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Made fresh every morning ... Doughboys doughnuts. Click for more photos

Doughnuts: Hole lotta love

Made fresh every morning ... Doughboys doughnuts. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

You wouldn't think good clean fun could be had in a pub at 7am, but at the break of day at West Melbourne's Mercat Cross Hotel, the chairs come down, the fryer goes on and Walter McKenzie sets out containers filled with bright icings, nuts, crumbled biscuits and brownie pieces, ready to hand-dip the first fat, ringed doughnuts of the day.

McKenzie, who started Doughboys in late 2013, shares the space with barbecue masters Fancy Hank's; if you arrive at just the right time, you can get yourself beer, slow-cooked meat and a doughnut.

Doughboys, which focuses on small-batch production, frying doughnuts six or so at a time, is part of a new wave of producers revamping the tuckshop snack of choice with inventive fillings and toppings that stretch beyond hot jam and sugar.

Milo glazed doughnut topped with crushed Maltesers from Candied Bakery.
Milo glazed doughnut topped with crushed Maltesers from Candied Bakery.

America is often credited with inventing the doughnut (a debate as hotly contested as the origins of pizza) yet many countries produce a fried dough treat, rich with history and sometimes a little imitation. From Polish paczki to Spanish churros, this is a snack food with a global appeal.

''Doughnuts are not that healthy,'' McKenzie concedes, ''but we make an effort to make them at least taste a bit healthier.'' His creations are made with organic flour, natural colourings and flavourings such as a fresh berry and basil topping, and, for frying, he uses rice bran oil, which produces a lighter flavour.

The most popular offering? ''Anything with chocolate,'' says McKenzie. The Double D certainly has that covered - it's dipped in dark cocoa icing, then crunchy peanut butter icing before a further coating of roasted nuts and chunky pieces of chocolate. ''It's pretty full on,'' he says.

Robert Coco, owner and baker at Clifton Hill's Cavallini, began as a pastry chef at Sydney's Rockpool in the mid-'90s before heading up high-flying hotel pastry kitchens in Japan, Thailand and Mauritius. These days he makes Italian-influenced favourites - he's put custard-filled bombolone and cinnamon-coated ciambelle on Cavallini's shelves every day since he opened eight years ago.

To make a great doughnut, Coco swears by good basic ingredients. ''We use fresh eggs, there's butter, there's fresh milk, as opposed to a commercial doughnut, which doesn't have any of those three key items.''

And at the extreme end of the doughnut scale is the cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid invented by New York City's Dominique Ansel Bakery that inspired imitators worldwide. Cavallini's version, named the New Yorker, is a 10-centimetre monolith of dough (laminated in layers like a croissant) filled with lemon curd then topped with a white glaze. Quick to sell out, they're available from Friday to Sunday, from 10am.

We criss-crossed the city to put together a list of Melbourne's 10 best doughnuts. Sure, we're on a sugar high, but sometimes, you've got to take one for the team.

Melbourne's 10 best doughnuts

AVIV CAKES & BAGELS
Take a number as you walk in the door at this Eastern European bakery. Giant doughnuts look like baseball-size clams, stuffed to bursting with thick vanilla custard. It's no surprise they're served with a knife and fork.
412 Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick, 9528 6627

BAKER IN THE RYE
You'll have to try your luck at this Polish bakery - doughnuts appear only every other day, or ''when the baker has time''. They're worth the wait; round, sugar-coated doughnuts filled with a slightly gritty house-made plum jam are a treat.
153 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 9525 6744

BEATRIX
Set your alarm early on Saturday mornings if you want to nab a fluffy ring of potato-infused brioche glazed with a wet lemon and sour cream topping. They're so popular they're often sold out by noon.
688 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, 9090 7301

CANDIED BAKERY
The team at Candied Bakery gives Aussie classics an American twist. A doughnut filled with sticky, seedless raspberry ''jelly''; the zuppa inglese is filled with a vanilla bean-flecked custard so thick you could carve it.
81a Hudsons Road, Spotswood, 9391 1335

CAVALLINI
Patissier Robert Coco's sugar-dusted Italian bombolini are as light as air - until they are filled with thick, glossy custard, that is. It's a messy affair suitable for the youngest (and oldest) doughnut fans.
354 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill, 9486 3883

COBB LANE BAKERY
You can get one (or two) of pastry chef Matt Forbes' salted caramel doughnuts at many a cafe around Melbourne but come to the source for the full effect. Forbes tells us he can't take the doughnuts off the menu or small children are likely to cry.
13 Anderson Street, Yarraville, 9687 1538

DOUGHBOYS
Doughboys doughnuts are made fresh every morning and succumb to their sweet toppings right before your eyes. Wake up with an espresso - Padre coffee brewed into icing sugar with roasted almonds and crushed, chocolate-coated coffee beans.
The Mercat Cross Hotel, 456 Queen Street, Melbourne

OLYMPIC DOUGHNUTS
Nick Tsiligiris has been frying, filling and sugaring these battered beauties from his silver caravan next to Footscray train station for near on 35 years. Even the price tag is retro - a hot jam doughnut will set you back the princely sum of 80 cents.
51 Irving Street, Footscray, 9689 4819

OASIS BAKERY
Wheat flour, yeast and water is all that's needed to make these sweet little Lebanese doughnuts. Drops of batter the size of golf balls are deep-fried then coated in a sticky orange blossom-infused sugar syrup.
Shop 9, 993 North Road, Murrumbeena, 9570 1122

TIVOLI ROAD BAKERY
A rotating selection of doughnuts with creative fillings grace the shelves here - think salted caramel (which has a cult following) or a chocolate and whisky number that's definitely not for kids. Early risers may find them at farmers markets too.
3 Tivoli Road, South Yarra, 9041 4345

Coming soon

ALL DAY DONUTS 
Raph Rashid (Beatbox Burgers, Taco Truck) is working on his first venture without wheels, a doughnut shop tucked away at a yet-to-be-disclosed, ''off Sydney Road'' location in Brunswick. Rashid is quiet on the details, but we can tell you there will be doughnuts, filter coffee, fried chicken and beer and it's likely to open within the month.

SHORTSTOP COFFEE & DONUTS
Hand-dipped cake doughnuts will soon be a viable breakfast option with Anthony Ivey's US-inspired Shortstop Donuts, due to open at the end of June. Construction starts soon on the in-house bakery and 20-seater at 12 Sutherland Street, city.