Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Doughnut Plant


Les Tres Leches Doughnut
The Doughnut Plant, $2.25

While the Doughnut Plant's website is full of streamlined graphics and elegant animation, by far the most moving feature is a slideshow of owner Mark Isreal's family photos, ending with a heartfelt thanks to his supportive loved ones. Several black-and-white snapshots feature his grandfather, a commercial baker who died with Isreal was only a toddler but left behind a valuable legacy scrawled on a yellowing index card: the recipe for an egg-free yeast doughnut.

Those light, fluffy, and vegetarian-friendly doughnuts were the foundation of the grandson's fortunes. For five years, working in a converted tenement basement, Isreal baked through the night, then delivered doughnuts to high-end retail outlets by bike each morning. In his spare time, Isreal perfected an original recipe for a stellar cake doughnut, now available in flavors such as Blackout (chocolate encrusted chocolate cake bursting with chocolate pudding) and the Cinco de Mayo-inspired Les Tres Leches (pictured above). The Factory's square jelly doughnuts are also a departure from the norm; instead of a single jelly core waiting to drop in your lap like hot lava, there's a generous seam of house-made fruit preserves circling the dough like an enclosed racetrack.

Doughnut Plant products contain no transfats, no preservatives, and no artificial flavors. They are made with carefully chosen ingredients--Valhrona chocolate, Tahitian vanilla, fresh coconut, seasonal fruit, and nuts that are roasted and ground on the premises. Ingredients like lavender buds, Meyer lemons, or rose petals that could end up as just so much frippery are used deliberately and to full, flavorful effect. Overseas shops (in Tokyo and Korea) have a slightly different menu, featuring local produce and flavors (shiso and yuzu!).

After waiting in a long but snappy line at the Plant's Lower East Side store, I ordered a cup of hot, strong chai and a Tres Leches and perched on the windowseat to eat. The seat was delightful--crayon-colored tiles stamped out with a doughnut cutter and raku-fired by Isreal's father, Marvin. The doughnut was even better--plump and light, with a milky glaze and a mildly sweet, sensuously creamy filling. The "three milks" were in harmonious balance, no one flavor or texture overpowering the others. As I ate I found myself thinking of St. Exupery's definition of perfection--"...not when nothing more can be added, but when nothing more can be taken away.”

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