Who Triumphs in Pasadena's Ice Cream Doughnut Scene?

Afters Ice Cream's Milky Bun with churro ice cream
Afters Ice Cream's Milky Bun with churro ice cream
Hanh Nguyen

Two years ago, when Afters Ice Cream debuted its curiously named Milky Bun (a glazed doughnut stuffed with ice cream), it became the must-eat hybrid treat that eclipsed the then-popular cronut. Afters has since expanded to seven locations, including one in Pasadena.

But Afters' stranglehold on the ice cream–filled doughnut market has been challenged. Upstart Bengees Ice Cream Crafters recently opened in Pasadena (only a few blocks south of Afters), offering a next-level twist: an ice cream–filled cronut dubbed the Creamy Bun. Oh, snap!

Whose creative confection reigns supreme? We investigate:

Afters Ice Cream's Milky Bun with Cookie Monster ice cream
Afters Ice Cream's Milky Bun with Cookie Monster ice cream
Hanh Nguyen

Afters Ice Cream

The ice cream: The creative flavors include Vietnamese coffee, churro, jasmine milk tea, milk & cereal, and the electric-blue Cookie Monster. They're bold and richly sweet, with a thick, creamy consistency.

The doughnut: Afters makes its glazed doughnut in-house, and it's similar to a jelly doughnut in that there's no center hole. It's light, fluffy and tasty.

The Milky Bun: The doughnut is pressed around the ice cream (and various toppings of your choice) and then presented in a wax paper, diamond-shaped sleeve to keep your hands clean. The tender, warm doughnut combined with the chilly ice cream is a great contrast in temperatures.

Afters Ice Cream, 1265 E. Green St., Pasadena; (626) 673-1865, aftersicecream.com.

Bengees Ice Cream Crafters' Creamy Bun with horchata ice cream
Bengees Ice Cream Crafters' Creamy Bun with horchata ice cream
Hanh Nguyen

Bengees Ice Cream Crafters

The ice cream: Flavors range from the familiar, like pistachio and espresso, to more diverse, such as black sesame, horchata and taro. Made with cane sugar, the ice cream is pleasantly but not overly sweet and has a satisfying depth of flavor. Also, Bengees offers four or five rotating vegan flavors from Divine Dips.

The cronut: The croissant-doughnut hybrid is sourced from a local vendor and is a true cronut with a hole in the center. You can choose from plain or glazed. A vegan ice cream sandwich option is still in the works.

The Creamy Bun: Also served in paper, the toasty cronut is a sturdy, chewy vehicle for the ice cream and the accompanying toppings and/or drizzle of your choice. Depending on your palate, you may want to order the plain cronut to offset the sweetness of the ice cream.

Bengees Ice Cream Crafters, 901 E. Del Mar Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 673-1865.

The verdict: Both the Milky Bun and Creamy Bun are worthwhile indulgences that are a credit to their creators, but since we must pick one victor, Afters just barely pulls ahead. While Bengees' ice cream and cronut taste great separately, together the texture of the cronut overwhelms the nuanced notes in the ice cream. Also, the hole in the cronut allows some ice cream to ooze out. Afters' Milky Bun, with its sweeter scoop and softer doughnut bun, creates a more balanced experience, in which both partners play an equal part in the mouthwatering marriage.

Fortunately, we live in a world where both the Milky Bun and the Creamy Bun can co-exist. And who's to say we can't treat ourselves to both?

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