photo 5Sometimes you can have one of the most delicious ideas ever, but that doesn't mean they will translate well to production baking. You have to take into consideration things like timing, batch size, customer demand, affordability and shelf life for ever component of every product.  What I mean is that just because you have a recipe that makes an amazing 12, doesn't mean it will make an amazing 24, 48, or 75.  Mixing a batch of 75 takes the same amount of time to mix as a batch of 12, therefore bringing down the cost of your product, so we always try to find ways to make the most out of labor, the most expensive ingredient in any kitchen. This is what has been happening with our donuts.  Our baking team took months testing their recipes, making adjustments, tasting, and retesting before we had a batch that had everything we wanted; fluff, flavor, fill-ability, and look good too.  Ramon Osorio, baker extraordinaire worked religiously on this.  The rest of the staff worked diligently, tirelessly tasting, comparing, and glaze tweaking.  It was hard work, but we prevailed.

In July we launched our donut menu, and much to our surprise we had some immediate issues.  Suddenly, our dough was rising before we could get them cut out.   Overproofing can cause flopping making the donut flat, and act like a sponge in the fryer.   This could make one think that this donut was made improperly, or even worse, stale.

Nothing had changed.  The ingredients were from the same manufacturers and name brands.  We hadn't changed any protocol.  What was going on in our kitchen???

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This is where I come in.  When I'm not cleaning a bathroom, sweeping a floor, balancing a spreadsheet (I know all glamor, right) I fix things.  And today it wasn't about a broken soap dispenser or leaky faucet, it was the donut dough.

Donut Forensics started at 5 am.  Toner got in bright and early to start the first batch of donuts, Ilana came in to learn her hand at the mastery, and I was there to take notes and watch.   Our batches make about 60 because of this speedy rise, all have to be rolled, cut, and fried within about 40 minutes.  Could we slow this process down a bit based on a simple adjustment so that we could increase the batch size, frying donuts thorough the day rather than all at once?

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Temperature plays a huge roll in baking before anything ever gets into the oven.  For instance yeast begins to react once it's mixed with water.  Too hot, and you kill it.  Too cold and it sits still.   Too much sugar shocks it and not enough makes the activation process take longer.  Baking powder begins to react once liquid is introduced, and again once heated.  Friction makes heat, a danger of overmixing.

Being in a kitchen with sugar and flour everywhere, as in floating in the air as 'dust', controlling sugar activation can be uncontrollable.  Ambient temperature can't be controlled, as July in DC is quite balmy.  Mix that with a grill, 3 ovens and open flame and it's a bit toasty back there.  But what we can control is liquid temperature, timing of adding levening agents, overmixing, and dough temperature. Using the fridge can impede overproofing.  So while forensic baking is happening, there is also a mad rush to get batch 1 out and in the case for the morning donut'ers.

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First we tried making the dough and putting it in the fridge.  At 6:50 am we placed in it a steel bowl and covered it with a plastic bag.  The plan was to check it every 30 minutes.  In 20 it had doubled in size, the indicator that the dough was ready.  Do over.

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This time I decided to start with colder liquids. Water at 80 degrees F will begin to activate yeast.  Lower and you risk not dissolving your yeast.  Eighty degrees it was, and then I placed the mixture in the fridge while I mixed the rest of the batter.

Next up was melting the shortening.  The recipe called for melting the  shortening (Earth Balance, of course) in the non-dairy milk in the microwave or double boiler, then adding leavening agents.  Wait-Could this be it?  Is this the problem?

I heated the shortening  and milk and measured the temperature.  A whopping 140 degrees!  Not only would this melt shortening but once added to the dry ingredients it would activate any leavening with liquid and with the scorching heat.  Do over.

I melted the shortening in the microwave and then added it to the room temperature non-dairy milk.    This made little balls of hardened shortening throughout the mixture.

"Gross!", I initially thought.  But then I started to think about the roll of shortening in yeasted dough.  It's purpose it to help expand the bubbles of air or carbon dioxide when heated, and then it melts coating the little bubbles with soft supple fat adding to the mouth feel, flavor, and stability of the donut.  The goal was then to get as many little balls of fat as I could.  So I used the emulsifying blender, and voila.

Proceeding to the next steps of mixing, I was careful to mix the dough on low but only until everything was absorbed and came together, and not a second longer.  I separated the dough into four balls and placed in the fridge.  I took it's temperature and it was at a beautiful 80 degrees, a low temp for yeast activation.

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It's been 4 hours and the refrigerated dough is at 60 degrees.  We've thrown a few test blobs in the fryer and they are working nicely.  Suddenly, I miss New York in the fall.  Not because of  the weather, the changing leaves, or the theater.  I miss St Anthony's Feast, with the loads of zeppole trucks frying little balls of  dough, then dropped lava-hot into a brown paper bag filled with 1/2 pound of powdered sugar.  Back to the donuts....  We are on our way to bigger batches and freshly fried donuts all day long rather than running out before the lunch crowd.  Zeppole truck, you've got nothing on us...


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