Doughnuts have always fascinated me. It’s the scientific process of mixing a few simple ingredients together to create fluffy fried rounds of dough that is intriguing. How does it rise? How is this dough different from bread or biscuits? Lucky for me, my questions were about to be answered with a step-by-step tutorial that ended with a taste testing of two chocolate glazed doughnuts with bacon and chopped pecans.
Rocket88 Doughnuts is a brand new doughnut shop opening in Fountain Square this fall that will offer organic, unique doughnuts. Last Spring they released a Kickstarter campaign, which is when I first heard about them. Now I don’t participate in Kickstarters all that often, but after watching the video I knew there was something more to this dynamic doughnut duo, and I just had to figure out what that was.
A few weeks ago I met with Rachel Layne, who leads the baking side of things for the newly formed businesses, to learn about her process for making doughnuts and to explain what Rocket 88 Doughnuts wants to achieve. I left with laughs, floured fingers, and a lovely conversation with one of Indy’s up and coming entrepreneurs.
Rachel welcomed me into her home with a warm smile and a kitchen full of ingredients for doughnut making – eggs, flour, sugar and yeast. We did not build the yeast dough from scratch since it takes several hours to rise (and I don’t need to steal her secret recipe!), but we started almost from the very beginning so I could show you her doughnut process.
As Rachel walked around her kitchen prepping what she needed for the doughnuts, I asked the question many people want to know – what inspired you to start making doughnuts?
“One day I just decided that there are a lot of things I’m passionate about and most of those things are food,” Rachel said. She enrolled in the Chef’s Academy while employed full time, which meant her classes were Friday nights until 10 PM and all day on Saturday. During her first round of classes, a friend introduced her to Patrick Burtch, a business entrepreneur who had wanted to open a doughnut shop for a few years. In October 2013 they met at Calvin Fletchers and talked for a few hours about his vision and what he wanted to do. Patrick’s business-minded approach allowed Rachel to focus solely on producing great quality doughnuts, truly making them a great team.
Patrick, Rachel and a few friends started hanging out and making doughnuts together as a test to see if they had a great product. “Before we start selling our lives on this,” Rachel reflected,”we would talk about how to market these doughnuts – what’s already out there that we’d want to change to make our own?”
Before their Calvin Fletcher’s tasting, which is where I had my first Rocket 88 Doughnut, there were other small events, but the Calvin Fletcher’s tasting was the first slam into the public after the Kickstarter. “We wanted to let people actually try our doughnuts for free and get to know us,” said Rachel. “We did a few First Friday’s in Fountain Square, and since then we’ve made doughnuts for a wedding party and have provided doughnuts for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful‘s big community service day.”
“Our very first doughnut was just a plain yeast doughnut which became the first canvas for everything we wanted to try. Then we started playing around with glazes as our first creative push: maple, chocolate, blueberry, pistachio, lemon, and all the fruits you could think of were turned into glazes. Later we started creating different fillings,” said Rachel.
Why yeast doughnuts? Cake doughnuts are trickier to accomplish, especially with home kitchen equipment. Cake doughnuts have a wet batter and need to be dropped directly into the hot oil for frying, which is something a little too complicated to to at home without having the right equipment.
Another challenge for Rachel and Patrick has been about finding the right ingredients. “We are passionate about supporting local businesses with our business, but it’s hard to find organic producers of flour anywhere, let alone in Indiana,” says Rachel. Miles Square Coffee for locally roasted beans and Smoking Goose for their Jowl Bacon are just a few local companies that Rocket 88 Doughnuts is sourcing from.
At this time, the jowl bacon is cooking in the oven, teasing me with its smells, and Rachel has cut out a round of doughnuts from the dough that are rising before they hit the hot oil. She let me roll out and cut a few myself, which was fun! I have not attempted to make doughnuts at home yet, though it would give me more of an excuse to purchase one of those electric deep fryer appliances…
Rachel applies what she is learning from the Chef’s Academy to her doughnut craft. I was intrigued to know more about what she is being taught at school, so I quizzed her about how she decides what kind of flour to use, the science behind how doughnuts rise and other curious Solid Gold Eats questions.
“What makes flours different from each other is based on how much of the wheat germ is used and what parts. Whole wheat uses the outside, the endosperm and the germ itself (everything essentially) whereas bread flour has more of the wheat germ and is what we call a harder flour. Something soft like cake or pastry flour is just going to use the germ inside (pastry being the softest of all the flours). It all has to do with how much moisture it can hold,” says Rachel.
Likely there were trials with successes and failures while Rachel was testing different flours. “Organic whole wheat flour resulted in a rock doughnut. A doughnut completely comprised of whole wheat flour ended up being too absorbent and didn’t allow the yeast to rise,” says Rachel.
After we rolled and cut the doughnuts they were left to proof on a towel and covered with plastic wrap. This allows more of the gluten development in the yeast to rise. Letting dough relax is a good thing to do. “In the shop we’ll have a proofer box that will be 80 degrees inside, not to cook the dough but to provide the humidity needed to speed up the proofing process,” says Rachel.
The doughnuts are then fried in vegetable oil for just a few minutes per side. Then they are glazed and any topping are added. Rachel crumbled the jowl bacon and brought out chopped pecans to layer onto the doughnuts after they were dipped in melted chocolate.
And then we ate them.
Light. Fluffy. Airy. Melt-in-your-mouth. Sweet. Salty. Divine. These are just a few of the words tumbling through my brain as I enjoyed the jowl bacon doughnut first, followed by the crunch of the salty pecans. I suppose you can say this is one Kickstarter project I truly devoured.
Rocket 88 Doughnuts has secured a location on Virginia Avenue. It used to be the old Arsenal Game Room next to the Mass Ave gift shop in Fountain Square, and they are hoping to open some time in Fall 2014.
I asked Rachel what her biggest challenge is and she explained the transition of moving from a kitchen to a professional space. “I will have to figure out what it looks like to explode these recipes so they are made on large scale mass quantities while still making sure each doughnut is awesome and something you’d be really excited to get on your plate. It will never be about quantity over quality,” says Rachel.
“We are building out the entire kitchen from scrap and when it is up and running, I will work in the kitchen for a month to start figuring out how the equipment goes together and put some organization to the chaos of a regular kitchen,” says Rachel.
I’m really excited to watch Rocket 88 Doughnuts grow and to support them in their journey to make Indianapolis a better place through their delicious yeast doughnuts. When you meet people who love what they do, it makes my heart smile, especially when their craft is about food. Rachel has made several sacrifices to attend the Chef’s Academy on top of a full time job to make her dream happen and that is something I truly admire. “All in all I just feel really lucky that I get to do it,” says Rachel.