The Doughnut Store of Your Dreams Is Blossoming in Central New Jersey
You might not have heard of Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot, the cooks behind the brainy, brilliant blog, Ideas in Food, but they are vital resources for chefs all over the country. Chefs pay $1,000 a day to learn about the finer points of hydrocolloids, oven humidity control, smoking, or any of a number of topics Kamozawa and Talbot have tackled over the last decade. Among certain chefs, the two are superstars.
The couple met as cooks in the late '90s while working in the kitchen at Clio in Boston, and they have since co-written three cookbooks packed with techniques that make you think differently about cooking—such as this freeze-frying technique for steaks, or this neat method for baked chicken wings. In the last year, they’ve been to restaurants in Boston, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York to lead workshops and troubleshoot techniques with chefs. Last weekend, however, Kamozawa and Talbot finally took a break from consulting to open their own place. It’s a hundred-foot-wide stall in Stockton, N.J., a tiny doughnut and frozen custard shop aptly named Curiosity Doughnuts.
Eager to learn what they knew about doughnuts, I drove to Stockton Market, a food hall in the Victorian center of Stockton, where Talbot was running back and forth, from the counter to the market’s communal kitchen, in a frenzy of rolling, frying, and glazing.
The yeasted dough, Talbot explained as he rolled some out and cut the rings, was not unlike the super-buttery doughnut recipe he and Kamozawa had published in Maximum Flavor. But a month of experimentation had helped them come up with some tweaks. First, there was now more yeast in the recipe, which meant it could come together in just two hours instead of 18. And they were using buttermilk, vanilla, and heavy cream to modify the flavors. “I’m a buttermilk fanatic,” Talbot said later, over the phone, when he explained that buttermilk features in their cake doughnut recipe as well. (The unyeasted doughnuts.)
The doughnut is one of those fried foods from which I don’t expect serious crunch; they offer mostly tenderness, weightlessness, and a disappearing sort of sweetness. But in the fryer oil, the surface of some of the yeasted doughnuts splits just a little, forming ridges that get lovely and crisp as they cook.
While I'm there, Talbot gets word that the chocolate-glazed doughnuts are running low, so he coats half the batch before him with chocolate and dredges the rest in a cinnamon sugar spiked with the tiniest bit of cardamom. I try one. It is the greatest cinnamon doughnut I’ve ever tasted, partly because it’s still warm from the fryer and partly because the edges have just a touch of crispness, a very delicate layer that gives immediately to a rush of buttery, tender, slightly bouncy interior.
For a few minutes, I don’t talk at all. This doughnut is too delicious. Finally, I ask Talbot what, in his opinion, makes a perfect doughnut. I expect some kind of nerdy, science-driven answer, some kind of ratio of fat to flour—precision, numbers, techniques.
“A perfect doughnut makes you happy,” Talbot answered, carrying a sheet pan full of warm doughnuts to the counter. While this is probably one of the corniest things ever said about doughnuts, it may be the truest.
Kamozawa and Talbot never seem to run out of good ideas or settle on a single way or doing things. Mistakes and disasters of all sizes tend to show them the way to something new. For example, when the doughnut robot they had enlisted to fry the cake doughnuts broke on their opening weekend, they piped them by hand into long, fat cigars. Which is now the official shape of their cake doughnuts. And instead of throwing out scraps, Talbot is currently rolling plain and chocolate scraps together, turning them into beautiful, marbled rings.
The Curiosity Doughnut menu this weekend will have a couple of fresh additions, including a baked gluten-free doughnut made with rice flour, topped with a crunchy rice streusel. Because I think baked doughnuts are just delusional cakes, I'm much more excited about the new apple pie doughnut, filled with applesauce made from apples that Kamozawa picked in New Hampshire and glazed with butterscotch. A tip for anyone heading over: You can and should ask for it a la mode, so you don't miss out on a taste of their buttermilk-vanilla frozen custard. It will make you happy.
Curiosity Doughnuts is at Stockton Farm Market, 19 Bridge Street, Stockton, NJ; +1 (609) 610-3532 or curiositydoughnuts.com (weekends only)