I love mochi. I love doughnuts. (I mean … I’m only human.) And when I took a gap year in Taiwan, I regularly enjoyed a dessert that married my two loves into one amazing treat: the mochi doughnut.
For the uninitiated, a mochi doughnut is a cross between mochi, the Japanese rice cake, and a fried doughnut. They come in many pastel colors and flavors ranging from Asian-inspired ones like yuzu and taro to others like Oreo or funnel cake. They have their roots in fried poi mochi, or little fried taro balls mixed with mochi flour, in Hawaii. But their most common style — a ring formed of eight interconnected balls of chewy goodness — was popularized by the chain Mister Donut, which is dominant in Asia but actually has local roots. Founded by Harry Winokur, brother-in-law of Dunkin’ founder Bill Rosenberg, it got its start in Boston.
Within the United States, mochi doughnuts are available mostly in major cities — not in my college town in Connecticut, and definitely not in my hometown in Arkansas. Lucky for me, they’ve gained a local foothold in the last few years. So when I prepared to move to Boston, I was ready to patronize independent bookstores, visit iconic museums, and watch boats along the Esplanade — but more than anything else, I wanted a mochi doughnut.
But not all mochi doughnuts are created equal.
According to pastry chef and recipe developer Catherine Zhang, the key to a good mochi doughnut is texture. She tested many recipes to try to replicate a Mister Donut-esque mochi doughnut for her new cookbook, “Mochi, Cakes and Bakes,” which is out in November. According to Zhang, the ideal texture can vary according to personal taste, but there are a couple of factors to keep in mind.
One is the base. According to Zhang’s research, Mister Donut uses tapioca starch for its doughnuts instead of glutinous rice flour. It’s what gives them their chewy, bouncy texture. Glutinous rice flour (a.k.a. mochi flour) can make doughnuts “a bit stodgy,” she said.
In Boston, some mochi doughnut vendors belong to chains that use proprietary mixes that probably contain at least a little bit of both — at least, I think. In my quest for Boston’s best mochi doughnut, I talked to general managers, cashiers, and owners. Most couldn’t tell me what is in their doughnuts.
As Will Oh, assistant general manager at Paris Baguette, said of their recipe: “It’s very confidential. Even if I could give it to you, I have no idea.”
To me, the ideal mochi doughnut is chewy and has consistent structural integrity. The icing has hardened on the top, and you can pull apart each of the eight balls with ease. The flavor of mochi doughnuts largely comes from the icing, but the balance between icing and doughnut should be such that you can taste both.
In the name of journalism, I sampled 26 mochi doughnuts at seven outlets around town. Here’s what you need to know about each one.
The trailblazer: Coco Leaf
The first mochi doughnut in Boston was at Coco Leaf, a local dessert café with two locations. It started selling mochi doughnuts in 2017, before they gained popularity in other parts of the country, which meant Coco Leaf often had to educate people about what mochi doughnuts are.
“We had to warn them about the texture before they tried it, because they’d see a doughnut, and they’re expecting a traditional cake doughnut,” said Somath Om, one of the co-owners. “Then they bite into it and it’s like a marshmallow-y, gooey texture.”
The doughnuts here look like traditional American-style doughnuts, and they are in limited supply. They’re only available on the weekends. Because mochi doughnuts are so labor intensive, said Om, Coco Leaf makes only a couple dozen of them, and they usually sell out in two hours.
The doughnuts are topped in a white chocolate glaze and coated in Oreo crumble, matcha, or Fruity Pebbles. (The matcha was great!) They’re made with a glutinous rice flour base, which makes them chewier than most other mochi doughnuts. But it works — an evocation of the bouncy texture known as QQ, found in boba and other chewy Asian desserts.
Note: The Dorchester location will be closed until the end of the month for renovations, but it will be back in September with new Vietnamese street food items such as papaya salad with beef liver and fried chicken.
1480 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, 617-506-0010, and 305 Newbury St., Back Bay, 857-991-1719. www.cocoleafboston.com.
Most creative: Neighborhood Donut Society
For Canton resident Anna-Li Claiborne, mochi doughnuts were a pandemic-era pivot. She was a server for the past 25-plus years, but the shutdown gave her and her college-aged kids time to experiment with recipes. The complex recipe they came up with is gluten-free (other mochi doughnuts often include flour); she makes the doughnuts for her pop-up outfit at the Dorchester location of Coco Leaf, where she also helps prep their doughnuts (made from a different recipe).
Neighborhood Donut Society’s doughnuts (like the ones at Coco Leaf) are shaped like traditional American doughnuts, and they’re super dense. They’re like a cross between the fruity Japanese candy Hi-Chew and a doughnut.
Claiborne says running a pop-up with preorders and not a brick-and-mortar store allows her to experiment and do more flavor combinations than she otherwise would.
“My husband’s a big gardener. And I’ll see things, and I’m like, ‘Oh, let’s try this! Let’s do strawberry basil,’” she said. “I am able to use different toppings and do different things with them.”
From drink-inspired doughnuts like “dirty chai” to her twist on a black sesame mochi doughnut (more savory than your average doughnut), these are worth a try. If you’re into cereal-topped doughnuts, the Thai iced tea with fruity crunch is the one to order.
Neighborhood Donut Society can be a little hard to track down, but watch its Instagram for new flavors and pop-ups (most frequently in Tokava in Jamaica Plain and MacaBoston in Somerville’s Bow Market).
For pop-up/preorder information, go to www.instagram.com/neighborhood.donut.society/
Spice of life: Pon de Joy
Pon de Joy is a mochi doughnut maker located in the Super 88 food court in Allston. Owner Heather Kim lived in Boston for more than 20 years but is currently based in Los Angeles. During her time in California (where mochi doughnut franchises truly took root), she fell in love with mochi doughnuts in the “pon de ring” style — the official name for the flower shape popularized by Mister Donut.
“My biggest motivation was to bring something that didn’t exist in Boston that I thought was a really great product,” said Kim.
Pon de Joy’s doughnuts are made from a Hawaiian mochi doughnut mix that contains both tapioca starch and rice flour, and the batter is tweaked to Kim’s personal preference. On any given day, doughnut lovers have a choice of 14 flavors, such as cherry-lime and rose milk tea, and every week the shop brings out one or two new kinds from an ever-growing bank of more than 60 flavors.
Compared to other pon de ring-style doughnuts in Boston, these are probably the most dense, and the icing never really hardens the way I want it to. While the density is not my preference, flavors like mango Tajín and “everything but the bagel” are fun and inventive, and the packaging — inspired by Korean bojagi (wrapping cloths) — is beautiful. I can see why these are so Instagrammable.
1 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-208-8885, www.pondejoy.com
Most polarizing: Mochinut/OneZo
Mochinut is run by an elusive boss known to employees simply as “Panda.” The Allston location shares space with bubble tea outlet Gong Cha and feels like a minimalist coworking space. When I told people about my mochi doughnut journey, this place kept coming up. Their impressions were overwhelmingly positive, but the vibes just aren’t what I’m looking for.
Mochinut has locations across the United States and in Asia. Its doughnuts come in 16 flavors, and while these vary from location to location, they don’t rotate at the Allston spot. My favorite doughnut here was the yuzu. It didn’t taste anything like citrus, but I was still into it. For those looking for a less-sweet doughnut experience, black sesame was also good. In terms of icing consistency, Mochinut is probably the most similar to mochi doughnuts I’ve had in places like Los Angeles and Taiwan, but the texture of its dough varied widely from doughnut to doughnut.
I wish I could give you more concrete information on these doughnuts, but after four phone calls, an e-mail to Mochinut headquarters, and a conversation in Mandarin with someone in the kitchen, I could not get in touch with Panda. (Panda, if you’re out there, I just wanna talk.)
Mochinut is also working to expand into Chinatown. Starting at 2 p.m. daily, a partial selection of Mochinut flavors is available at Chinatown bubble tea spot OneZo. That location is pretty busy and definitely a grab-and-go kind of place.
154 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-208-8561, and 83 Harrison Ave., Chinatown, 617-982-6985. www.instagram.com/mochinut_bos_allston/?hl=en
Best for the indecisive: Paris Baguette
Paris Baguette, the bakery just outside of Korean market H-Mart in Central Square, has a lot of different pastries. It doesn’t specialize in mochi doughnuts. According to assistant general manager Oh, they only account for 5 to 10 percent of sales. But their texture is satisfyingly light.
As I mentioned before, Oh makes the doughnuts but doesn’t know what’s in them. The company formulates its recipes in South Korea and distributes the mix to each franchise location.
Here’s what he does know: All of the North American Paris Baguettes use the same mix, and they have four flavors. They always carry sugar and matcha mochi doughnuts, and the other two flavors change seasonally.
Before you e-mail me, I know, I know — Cambridge is not Boston. But hear me out: Paris Baguette’s matcha doughnuts are particularly notable because they are dusted with matcha powder, so they actually taste like real matcha. They have limited options, which saves you from choice paralysis, and a quality product. So if you’re in the area, check it out.
581 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-714-3062, www.parisbaguette.com.
Best overall vibes: Mochi Dough
Hanging out at Mochi Dough, all I could think was, “This is the dream hangout spot I would have designed when I was 14.” The pink-and-teal color scheme plus the wall covered with kawaii doughnut photos makes it an atmospheric place to chat with friends, and the deep-cut One Direction and Britney Spears soundtrack brought me back to a simpler time. (I wasn’t far off base. Owner Huy Nguyen says his three kids, two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old, helped him pick out the decor.)
I know I said I like a hard icing, but Mochi Dough on Newbury Street is an exception. Even though its icing doesn’t quite harden, the dough is great and consistent from doughnut to doughnut. It offers eight flavors every week, pulled from a bank of more than 100. Taro is the most popular.
Mochi doughnuts don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re usually a part of an entire ecosystem of Asian foods and drinks. Every mochi doughnut place in Boston exists inside or within walking distance of a boba shop — and in my opinion, this one is the best. It’s tucked into a basement level near Ten One Tea House, and shares a space with Vietnamese restaurant Pho Real, which draws on Nguyen’s family recipes. So you can get lunch, boba, and mochi doughnuts all in the same trip.
If you’re looking for my recommendation on one doughnut to try from them all, it’s the churro doughnut from this place. It’s always available.
279 Newbury St., Back Bay, Boston, 617-602-1080, https://www.instagram.com/mochidoughboston/?hl=en
Serena Puang was a Globe intern in 2022. Follow her on Twitter @SerenaPuang.