Tried and True: Doughnut Plant

doughnutplan

Courtesy of Doughnut Plant

In a city that seems obsessed with chasing all that is new and buzzy, a long-running, successful business is almost an anomaly. A business that has been around a while but manages to stay relevant and innovative is nothing short of a miracle. Doughnut Plant Founder Mark Israel first started delivering doughnuts inspired by his grandfather’s recipe to coffee shops around town in 1994. Back then, the doughnuts were made in the middle of the night in a basement bakery and delivered by bicycle, but Mark’s vision was clear: use natural, high quality ingredients to elevate the lowly doughnut to new heights. His burgeoning company became one of the pioneers of the ingredient-obsessed food movement that engulfed NYC in the aughts. (Think: Smorgasburg, food trucks selling natural slushies, fancy hot dogs and nearly every single doughnut place that’s opened since.) The first brick-and-mortar store opened in 2000 on the Lower East Side to long lines and media acclaim. There were no Technicolor glazes or saccharine sprinkles. Mark used fresh fruit sourced from Union Square’s greenmarket and elsewhere, which resulted in unique, artfully prepared doughnuts, like a yeast doughnut smothered in a soft pink glaze made from fresh raspberries, with no artificial colors or flavors. You can actually see chunks of the fruit in the glaze.

Many doughnuts are seasonal, like the strawberry, which is only available for a little while longer while strawberries are still in season. What’s amazing is how well Doughnut Plant is able to execute both yeast and cake doughnuts–two very different pastries that happen to share the same name and well, shape. The Brooklyn Blackout cake doughnut, for example, manages to be both dense and incredibly moist while maintaining a deep, nuanced dark chocolate flavor. It’s filled with fresh chocolate pudding and topped with a heavy hand of chocolate crumbs. On the yeast end of things, the square PB&J doughnut is filled with freshly made jam and coated in a glaze that incorporates large chunks of salty peanuts. The creme brûlée yeast doughnut, the shop’s best-seller, has a vanilla bean cream center and a crackling sugar shell overlaid on a fluffy yeast doughnut hole. You can see the care and thought with which these doughnuts were developed and made. In a sea of copycats and “next best things,” Doughnut Plant is surging forward, with new locations and envelope-pushing innovation (um, hello mole chocolate doughnut). Never change, Doughnut Plant. Never change.

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Favorite Things Lately, Volume 8

1 Stick With Me bonbons: They say when you eat, you engage all of your senses. Prepare for your vision to kick into overdrive. These glossy creations from the pocket Soho confectionary run by a Per Se pastry alum are painted and splattered like mini Jackson Pollocks (if Pollock preferred pastels and skewed toward minimalism). Flavors like crème fraîche strawberry and speculoos s’more ensure your taste buds don’t feel left out. The treats are packaged in adorable book-like boxes. At $3.40 per bonbon, they’re an I-really-REALLY-like-you-so-money’s-no-object gift idea. (Thanks, Kev!)

stickwithme

2. This ricotta gnocchi recipe: Time-consuming weeknight dinners are for Type A perfectionists and masochists. The rest of us want something simple-ish, fairly healthy, and if possible, delicious. Enter this indulgent ricotta gnocchi recipe from Serious Eats that’s fit for a Sunday feast, but quick enough for a Tuesday night. It takes longer than the 10 minutes touted by the website; it took us about 35 minutes from start to sitting down, bowls in hand. Still, it was a fairly quick prep considering the caliber of the dish. The resulting gnocchi is dreamy–like tasty, buoyant little clouds. The sauce is a key element, so spring for the good stuff, like Rao’s. There you go: simple, delicious, and uh…not super unhealthy? “Not super unhealthy” is my personal food philosophy anyway.

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3. Carpe Donut cider doughnuts: We all know the deal with apple cider doughnuts. You pick them up at the farmer’s market when you want something sweet, and they’re usually tasty but never revelatory. I was prepared for more of the same when I grabbed one of these around 4 p.m. as I felt some “hanger” pangs coming on. Forget everything you thought you knew! These fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts are moist and chewy–an amazing accomplishment considering the perpetual dryness and crumbliness of most cake doughnuts. The outside has an appealing crispness, putting the limp, soggy exterior of most cider doughnuts to shame.

ciderdonut

4. Spring!: It’s here! It’s finally here. And I’m so happy. The trees have turned the most intensely pigmented shade of lemony green. The cherry blossom trees have flowered and blanketed the pavement in romantic little petals. Did I mention that the temperature has been perfect? Mid-70s with clear skies and light winds. I realize these days are fleeting, that before I know it, the penetrating heat and throat-clogging humidity will descend like a dense fog. For now, though, let’s enjoy it, this minuscule, short-lived little season that, for a few brief weeks, turns NYC into the most beautiful city in the world.

spring

A Memorable Walk

This past weekend, The New York Times Magazine ran a feature in which New Yorkers described some of their most memorable walks and the stories behind the routes. What emerged was an animated portrait of the nooks and crannies of this city. The streets are the pathways through which life moves; they are the veins of NYC. A walk can be about so many things: routine, comfort, peace, discovery, observation and even memory. Sometimes, a walk can feel like going through a time machine and emerging in an alternate universe–you return to a place you thought you knew but now no longer recognize.

Here’s my story:

My parents were in town on vacation about two years ago, and we’d decided to take a walk through our old neighborhoods in Brooklyn –we’d lived in Midwood and Bensonhurst in the late 80s and early 90s. It was a lovely, breezy late-May day. The sun was shining when we arrived at that first house–an aging Victorian standing defiantly on a nondescript corner of Elmwood Avenue. The top floor had been ours for a few months in the fall and winter of 1989. My parents hadn’t seen the home in years, and I could tell they were experiencing a complex cocktail of emotions as we stood in its shadow. That apartment was dingy and rodent-filled, but it was our first place in the U.S. Months of immigration limbo, of statelessness, of uncertainty, had led to that point. They engaged a man who was standing by the gate near the sidewalk–what of the old couple who had lived here, they asked. The woman was still alive, the man replied, but she doesn’t live here anymore.

We walked across Ocean Parkway to our second apartment, a large studio with a foyer and a window that faced a brick wall. It was where our family of four really acclimated to American life. I became obsessed with Disney movies–The Little Mermaid, specifically. My brother got really into LEGOs. We ate birthday pizzas that would be coveted by anyone outside the tri-state area. Life was starting to make sense. Outside the apartment building was an entrance I knew nearly by heart. Here, my brother and would play tag with friends and hang out on the metal railing (since removed).

We kept walking east, toward Coney Island Avenue. We turned onto the street and walked south. We stopped into various Jewish-owned shops, flipping through Hebrew language children’s books and ogling the hamsa necklaces. As the day wound down we found ourselves across the street from the hasid-run yeshiva for Russian-Jewish immigrants my brother and I attended when we first arrived. My parents insisted we go inside. It was now a bookstore and my parents started a conversation with the man who was manning the one-room library of books. He told us the Russian-born rabbi who had run the yeshiva 25 years back had died. My parents were saddened by the news. He had been so kind. They mentioned I had been a student at the yeshiva. The man then asked me whether I knew the main tenants of being a Jewish woman. I didn’t. Well, not exactly in those term. What did he mean? He asked whether I went to a mikvah. No, never. He’s rolling over in his grave, the man said, referring to the rabbi. We looked at one another knowingly and excused ourselves. This place was no longer ours; our memories of it existed in a parallel realm now, separate from the modern reality of what it had become.

The three of us understood that the man was wrong. We knew the rabbi’s intention–to open the eyes of ignorant immigrants to the concept of Jewish tradition. He had succeeded, and we, with our Passover seders and synagogue outings–even if only for the high holidays, were a testament to that.

We walked on, toward the subway, toward another home that was now a distant memory.

Coney Island Avenue (image via Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

Coney Island Avenue (image via Violette79, Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

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