. They are made by an Italian baker in Thomastown who Samia approached after taste-testing umpteen offerings. They collaborated on the shape, the softness of the dough, the size, the amount of icing sugar, the filling, and – bam! – doughnut frenzy. He is now baking exclusively for Jimmy's.
Customers' reactions have been extreme. "Some of them have been dancing in the shop, some going, 'Oh my God'," Othman says. Others buy a few doughnuts, scoff them in the car, and come straight back in with empty cartons for more. Samia and Othman are amazed at the response.
"We've had someone from Richmond send a courier. She gave us her bank details for six Nutella doughnuts," says Samia. People are travelling from all over Melbourne, including Dandenong, and word has even travelled as far as Houston, Texas. A customer messaged the shop requesting the doughnuts be snap-frozen and shipped to America.
So what are Jimmy's doughnuts like? They're good, classic, and ultra fresh, a cross between an Italian bombolone and an American-style, the dough squashy, airy, and light, but with enough body to hold its texture. Each one is dusted with sugar or icing sugar and filled with a generous splodge of Nutella, vanilla custard, strawberry jam or salted caramel (all $3, except for the caramel, which is $4). Lemon meringue and strawberry cream are being trialled. They are vegetarian – no animal fats, no gelatine in the jam.
It's a boon for the Argyle Street shop, which has been a family business for 30 years. "I grew up in this shop. My mum was three months pregnant with me," says Samia, who is expecting her second child. "My dad was actually planning on selling the business and we said, 'No, no, we'll take over'. We named it Jimmy's Place."
Now, I'm off to buy a doughnut.
Jimmy's Place: 38 Argyle Street, Fawkner, 9359 0151. Doughnuts arrive between 9am and 10am Monday to Saturday, and from about 10.30am Sunday. Updates on facebook.com/Jimmy's-Place