When Dawn Foods invited five executive pastry chefs to its Donut Co-Creation Competition last year, the company wasn’t just looking to find the next big flavor or topping in donuts. Dawn Foods wanted to reinvent the donut much like the cronut did in 2013. Mathew Rice, executive pastry chef of Niche Media Group in Nashville, Tennessee, achieved that with his sourdough donut, which was scaled up into a mix that launched last month.
“I understood what Dawn wanted, not a new flavor but something inherently new, specifically a new texture,” Rice says. “Dawn wanted something a donut producer can do multiple ways, a donut that could be sweet or savory.”
The original formulation developed by Rice included a sourdough starter and buttermilk that contributed not only the tangy flavor reminiscent of sourdough bread but also an open cell structure and darker fry to the outside. These bread characteristics paired well with the light and soft texture of a yeast-raised donut, hitting on another trend Dawn Foods was eager to tap into — mashups.
“Sourdough is growing in popularity, especially in Europe,” says Phil DeWester, senior director, category dry ingredients, Dawn Foods. “And this product hit on the mashup trends: two things coming together to make something new.”
Rice’s formulation into a shelf-stable dry mix that delivered the sourdough flavor, open cell structure while still being easy-to-use and at cost proved to be tricky.
“it was a process to scale up this product,” says Sam Jones, category marketing manager, Dawn Foods. “We went through iteration after iteration. It was also a combination of formula and process because we wanted to keep the process as similar to the yeast-raised donut process as possible. But we also wanted to make something that Chef Rice would be happy with in the end too.”
A breakthrough came in the form of a dehydrated sourdough starter from Europe. While Dawn’s R&D team started out just using a sourdough flavor, which provided the tangy notes without any of the texture, the dried starter delivered on both points. “We’re the first customer to import it into the US,” DeWester says. “That changed the depth of flavor in the donut.”
While Dawn Foods did manage to create a sourdough yeast-raised donut that follows a process similar to a conventional yeast-raised donut, there are differences that are critical to the product being successful. Dawn Foods is supporting its customers by including a QR code on the mix bags that will open a four-minute instructional video, walking bakers through mixing, proofing, processing, and frying. Not only does it show bakers how to make the donut, but it explains why the process differences are necessary.
“Our biggest fear was that our customers, who are expert bakers, would ignore the bag instructions and make this like a yeast-raised donut,” DeWester says. “If you try to make this the same way you would make a yeast-raised donut, it’s not going to turn out well.”
For example, while conventional donuts are often fried to color, sourdough yeast-raised donuts come out of the fryer a darker color. If donut operators fry to color instead of time, these new donuts will be pulled out of the fryer before they’re done. The donuts can also not be sheeted; the dough is too sticky and must be rolled out by hand.
“We created this product for artisanal, not for manufacturers,” Jones says. “That was the goal. It gives the artisanal guys the opportunity to compete with something premium and unique.”
Because these sourdough yeast-raised donuts aren’t as sweet as conventional yeast-raised donuts, they can also be used in both savory and sweet applications. To help bakers get creative, Dawn Foods put together an inspiration brochure with ideas of different ways these donuts can create new products. “It’s interesting to see what our customers will do with this product,” says Lucy Ayala, external communications manager, Dawn Foods. “They will take our inspiration guide and put their own spin on these donuts, and they will really come to life in their bake shops.”
The final product Dawn Foods is offering its customers echoes Rice’s original vision and, in his own words, might have improved upon it. “It went through so many hands, but I can’t tell a difference between my donut and the one they made,” he says. “If anything, theirs is better, and they made it easier for their customers to work with.”