In Drumcondra, Dublin's Doughnuts Are Being Reinvented

It all comes down to the raspberry ripple.

Think about it. A summer day in the mid ’90s. The two delicate, crisp wafers from a packet. A rectangular slice from a HB brick – cream-white, mostly, but for the spiral of exactly what you’re looking for.

Bright pink, a shock of fruit – the raspberry, or approximation of raspberry, that completes the experience. That small sliver of taste that sets the whole thing off.

Hilary Quinn, founder of Dublin Doughnut Company, tells me that when I think about what Irish people like to eat, and what taste and flavour mean to us, I should keep the raspberry ripple in mind.

I visit her at her prep kitchen, tucked away in the Art and Business Campus, Drumcondra, early of a Thursday morning. As she leads me through the long, old halls of the reformed orphanage, she tells me over her shoulder, “This place is haunted.”

She’s been there since dawn, preparing 80 doughnuts in today’s specific flavours: Strawberry Eton Mess, Hazelnut Praline, Lemon Curd with Mascarpone, and New York Cheesecake. We’re a long way from pink icing and jam.

In the kitchen, Quinn hands me a sample she kept aside – it’s Lemon Curd. The doughnut is around the size of the palm of my hand, powdered with fine caster sugar.

I have absolutely zero qualms about tucking straight in: the dough is surprisingly light, and even though it’s deep-fried, it doesn’t retain any of the oiliness or weight that your garden-variety supermarket doughnut might. It has a generous amount of filling, and the tartness of the citrus in the curd is balanced seamlessly with the creaminess of the mascarpone.

It’s done for in four bites.

The dough for tomorrow is setting in a long container, and Quinn introduces me to it – enough for another 80 hand-filled doughnuts. The flavours will remain the same as this week’s, and she presents me with tomorrow’s strawberries, soaking away in sugar and balsamic vinegar. I even get to taste one – it’s already shocking.

Quinn tells me that the dough always remains the same, but the recipes for the fillings vary from day to day. Whatever brings out the best taste, she tells me. Some days the strawberries need a little more vinegar, some days more sugar.

Mascarpone, she notes, is helpful in creamier fillings, because it stabilises the composition and enhances the dairy taste. There’s no vanilla in the lemon curd or the hazelnut praline – vanilla suffocates other flavours. Without it, the fillings taste how they’re meant to taste.

Taste and Expectations

Quinn is a one-woman operation at present. Educated at the Dublin Institute of Technology on Cathal Brugha Street, she says she formally trained in pastry at Ballymaloe – she worked in the kitchen of the house. Her industrial experience comes from St John Bread & Wine in London, she says, but her approach to taste comes from Lush Gelato in Berkeley California.

Together, we carry large, clear boxes of the morning’s doughnuts through Drumcondra, down Dorset Street and Gardiner Street, through North Great George’s Street to 147 Deli on Parnell Street. On the way, an older Dublin Gentleman calls out, “Ah I won’t have any this morning, girls!” and she smiles back, “Maybe next time!” This is her route three days a week – she’s still part-time, growing her business organically, focusing on supplying local cafes.

We perch in a comfortable corner of 147 Deli after delivering the doughnuts. Quinn and I have the shared experience of having lived in California and have both been touched by the food culture spawned there.

She describes the passion of her mentor, the owner of Lush Gelato, Federico Murtagh – his dedication to the specific form and composition of gelato. (It is a distinctly separate treat from ice cream due to its air content: gelato has much less than ice cream.)

Murtagh’s flavours are ambitious, from Mascarpone Balsamic with Dark Chocolate Chunks, to Cowgirl Creamery Fromage Blanc with Cookie Dough. He even paired Stout Beer with Chocolate Waffle Cone in another concoction. Foodies in California are used to experimental tastes and flavours; the place is stacked with stunt food, as well as organic and artisanal dishes.

Murtagh’s gelato sits on the boundary in between: Quinn tells me how he perfected a bright-white mint gelato that lacked any of the false greenness customers normally expect from mint flavouring – he used pure mint leaves in high volume to achieve the taste he was looking for.

This is what it comes back to again: taste and expectations. Quinn tells me with a shrug of her shoulders that the most common question she gets is, “Do you have any jam doughnuts?” because that’s what people are used to.

Her array of flavours is extensive – depending on the week, there could be Salted Caramel, Passionfruit Curd, Rhubarb Crumble, Oreo, Honeycomb – the only time jam surfaces is alongside peanut butter in the PB & J. Her summer highlight flavour is The 99: vanilla crème with a raspberry ripple, chocolate flake and bits of wafer cone.

The 99 doughnut takes something that holds a special place in the heart of many, many Irish folks and presents it in a delightful new way. But will foodies in Dublin take to it? Will folks who just fancy a treat on their lunch break or with their cup of coffee go for it, even if it’s something they’ve never seen before? Or well, not quite something they’ve seen before. Quinn can’t be sure.

It’s About the Raspberry Ripple

At a table behind us, a couple and two small children sit down with cups of tea and a sampling of the doughnuts. Quinn cranes her neck to see, eyes wide, obviously excited, maybe a little nervous.

Irish food culture is focused around the family table, rather than on international trends and fads – and this could be the secret to bringing new tastes to the nation. It comes back to the raspberry ripple.

If the new tastes and presentations appeal to nostalgia and the sense of home that nostalgia gives to Irish diners, those diners are more likely to give them a try. The surprise has to come framed in something that diners trust and know well.

Across the table, Quinn and I spitball ideas for new flavours and talk about tastes we love. Quinn muses about her autumn menu, which will be far different from the berry and citrus tastes of her summer palette. Apple Compote, Brandy Custard, Pumpkin Spice Latte. For winter, she’s thinking of a cranberry-and-orange filling, and maybe a Christmas Cake one, too.

We talk dream flavours. She’d love to do a pineapple flavour, and blowtorch each doughnut ever so slightly so that the pineapple garnish caramelised just right. I suggest Vietnamese Iced Coffee, but she reminds me that coffee flavour is a hard sell.

She’s right. The chocolates left over at the bottom of the Quality Street tin at Christmas in my house were always the coffee ones, accompanied by the love-or-hate Turkish Delights.

After we part ways, Quinn tells me she is going to begin sourcing ingredients for a selection of doughnuts for a Twin Peaks party in the Lighthouse Cinema, and intends to nod to old-school American diners with some chocolate-malt-filled doughnuts for the menu. Cherry, of course, will be the alternate flavour.

We walk down Parnell Street and wave goodbye at the mouth of Moore Street, where she disappears into the food stalls, in search of more surprising tastes to wrap in light, sugary dough.

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Author:

Sarah Maria Griffin: Sarah Griffin is a writer from Dublin. Her book of essays on emigration, Not Lost, is published by New Island Press and her forthcoming YA debut, Spare & Found Parts, will be released by Greenwillow Books (Harper Collins) in 2016. She tweets @griffski.

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