In the last few years, pastry chefs have reclaimed the doughnut from the grips of chains like Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme. Gourmet doughnut shops from NYC and Austin to San Francisco and Philadelphia now tout flavors such as maple-bacon and chocolate-stout. And it’s not just neighborhood places giving doughnuts a makeover. In the world of fine dining, Chef Stephen Collucci takes the fried pastry from lowbrow to high style, featuring plated doughnut desserts on his menu at New York City’s Colicchio & Sons.
A New Jersey native, Collucci grew up in a food-loving, Italian-American family, frying homemade pizza dough scraps and dusting them with powdered sugar. Batches of cider doughnuts followed on the heels of trips to the local apple orchard each fall. These memories hold such importance for Collucci that he has revived and refined his family recipes to serve at Colicchio & Sons (and publish in his forthcoming doughnut cookbook, Glazed, Filled, Sugared, and Dipped).
“There is such a playful, fun aspect to [doughnuts],” says Collucci. “I think that more than any other dessert I make, they capture why I do what I do and what I love about it.” At Collicchio & Sons, Collucci draws inspiration from farmers markets and junk food alike, always thinking outside the realm of traditional flavor pairings. Case in point: his pistachio cream-filled doughnuts with malted banana ice cream. Inspired by his favorite swirled ice cream flavor on the Jersey Shore, it’s a blend of nostalgia and sophistication. The pistachio and banana-malt flavors are anchored by a mellow cocoa nib cream and brightened by the tang of vanilla-scented crème fraîche.
Prepared à la minute in the restaurant, these doughnuts are the stuff of dreams—due in large part to significant proofing time. "Letting the dough triple in size before you roll it out is integral to the crumb and texture," says Collucci. "It's what makes the doughnuts fluffy." And even though there's lots of "labor and love" that go into his doughnuts, food costs are exceptionally low (we're not naming numbers, just saying).
While service may get hectic, what with one devoted doughnut fryer and many doughnut-hungry patrons, Collucci’s platings are unfussy and unpretentious, ideal for a high-volume setting. He assures anxious cooks that it’s just a matter of learning the timing. In the end he knows the effort is worth it to plate the treats hot and fresh: “I can’t think of anything better than getting [a hot doughnut] served to you.”