WBUR

Time To Make The Maple Bacon Doughnuts In Somerville

It seems like the Krispy Kreme doughnut craze was just yesterday — but a new wave of novel, artisan doughnuts is tantalizing the nation. Just this month, Saveur magazine explored some of the decadent breakfast food’s wildest incarnations. And now the Boston area is getting into the game.

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — It might be lame, but it’s hard not to tease pastry chef Heather Schmidt about Fred, the most iconic doughnut maker of all time.

“Do you know how many times people have said that to me?” she asked with a smile, then mimicked her taunters: “Hey Heather, is it time to make the doughnuts yet?” Her amused but mildly exasperated answer is usually, “Like yeah, yeah… it’s time to make the doughnuts.”

Schmidt has been making and selling her version of the trending breakfast food for four weeks. The magic (as she puts it) happens in a shared commercial cooking space in Somerville known as Kitchen, Inc. The name of her operation — Union Square Donuts – is painted in white on the storefront’s glass window and simply stamped in black on the covers of its white bakery boxes. Thursday through Sunday long lines of curious doughnut seekers can be seen snaking down the street.

“There’s something very nostalgic about doughnuts,” Schmidt mused. “A lot of the time people come in and say, ‘It smells so good in here,’ and it just brings back a flurry of memories.”

Schmidt, who turned 38 this week, has her own childhood reveries.

“For me, it takes me right back to when I was 7,” she recalled. “Every Sunday morning, Dad bringing home the honey dipped, the old fashioned and the chocolate frosted.”

Not Your Average Doughnut

But you won’t find those standard-issue flavors in Schmidt’s stable of recipes. In fact, her maple bacon doughnut is attaining a kind of mythic status among area food fans.

“There’s something very nostalgic about doughnuts,” says pastry chef and Union Square Donuts owner Heather Schmidt. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“There’s something very nostalgic about doughnuts,” says pastry chef and Union Square Donuts owner Heather Schmidt. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“It’s like a pancake breakfast on a doughnut,” Schmidt explained. “You’ve got your doughnut part — which is like your pancake — your maple syrup, and your bacon. Your maple syrup always runs into your bacon on your plate, right? Yeah, so just put it all in one spot.”

The decadent hybrid is covered in chunks of quality, thick-cut bacon. Schmidt says some customers are skeptical, but it’s the shop’s best seller. And at $3.50 each, it’s also the most expensive.

Others, like the chocolate chipotle, honey almond and cherry hibiscus are $3. To justify the price Schmidt draws a distinction between her product and the other guy’s.

“What we’re doing, I think, is more like a pastry. The dough is more like a brioche dough. The cherry hibiscus look ‘Homer Simpson,’ but they are not,” Schmidt said with a laugh. “There are no sprinkles on there. That color that you’re seeing in the cherry hibiscus, that is cherry juice and a really strong brewed hibiscus tea, and you get that gorgeous color just from that.”

These are artisan products, made with real ingredients and dough that is hand-rolled, hand-shaped and hand-cut. Not all doughnuts contain yeast, but these do, so they’re fluffier. Schmidt has been working with yeasted dough for 15 years. After culinary school she had jobs in pastry at Radius in Boston and Rialto in Cambridge. She was also head pastry chef at Brookline’s Clear Flour Bakery. She left that job to create funky-flavored ice pops with Josh Danoff, her business partner and owner of Culinary Cruisers. This past Thanksgiving he sent Schmidt an email after hearing about the rise of artisan doughnuts in New York City and Brooklyn.

“And the email just says, ‘I have one word for you: doughnuts,’ ” she recalled with a laugh. “And I email him back and I said, ‘I’m in!’ And that’s how we started the business.”

‘Efficiency And Quality Control’

The business launched quickly with the help of production manager Dawnielle Peck. She used to work with Schmidt at Clear Flour.

The maple bacon doughnut is the shop's most expensive and most popular flavor. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The maple bacon doughnut is the shop’s most expensive and most popular flavor. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Doughnuts are a huge part of my life. I eat as many here as possible,” Peck said with a laugh. But she wasn’t joking. “I love the small, weird ones, the funky ones. I’ll gladly take the rejects any day.”

On a recent Saturday morning, Peck whisked a sticky, aromatic honey glaze in a large stainless steel bowl. She and the rest of the crew are acutely aware of the looming deadline: only 30 minutes left until they open. Like Schmidt, Peck never expected the little doughnut shop to get so busy, and she said their learning curve has been steep.

“It can be difficult at times to accomplish both efficiency and quality control, but that’s something that’s very, very important to us,” Peck said. “We don’t want to just throw out 400 doughnuts that are lackluster, or that don’t taste good.”

The team actually makes 600 each day they’re open. They usually sell out in just three to four hours.

Hard To Resist 

At “go time” — 9 a.m. — Schmidt opened the storefront’s squeaky door and greeted a queue of salivating customers. “Hi everybody! Oh my gosh, look at all of you waiting for our doughnuts,” she exclaimed. “It’s good cause they’re warm right now, so you’re in luck. Come on in!”

Thirty-six-year-old David Grossman made the pilgrimage to Union Square Donuts from Newton. He was one of the first to politely ramble through the door.

“Everybody loves doughnuts, they’re comfort food,” Grossman said before pointing out they can be a nutritionist’s nightmare. “I try not to eat them as much as I would like, but I couldn’t resist a maple bacon doughnut on a Saturday morning.”

Doughnut Memories

(Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Listen to customers Mark Hengstler and Sarah Kulig share their childhood doughnut memories:

Do you have doughnut memories? Share them in the comments.

Outside, neighborhood residents Sarah Kulig, 26, and Mark Hengstler, 23, explained they’ve been to Union Square Donuts two times before, but the store’s stock had already sold out. Doughnuts are Hengstler’s favorite food, and he waxed thoughtfully about his firm belief in their power to unify.

“I’m from Washington state and Somerville is a really diverse place. There are a lot of people who aren’t from here, and I think something a lot of us have in common — from the hipster stock all the way to people who grew up here — is a real love of the doughnut,” Hengstler said as Kulig giggled. “I think it’s very American. It’s very rich in our blood. And even the shape of a lot of doughnuts is a circle.”

After placing their order, Kulig and Hengstler clutched their precious pastries and headed back outside. With mouths opening wide — almost in slow motion — they finally get to taste the chocolate chipotle and honey almond. Then — with a blissed-out look in his eyes — Hengstler traveled back in time, remembering how his parents would let him pick out whatever doughnut he wanted at the grocery store each Sunday after church.

“And I’d get the little wrap, and I’d open the case, and I’d get to choose,” Hengstler recalled wistfully. “And that was the essence of freedom as a 7-year-old.”

“I didn’t have that,” Kulig chimed in. “I had to share my doughnut with my sister.” Then, in a really cute way she said, “So having my own doughnut today feels really lucky.”

The Humble Baker

Back inside the kitchen at Union Square Donuts, Heather Schmidt watches her customers’ faces light up as they sink their teeth into her pillowy creations. But she admits this “moment of truth” can make her nervous, too.

“I’ve worked so hard on this dough, and I’ve worked so hard on these recipes that I feel very vulnerable putting my doughnuts out there,” Schmidt admitted. “It’s like a little piece of me — and I just want you to like me.”

More seriously, though, Schmidt is bent on satisfying the growing demand for her edible art. To do that she needs a larger mixer, larger deep fryer and a larger staff.

“That’s the biggest priority — making more doughnuts. So we can open later and we can open more and not turn anybody away,” Schmidt said. “That kills me.”

In a way this humble baker’s dedication evokes that famous Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut maker — which reminded me to ask Schmidt if she sees the juggernaut as competition.

“I mean I grew up eating Dunkin’ Donuts,” she answered with a smile. Then she admitted, “I still go over to Dunkin’ Donuts. Shhhh.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • http://www.facebook.com/christie.ley1 Christie Ley

    Just watch your cholesterol levels sky rocket. Not the way to stay healthy.

    • Ozzy

      Hey liberal douche bag how about you worry about what you eat and everyone else worry about themselves. If you do not want it then do not eat it. Stop imposing your on ideals on other people. I eat fast food a few times a week, but I also run sub 3 hour marathons. Life is about balance.

      • jefe68

        You should heed your own advice. Stop telling people what they can and canot say.

        • http://www.facebook.com/stephanie.meyer.3994 Stephanie Meyer

          Thanks jefe68. I’m also curious about how the original statement implied political leanings, unless the name caller himself is buying into the assumption/stereotype that health conscious people are lib and those that appear to be less so must obviously be conservative.

          • jefe68

            Funny how that is implied. Also the idea of freedom is being skewed.
            How is it freedom for corporations to use every media device and chemistry to get people to eat and drink a whole lot of crap.

            By the way my comment is not about the doughnuts in the article which look very scrumptious. There is a difference between a small shop making a good product and the cooperate fast food world.

        • Ozzy

          Did I say she should not say what she said? No. I said that her opinion on a healthy lifestyle was incorrect. You can eat unhealthy foods and still be healthy. People in this country do not understand this. We are banning soda, candy, and unhealthy food all over the place, when in reality the only thing that is unhealthy is the lifestyle people choose.
          P.S. Maybe you should heed your own advice on what people should or should not say.

          • jmsurprenant

            Ozzy gets it – thanks!

          • jefe68

            Oh for the love of cabbage… It’s the language you are using that is in question. Get it. And you are telling them what to post by the over the top agression in the post.

            By the way no you can’t eat junk food and remain healthy, that flys in the face of reality. Which is why there are so many unhealthy people who are obese and have type 2 diabetes.

          • Ozzy

            Dude are you kidding me. First why don’t you read your comment before you bring your love of cabbage into this. You clearly said “You should heed your own advice. Stop telling people what they can and canot say.” Second, there are plenty of healthy people out there that eat “unhealthy” food. You just need to offset what you eat with a little thing called exercise. If you burn the calories you put in your body what you eat has no effect. Obese people are obese because they eat a 2000 calorie fast food burger and sit on their ass. Who wouldn’t get fat?

          • jefe68

            The cabbage line was a joke, an aside. Much like all the comments you keep posting. You’re the one who seems to think being rude is fine and dandy. You act like a 10 year old child who has not goten their way in the doughnut shop.

      • shmoozini

        So did the late running guru, Jim Fixx. Had your plumbing checked lately?

        • Ozzy

          I bet its better then yours.

          • shmoozini

            Well, that’s something I guess we’ll never know. While not a marathoner, I’m in my 40th year as a gym rat, a status I indulge 5-6 times a week. What we do know is that you are a narrow, verbally abusive jerk. You can disagree without being disagreeable. End of story.

          • Ozzy

            So are you telling me that in your 40 years as a gym rat you have never indulge in any sort of “unhealthy” food? I highly doubt that.

          • shmoozini

            Of course I have. I actually enjoy donuts, but the type in question are over-the-top unhealthy. I was only offering a personal thought about the social and economic implications of consuming such foods. I suspect the data would contradict your claim that exercise will offset the effects of unhealthy eating. That simply isn’t true. What struck me about your initial comment in this stream was how intolerant and overtly political it was. Good-bye. Gotta get to the gym.

          • Ozzy

            So you consider yourself healthy yet you eat unhealthy food in moderation. Thanks for making my point.

          • jefe68

            Thanks for making mine.

      • http://www.facebook.com/christie.ley1 Christie Ley

        How about you not being so incredibly rude. I have a right to say how I feel as well. I wish you good health and happinness.

        • EdithW

          Well said!

  • http://www.facebook.com/marathonlaura Laura Liston

    Everything in moderation! While the donut shop may not be “Shape Up Somerville” approved, they’re a lovely treat now and then! I had a honey almond donut a few weeks ago!

  • shmoozini

    Sick. At a time we are bombarded with messages of doom citing the terrible toll taken by sugary drinks, high cholesterol, saturated fat and extraordinary levels of obesity, mischievous chefs are hard at work dreaming up maple bacon donuts, 2500-calorie burgers, 36-ounce soft drinks and a raft of other dramatically unhealthy menu choices. The problem is that large numbers of people don’t devour these items “in moderation.” The bottom line reality is that there is a high social and economic price to pay for reckless eating borne by all of us–mostly in the form of ever-rising healthcare and health insurance costs. We’re all part of the pool and those who suffer heart attacks, diabetes and other organic ailments that often relate to poor dietary habits have a far greater impact on rising costs than the rest of us. And, taxpayers foot the bill for those whose emergency room and other hospital visits for diet-related illnesses that go unpaid.

    So, we do have an obligation to tell others that their habits impose on us.

    Travel in other countries throughout the world and see the startling contrast between waistlines of Americans compared to citizens of other nations.

  • Fugaxium

    I’m a health nut and I love a good doughnut! Bravo! You can be healthy and still eat a treat now and again. It’s not either/or.

  • jmsurprenant

    I’m a fat man and I love a good doughnut! Bravo! More importantly, I love the idea of supporting a small independent shop making a hand crafted product. Can’t wait to try these!

  • Fandaan Oakin’Shire

    I boxed for 15 years, and had a friend who was ranked 1 in the world at 139lbs and he was 6’3″. He said he could eat anything he wanted to and maintain his weight as long as he ran 10miles a day 365 day’s a year. He went to the Olympics and got knocked out in the first round of his first fight.

  • Jefferson Eng

    Never mind that I am borderline diabetic, eating one of these would put me in mere catatonia for at least a week. I’m going to have to check this place out one of these days.

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