Ruby Donut (Ayer, MA)

While the pandemic has definitely hit a lot of restaurants and bakeries hard, those places that are either primarily or entirely takeout found themselves uniquely situated to weather this particular storm; hang up a few plexiglass screens, and potentially update to a new POS system, and you’re good to go. So donut shops seem to have done quite well during the last year, and most of the shops I’ve ventured into are doing quite the business. However, my local area is basically just three different “donut” operations: Dunkin (meh), Lou’s (good cider donuts, awesome crullers), and Muriel’s (the ne plus ultra of deep-fried, lard-laden crispy cake donuts). But sometimes I crave a good bear claw, a fritter, or, best yet, a Boston Cream donut, and getting good versions of those requires a bit of travel.

In this case, recent work obligations have me again traveling frequently to Boxborough, MA to do vibration and thermal testing (in the parlance, the “shake and bake”), and my best traffic-avoiding route takes me right by a favorite donut shop: Ruby Donut in Ayer, MA. Located less than a quarter mile down the road from another Ayer favorite of mine, Woo Jung Korean food, Ruby is basically simplicity in a donut shop: it’s your basic small-town, privately-owned donut shop with a small seating area, a donut counter, and, well, not much else. You order up your donuts from the case, pay up, and you’re good to go.

But you don’t come to Ruby for the ambiance, you come here for the donuts. Pretty much every donut I’ve had at Ruby is pretty close to perfection of the classic donut styles like frosted, glazed, and old-fashioned donut. The only other place that I’ve found that does basic donuts this well is Carol Lee Donuts in Blacksburg, VA (which I haven’t been to in 20 years, so I hope they are still awesome). I’ll start with one of my benchmark donuts: the old-fashioned. One of the finest of the cake donuts, I’ve adored this style when done well: deep-fried to crispy perfection, cracking open with all sorts of little pores (this is important!), and having a perfect sugar glaze sealing it up. I first learned to love this style at a now long-gone family bakery at the main crossroads in Payson, AZ, where we’d stop on the way to various Northern Arizona destinations (often, taking me or my brother to nearby Camp Geronimo Boy Scout camp), and it’s still a favorite today when done right, and Ruby nails it. A nice, slightly tangy cake body with a good solid crumb to it. Then deep-fried, splitting up and making for all sorts of nice crispy corners. Then a perfect glaze applied without gaps, and without any sogginess (giving you a somewhat limited window to enjoy these at their peak, especially in high humidity weather).

But on my first of two trips this Spring, I also found another solid winner in the donut case at Ruby: a Boston Cream donut. I’ve always enjoyed that style of donut (a bit more than the namesake Boston Cream Pie, actually), and the Boston Cream at Ruby is probably the finest exemplar I’ve had. Unlike the substantial crumb of the old-fashioned donut, the Boston Cream is a very light and airy raised donut, fried to an utter perfect crispiness, and filled with a very flavorful custard and topped with a not-too-sweet, not-too-thick chocolate frosting. Unlike a lot of Boston Cream donuts, nothing soggy here, and nothing overwhelming the nice combination of custard and crispy donut.

I’ve occasionally scored a few nice specialty donuts as well; the last trip had me trying a “cinnamon crunch” donut, which was the same excellent raised donut base dough of the Boston Cream, but covered with a nice, extra-spicy cinammon sugar coffee-cake-like coating. This evoked both the nice features that made me love the Boston Cream, while also reminding me of the many, many cinnamon toast breakfasts of my childhood.

However, one of the attractions of Ruby is also one of the challenges; Ruby Donut specializes in fresh donuts, bringing out small batches of donuts throughout the day, and as a result the selection varies with a combination of luck and timing. While I can almost always score an old-fashioned donut, that sublimely excellent Boston Cream donut is somewhat elusive; most of my visits are before 7am, and the Boston Cream donut is a rare sighting at that hour. Similarly, my friend Gary (of former fame) has posted several pictures of some delightful-looking fresh bear claws… both from later in the morning.

But in any case, if you find yourself around the extreme NW Boston suburbs, Ruby Donut is a great little gem of a donut shop, and worth stopping in.

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