Filed at 8:54 p.m. ET
CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Pomegranate thyme and bing cherry balsamic may sound like salad dressings, and lemon chamomile creme custard may evoke thoughts of fancy teas, but they actually are cutting edge flavors in the latest fad to hit the U.S. baking scene: doughnuts.
So much for glazed and jelly.
Fresh off the nation's fascination with cupcakes, bakers across the country are experimenting with gourmet flavor combinations and unorthodox ingredients in doughnuts, everything from meats to Cocoa Puffs breakfast cereal.
At Glazed Donuts Chicago, for example, mint leaves spring from the holes of iced mint mojito doughnuts. Baker Kirsten Anderson also adds grape jelly to the dough of her peanut butter and jelly doughnuts.
''You're taking a relatively inexpensive item and you're turning it into a luxury item,'' says Anderson, whose seasonal offerings also have included butternut squash and white chocolate blueberry doughnuts.
''So maybe people can't afford the best house or the best car, but they can go out and buy a piece of indulgence at a price they can afford.''
Paul Mullins, author of ''Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut,'' calls them ''designer doughnuts'' and says the trend defies the stereotype of doughnut shops as smoke-filled havens for laborers lingering over burnt coffee and bad doughnuts...
Additionally, fancy doughnuts are increasingly common. Designer doughnut shops, bakeries and related businesses have proved popular with young urbanites on both U.S. coasts, as well as large inland cities such as Chicago, Mullins says.
''The chefs, they're really skilled, they are really creative,'' he says. ''These designer doughnuts by regular Krispy Kreme-standards are pricey, but by haute cuisine standards, $5 or $6, that's not that much.''
The doughnut-makers are playing with consumers' notions of creativity and curiosity, Mullins says. ''What in the world does a chamomile doughnut taste like? I don't know if I'd want it on an every-week basis, but I'd give it a shot.''
Michelle Vazquez, owner of Mandarin Gourmet Donut Shoppe in Miami, Florida (home to the chamomile creation, as well as a guava and cheese variety), says her doughnuts are attractive to health conscious customers who want something ''a little bit higher-class than a regular doughnut.''
She uses organic ingredients, trans fat-free oil, seasonal fresh fruits, Ghirardelli chocolates and cheeses such as savory French fromage blanc and creamy Italian mascarpone.
Mark Isreal, owner of Doughnut Plant in New York City, sees doughnuts as palettes for creativity and experimentation. He created a square doughnut filled with homemade jelly. Other recent flavors have included peanut butter, roasted chestnuts, cranberries and coconut.
''The bakery is my artist's studio in a way, where I create,'' Isreal says. ''You're going to have a flavor and a texture that is totally new for a doughnut, and that's exciting.''
Designer doughnuts are not as popular as cupcakes, which spawned a craze of cafes and bakeries, but the groundwork is there, says Sarah Levy, a pastry chef who owns two dessert shops in Chicago and is author of ''Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion.''
''It's an item where you can put a unique twist to it to kind of freshen it and make it exciting again,'' she says. ''It's kind of a cool blank slate that you can doctor up and make them festive with different ingredients.''
At Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon, owner Kenneth ''Cat Daddy'' Pogson says the bakery puts a signature stamp on doughnuts by using sugar cereals such as Fruit Loops and bacon strips as ingredients. The shop's bacon maple bar doughnut came to be after a discussion about mixing savory and sweet flavors.
''I walked in with some bacon one day and boom, there it was,'' Pogson says. ''Two strips of bacon.''
Back in Chicago, Anderson makes doughnuts for customers like Ellen Pecciotto of Chicago, who bought butternut squash and frosted apple cider doughnuts.
''I love the different flavors,'' Pecciotto said after making her purchase at a recent local farmer's market. ''Nobody does that.''
Anderson says she will continue to experiment with her doughnut flavors.
''There's a lot of room for growth,'' she said. ''I think things are just beginning.''
On the Net:
Glazed Donuts Chicago: http://www.glazedchicago.com
Doughnut Plant: http://www.doughnutplant.com
Voodoo Doughnut: http://www.voodoodoughnut.com
Mandarin Gourmet Donut Shoppe: http://www.mandaringourmetdonutshoppe.com/