Bear Claws Are Sometimes A Donut, Sometimes Not

Though most are round with a hole in the middle, donuts sometimes take on different shapes. French crullers, for example, have ridges, other types of donuts are bar shaped, and the ones filled with cream or jelly don't even have a hole. Especially since they're sold at many donut shops, it's easy to assume that bear claws are just donuts shaped like, well, the claw of a bear. However, this is only sometimes true.


Bear claws, which were invented in California in the early 1900s, are traditionally made with puff pastry, a type of laminated dough consisting of flour, ice water, salt, and most importantly, layers of butter. Some recipes, however, substitute puff pastry for yeasted dough, the kind used for donuts. This version of the treat usually features the same bear claw shape. But while both go by the name "bear claw," only one is technically a donut, while the other is a completely different type of pastry similar to a Danish.

How to tell when a bear claw is traditionally made or just a donut

Bear claw pastries and bear claw donuts are easy to tell apart once you realize there's actually a difference between the two. Rather than baked, the kind made with yeasted dough is deep fried like any other donut. As a result, it looks almost identical to a glazed donut except in shape. A bear claw made the traditional way, with puff pastry dough, is baked in the oven instead. It will therefore look more like a Danish.


You can also tell the two types apart by the way they're decorated. Much like a Danish, a traditional bear claw is usually drizzled with icing or sprinkled with coarse sugar and is also garnished with sliced almonds. The other kind of bear claw tends to be simply glazed like a donut, and, aside from the glossy finish, the outside remains bare.

Differences in taste

A traditionally made bear claw and a donut that's just shaped like one can both be tasty, but they feature different flavors. A real bear claw contains a filling that's typically made with almond paste (not to be confused with marzipan), though it can also be made with pecans, fruit, cream cheese, or cinnamon — the same flavors you might use for a Danish. This filling is added to the dough before it goes into the oven.


The donut version of a bear claw normally doesn't have any sort of filling. If there is any, it's often jelly or cream, injected after the donut is already fried, like you would when making a classic jelly or cream-filled donut. Technically, a bear claw can be fried with filling already inside of it, but this is difficult to accomplish without it seeping out of the dough. More often, bear claws are just flavored with a light dusting of cinnamon sugar. But no matter which type you prefer, you're still in for a sweet and flavorful treat either way.