In New York City, artisanal doughnuts are currently all the rage. Dough, though, rises above the rest.
Set up by pastry chef Fany Gerson, this once small neighborhood store in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, which began in 2010, has now grown into a business with two busy branches in Manhattan and a regular stand at Smorgasburg, the city’s beloved open-air food market.
Dough was conceived from a perfectionist vision of making the best doughnuts in a city that was still drunk on cupcakes. The Mexico-raised Gerson, previously recognized for her paleta food truck, had the knowledge and talent to come up with interesting and innovative flavor combinations, and her originality sets Dough apart from all others in the market. Dedicated to making artisanal handmade doughnuts using organic ingredients, she gives the customer “the fresh doughnut taste they were longing for and not the packaged or processed doughnuts that are being made commercially.”
Her doughnut selection, like the customers who go in and out of her shops and the way Gerson’s mind works, is always in constant rotation: tropical chili, pumpkin with candied pepitas, chocolate caramel with sea salt, matcha sugar, toasted coconut, hibiscus or passionfruit with cacao nibs, lemon poppy seed. Each day promises something new to tickle the taste buds with, and Dough is on top of its game as its soft and honest doughnuts are flavorful but not decadent.
Apart from the kooky concoctions, Dough also appeals to the people’s desire to know the providence of whatever they consume, as the store allows customers to witness the doughnuts being made by hand in front of them—a visual aroma of things to come. Making sure to cover all bases for a thriving business, it has partnered with the popular Intelligentsia coffee, serving brew in Dough’s 1,600-square-foot store in the Flatiron District. This ensures a strong presence on social media, with hungry millennials posting beauty shots of their doughnuts and coffee. No wonder Whole Foods and dozens of coffee shops around the city buy from Dough to sell in their own stores.
“The experience our customers have in their first bite, that pleasure of eating a doughnut, is what makes regulars out of first-timers,” says Gerson. “Doughnuts have been popular for the past 70 years, but what happened was they became commercialized and the quality and taste were not kept up.” With Dough, she has successfully rebranded an American classic, bringing new flavors and reviving interest in a has-been confectionery.
This is also evident in Brooklyn where another bakery famous for its doughnuts, the Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop, has built a 60-year history, having first opened in the 1950s. While its interiors and most of what they serve have changed little over the decades (avoiding the decline that Gerson referred to), Peter Pan recognizes the need to churn out new products; the S’mores doughnut is the institution’s way of staying in the competition.
The continuity of tradition as the basis for popularity in the present is also how Mark Israel’s Doughnut Plant made its mark in New York. The mad scientist of doughnuts had spent five years baking and experimenting with his grandfather’s time-tested recipes in a basement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and Israel is credited for being the first to use fresh fruits and nuts in a doughnut’s glaze. The inventor of the jelly-filled square donut is now in his second decade of landmark creations, such as the world’s first crème brûlée doughnut.
Another strong player in the growing arena is Scottish Francis (aka Francis Legge) who got into the game thanks to his grandmother’s secret recipe, which garnered rave reviews from the discriminating judges of “Masterchef”—yes, including Gordon Ramsay. After his TV stint, Francis gave his doughnuts a home in the form of Gossip Coffee located on 30th Avenue in Astoria, where he churns out stuff like Banoffee, Orange Creamsicle, Banana Coconut, and his signature Prosciutto Stout.
Innovation is not limited to creating something new; it often involves improving on what has been done or revamping something that has lost its appeal. Having been challenged by the doughnut’s tired association with America’s obesity and processed food industry, the fried pastry now enjoys a new and unexpected status as the trendiest snack in New York.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 12 Special Issue