It is rare, yet so wonderful, to find awesome people who seem so different from you, but you discover that you love absolutely everything about them. Well, we have made some new cowgirl friends who are pretty salt-of-the-earth. We collaborated and joined forces with Rodeo Donut in March, and we could not be more proud of these hardworking gals!
Every single morning in Ballard, we share our kitchen with these belt-bustin’ broncos. They nurture the fresh brioche dough, as if it were their first born child (every batch) in a 40-quart mixer. Now, any professional baker knows that making hundreds of donuts a day in a 40-quart mixer is a major challenge, but when they say small batch, they mean it! These passionate women are surrounded by fresh eggs, room-temperature creamy local butter, organic cane sugar, REAL vanilla beans, orange blossom water, local Shepherd’s grain flour and, of course, fresh hormone-free milk. They stand over the mixer carefully chipping the butter into the dough, pulling pieces of the dough to check for a “window”, and listen for that slapping noise that really only brioche can, and should, make. We stand there and watch in amazement – all these things that need to happen just to make the dough.
Witnessing this effort and passion to create the perfect brioche dough blows our minds. But wait! There is so much more! These delightful donut wranglers have about 1800 more steps to create a donut before we can shove a hot, fresh donut into our mouth. The wait is excruciating!
Rolling the dough out to the perfect thickness, cutting perfect rings, rounds, shaping a lasso, and hand-forming perfect fritters. Oh my goodness. We once asked, “Isn’t there a machine that can do this?” Silence and blank stares. Everything is made by human hands.
After all of the brioche is shaped, it goes into a box that they call the donut sauna, because it’s heated and humid. The pre-mature donuts get to kick back, relax, and let the yeast go to work. When the dough proofs up, the donuts double their original size. The Rodeo Bakers just know! It’s like watching donut whisperers. They take the marshmallowy pillows of buttery brioche dough and plunk them gently into the fryer. But wait. Before we get to the frying, we must tell you how much care they take in the smallest of details. The fryer gets cleaned and the oil is filtered almost daily to ensure that the freshest, cleanest oil is used. That may seem like a weird detail to share, but because oil can really make or break a great donut, these wranglers are maniacs about the oil. We were surprised to learn that they do not fry in shortening, because we thought that was the only way. The gals fry in rice oil that looks so light, once we dipped out fingers into it to taste and it has a bright, clean, and light taste. They say it has a higher burning point and is better to fry with because it does not turn dark or taste bitter.
Ok, back to the actual frying of brioche. The process itself looks rather frightening! They take tongs that clip into the frying racks and slowly submerge the dough into the oil. It truly is a thing of beauty seeing the dough hit the oil, the bubbles, the bobbing and the floating. So many tools and gadgets get used but our favorite one to see them use is the long chospticks to flip the donuts over. It is awesome. Again demonstrating the donut Jedi senses, they just know when to flip those puppies over. They have a goal with every single piece of fried bread, which is to get the perfect proof line. It’s a big deal! Basically, when the donut hits the hot grease it blisters the bread and locks in the moisture, then when they flip it while blistering the other side, the dough gives its last burst of energy and proofs just a little more, in between the two sides. After lifting the donuts from the fryer, they let them cool ever so slightly before dredging and glazing.
Would you believe that these ladies hand-dip each and every donut? There are colorful buckets of purple huckleberry, green pistachio, pink strawberry, dark brown chocolate, and white vanilla bean glaze. Once, we dipped a spoon into the chocolate and it was like eating slightly salted fudge. So rich and perfect. Carefully dipping and glazing, some donuts stop there, while others just keep going. After being glazed, they are adorned with house-made toffee, crispy lightly-sweetened crepes, salty extra-crunchy potato chips, sea salt, buttermilk crumb topping, and our favorite, the mini French malt balls.
Seeing these donuts in the morning, before we open the door, is like seeing little pieces of edible art. Each and every one created by hand, and attended to with such passion and thought. Layer upon layer of flavor, crunch, creamy, and creative.