The humble doughnut is humble no more. While once your reference point might have been a five-pack of custard-filled from the local supermarket, these pillowy treats have not been immune to the ubiquitous artisan update. Following in the wake of rainbow-hued macarons and indulgent freakshakes, they’re taking the dessert scene by storm. Enter Crosstown Doughnuts: purveyor of doughnuts with a difference.

Dreamed up by an Australian and a New Zealander to rectify the lack of outrageous doughy delights in London, it’s now one of the capital’s most beloved gourmet dessert spots. Crosstown representative Erin Ward reveals how the business took flight: The inspiration behind Crosstown was simple: introduce artisan doughnuts and coffee to the UK. Speciality doughnuts have long been popular over in the USA but there wasn’t anything like that in London at the time.” And so began the city’s love affair with America’s favourite snack.

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The Piccadilly branch of Crosstown Doughnuts & Coffee.

Putting doughnuts on the map

The team behind Crosstown is an international gathering, their name a nod to the buses that traverse the Big Apple – the city that inspired their creations. Three years ago they moved to London to tackle the niche they identified in the sweet treat market. Crosstown co-founders JP Then and Adam Wills, along with shareholders Peter Gordon and Marcus Miller, began to experiment with recipes and flavour combinations, incorporating ingredients from across the globe with an emphasis on quality and taste.

Once they’d nailed the first batch, we began trading at Leather Lane market.” says Erin. From there, we progressed to opening a pop-up shop in Piccadilly Circus station, before launching our first permanent store on Soho’s Broadwick Street”. Crosstown now have five permanent doughnut and coffee bars across London (in Soho, Shoreditch, Camden, Victoria and Piccadilly) and trade at a number of markets throughout the week, including Leather Lane where it all began.

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Sourdough delights with artisan toppings.

Standing out from the crowd

In a city where food markets and pop-ups dominate the foodie scene, Crosstown had to find a unique selling point. London already boasts nitro gelato and bubble waffles, biskies and froyo – so what was going to set these doughnuts apart? It was then that the idea for using sourdough was born. We experimented with lots of different types of dough during the development stage.” says Erin. Sourdough was gaining popularity in bakeries and restaurants at the time and we found that it offered a unique taste and texture that was ideal for what we wanted.” Crosstown’s signature dough is a carefully concocted hybrid, combining sourdough and fresh baker’s yeast. The result is a dough that has a stronger, denser crumb, soft but with a slight chew, that has less fat absorption compared to other doughnuts.

It’s not just the texture that makes Crosstown’s sweet delights stand out; the unconventional flavours and toppings beguile taste buds looking for something new. We’re always trying to come up with interesting flavour combinations, or give the classics a Crosstown twist. A couple of flavours that have gained a lot of attention have been our Beetroot & Lemon-Thyme Ring, the limited edition Pandan Custard doughnut we made for Chinese New Year 2016 and our current Black Forest and Gingerbread Cake Christmas specials.”

Those with a sweet tooth don’t have to wait for the holidays to indulge. As our seasonal flavours change throughout the year, there’s always a new favourite, but our all-time most popular flavours are probably either our Cinnamon Scroll or Chocolate Truffle – they’re classics for a reason!”

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The coffee is excellent too.

A day in the life

Of course, this popularity doesn’t come without plenty of hard graft. Erin talks us through a typical day: All our doughnuts are handmade from scratch seven days a week, from the three different types of dough we make (sourdough, cake and vegan) to all the fillings and toppings. We source high-quality local ingredients where possible and products from overseas where necessary in order to create the best possible taste in every component of each doughnut.” The doughnuts don’t contain any artificial preservatives, additives or colourings and are fried in rapeseed oil to prevent trans fats during cooking.

It’s a round-the-clock affair, with the cross-town mentality clearly evident in how the team works together. Our small team of bakers and pastry chefs works throughout the night to ensure that the doughnuts are ready to deliver to each of our stores fresh each morning.” explains Erin. The bakers begin by mixing the dough, which is then rolled, pinned and cut by hand and placed in the prover to rise, before being fried. Meanwhile, our pastry chefs make glazes, icings, custards, jams, compotes and crumbles.” Once the doughnuts have been fried, they’re filled, hand-dipped and finished with their various toppings, including blowtorching the top of the crème brûlée doughnuts. These personal finishing touches and attention to detail are what make Crosstown doughnuts so noteworthy – and so picture-perfect.

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The beloved Beetroot & Lemon-Thyme Ring.

Hashtag crosstown

Crosstown is the latest in a line of London foodie spots to get the Instagram midas touch. Erin chimes in with how she thinks social media has influenced their success: Having started out at a market stall, we’ve always had direct contact with self-professed London foodies, who are very discerning and vocal about what they like and dislike. Where initially we were reliant on word of mouth for awareness of the brand to grow, once our social following started to increase – particularly on Instagram – everything sort of snowballed.”

Indeed, Crosstown is sitting pretty at nearly 60,000 followers on Instagram since setting up shop in mid 2014. Social media platforms are key to how foodies discover and experience new trends in London and have played a vital role in Crosstown’s success so far. With a single image, caption or review, everyone can show their friends, family, followers and complete strangers what they’re eating and what they think of it. You see something delicious, you want to eat it. It definitely helps that our doughnuts are extremely photogenic!” says Erin. We love seeing people’s photos and comments and receiving feedback, whether good or bad, as it’s what helps us to make changes and grow.” With that mentality, the Crosstown team’s delicious doughnuts seem set to beat the curse of the passing fad – and instead become a stalwart of the London foodie scene.

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