There are plenty of doughnut options to be found in and around Atlanta, from old school sour cream rings with a simple glaze to brioche doughnuts stuffed with creative fillings and artfully decorated. But one doughnut in particular is having a serious moment right now in Atlanta: the mochi doughnut.
First popularized in Hawaii a few years ago, the mochi doughnut gained further prominence in the United States when it began popping up at shops around the West Coast. Japanese doughnut chain Mister Donut served as inspiration for the now distinctive (and highly Instagrammable) shape most often associated with mochi doughnuts, the pon de ring — think doughnut holes stuck together to form a ring similar to a baby teether.
Made by combining mochiko (a type of glutinous rice flour) and tapioca starch, mochi doughnuts are typically gluten free. Although, some bakers do mix wheat flour into the dough batter. The mochiko and tapioca starch combination provides the characteristic texture of a mochi doughnut, which tends to have a crispier exterior with a springy yet slightly dense interior. It’s a texture Brush Sushi Izakaya and Momonoki co-owner Jason Liang describes as “chewy, but not in a bad way, like bouncy and chewy.”
Liang and his business partner and wife ChingYao Wang were in high school when he says they first became smitten with mochi doughnuts. Mister Donut opened locations throughout Taiwan, where the couple grew up. The doughnuts quickly became all the rage there. Unable to find mochi doughnuts in Atlanta, Liang and Wang decided to develop a recipe for Momo Cafe, the bakery and coffee shop located inside Japanese restaurant Momonoki in Midtown.
Liang says he and Wang tested one recipe for a couple of months before determining that frying their mochi doughnuts wasn’t working. The doughnuts were too oily and greasy.
“We ended up buying a doughnut maker, it’s almost like a waffle maker, but in mochi doughnut shape, and it turned out quite similar, and even the flavor and then the texture was right in that mochi doughnut maker,” says Liang.
When mochi doughnuts are on the menu at Momo Cafe, people can expect traditional mochi doughnut flavors, like black sesame and matcha, sometimes even chocolate citrus.
While mochi doughnuts are still pretty difficult to find in Atlanta, that may not be the case for much longer. Mochibees opened its first locations in Duluth and Doraville this fall, with another location slated to open in Johns Creek. California-based Mochinut plans to open seven Atlanta-area locations, including a shop at Chattahoochee Food Works, as well as a location in Athens, Georgia.
The doughnut-making process at Mochibees and Mochinut is more automated, allowing for a wider selection of flavors, including ube, taro, and American toppings like Biscoff and cookies and cream. An extruder swiftly shapes the doughnuts into the signature bulbous ring shape before hitting the fryer.
Other Atlanta chefs are getting in on the mochi doughnut craze, too. Fu-Mao Sun, the chef behind Taiwanese food and breakfast pop-up Mighty Hans, uses mochi doughnuts as another vehicle to deliver the flavors and ingredients of Taiwan. He says adding a mochi doughnut to the menu for the breakfast pop-ups he holds at Gato on Saturday mornings was a “no-brainer.” People love pastries, Sun says, and the mochi doughnut offers a familiar texture from his childhood.
“In my household, we would eat this [dish] called tang yuan. It’s mochi wrapped around a red bean paste or black sesame, and my mom would boil it and we’d eat it like dessert,” he says.
Sun pipes his mochi doughnuts into molds before baking. He loves coating his doughnuts with peanut sugar, a popular Taiwanese topping found on many desserts in the country. For his peanut topping, Sun blends roasted peanuts with rock sugar.
Sun says it’s not surprising to him that mochi doughnuts have become the latest dessert trend in Atlanta.
“It’s just so different for everybody. It looks like a doughnut, but then you bite into it and it’s a completely different texture,” explains Sun. “I think it’s light, but also the chewiness catches people off guard, and with the delicious flavors that people are offering.”
Have you seen mochi doughnuts on the menu at an Atlanta bakery, pop-up, or coffee shop? Send Eater the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lia Picard is an Atlanta-based freelance writer covering a broad range of food and culture topics with a particular fondness for highlighting people who grow, cook, and serve food. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, Atlanta magazine, Eater Atlanta, and Thrillist. When she’s not writing, Lia is introducing her toddler to Atlanta’s best treats.