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Food critic reviews Dunkin's Valentine's Day treats

Some of the Valentine's treats available for a

Some of the Valentine's treats available for a limited time at area Dunkin locations. Credit: Newsday/Scott Vogel

When it was announced that a few lucky New York couples could win the chance to have weddings in the drive-thru lane of a Dunkin’ Donuts — part of an "experiential" Valentine’s campaign by the brew-and-glaze behemoth — my first thought was that someone had changed the definition of lucky when I wasn’t looking. My friends, meanwhile, had their own questions: Would there be a run on magenta and orange gowns, they wondered? Will guests throw sprinkles? Could I imagine myself tying the knot at Dunkin’? No, I replied, the doughnuts just aren’t good enough.

It’s not that I don’t marvel at the chain’s commitment to depicting every season, holiday, new moon and equinox in doughnut form. The present heart-shaped numbers, for instance, are undeniably cute, not to mention testaments to love’s enduring ability to triumph over the deep fryer. In one, vanilla frosting beset by an ant attack of chocolate jimmies is painted onto the sturdy pastry, its center squirted with brownie batter, or rather a filling that mimics the graininess and illicit thrill that consuming said batter allegedly induces. As turducken achievements go, this one deftly captures amour’s desperation. Another busy confection, Cupid’s Choice, is pretty and pink and filled with a Snack Pack-channeling Bavarian cream that does favors for neither Bavarians nor Cupid.

In short, both are disappointing, but not uniquely so. The entirety of Dunkin’s doughnut arsenal is about maximizing revenue and yield. Rather like supermarket tomatoes, they’ve been bred to be brightly colored, weakly flavored and firm enough to transport with minimal bruising. At my Dunkin’, as at most, doughnuts are not made on-site but trucked in each day. That explains the pastries’ leathery, deflated appearance, I think, as well as their same-day, day-old taste, a combination that is remarkable in its own way: a fried food that you actually want to say no to.

A yeast doughnut fresh from the fryer is among the greatest gifts a mouth can receive, and one of the rarest, sadly. A real doughnut is hot and steamy in your hands, its glaze fractures like a windshield when you bite, its soft innards dissolve on the tongue faster than cotton candy. Whereupon one says a silent prayer of thanks to the food gods for the uniquely American creation that is fried dough shaped like a lifering.

Dunkin’s doughnuts have their adherents, of course, an affection perhaps due to a halo effect cast by its coffee, which to my mind will always be the best of the chains: a smooth, non-bitter Arabica that doesn’t so much stimulate the brain as hot-wire it. (In December, the company began offering a second strain, with 20% more caffeine.) When it comes to its signature item, however, even Dunkin’ seems nonplused, officially dropping "Donuts" from its name in 2019.

Increasingly, the company’s heart belongs to breakfast sandwiches and its ever more complex coffee drinks, which it pours into Instagram’s gaping maw by the gallon. Engineered for just this purpose are two espresso-enhanced Valentine’s concoctions with a "stunning layered look," including a pink velvet macchiato that resembles an oil spill in the Gulf of Pepto but will perk up even the lamest afternoon.

Cupid’s Choice and Brownie Batter heart-shaped doughnuts, as well as Pink Velvet and Mocha Macchiatos, are available at Dunkin’ locations all over Long Island, dunkindonuts.com

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