Food & Drink

Glazed and amused: Doughnuts are having a sweet moment in South Florida

For the Miami Herald

Doughnuts are back in South Florida. Whether it’s spelled “doughnuts” or “donuts,” the treat is everywhere these days, from specialty shops to fine-dining restaurants, all tinkering to create the best version.

One of the tinkerers: Robert Taylor, a retired Miami Beach detective who is contributing to the doughnut renaissance by bringing back the iconic Velvet Creme brand. His red doughnut truck has been getting honks of recognition on Interstate 95 from Miami-Dade through Palm Beach counties.

“People love doughnuts, very simply, because they are a treat,” Taylor said. “People want to treat themselves with a doughnut and a great cup of coffee.”

Velvet Creme was founded in 1947 in Little Havana by Jim Hadler, who passed on the business to his son Gary in 1989. Gary Hadler, Taylor’s brother-in-law, opened a second location near the University of Miami on U.S. 1, and kept both shops running until 2000, when an illness derailed the business.

Taylor had promised that he would revive the beloved doughnut brand, and he has: National trademark in hand, Taylor and his partners, Jorge Rios and daughter Krista Rios, rolled out their Velvet Creme truck this year (@TheVelvetCreme) and are looking at brick-and-mortar locations on Bird Road in Miami and in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The truck has already found a sweet spot, selling out of about 2,000 doughnuts at various events around the region. Velvet Creme also carries a specialty coffee roasted in Tampa, in addition to three kinds of doughnuts: glazed, glazed cake and cream-filled chocolate round Johns. More varieties will be available in the permanent locations.

“People remember the name and the doughnuts from when they were a little kid,” Taylor said. “We’re doing a good doughnut, a quality doughnut.”

All shapes and sizes

The beauty of a doughnut is that it’s easily adaptable. From Thai doughnuts dripping in sweetened condensed milk to Italian zeppole to New Orleans’ beignets, many cultures have embraced sweet fried dough.

At Mojo Donuts (7906 Pines Blvd.) in Pembroke Pines, fans line up for a rotating cast of treats, including a Deco Drive version filled with cream, loaded with hard-shell chocolate and topped with Frosted Flakes, caramel, strawberries and blueberries.

“My whole goal is to just deliver on the promise of a gourmet doughnut, and I think we’ve done that,” said Shawn Neifeld, who co-owns and co-founded Mojo Donuts with his wife, Michelle Neifeld.

“Fortunately with timing, we got lucky,” he said. “We were in the right place at the right time with the right product, and we delivered.”

Shawn Neifeld had run other retail operations, from a CD store to smoothie and ice cream shops, but he said the doughnut business seems to have extra … mojo. Their storefront is packed and sells out of sweets most days.

“Doughnuts are a staple of the American diet. Everybody has grown up on doughnuts,” he said. “Just like pizza, just like burgers, just like French fries, doughnuts are right in there.”

‘Instant smile’

At Mojo, the Neifelds are constantly coming up with new ways to dress up or down their doughnuts. They said their patrons get a kick out of the ever-changing varieties, like a recent chocolate doughnut filled with Mojo cream, rolled in graham crackers and topped with peanuts and a drizzle of white chocolate.

“When people come into our store, it’s an instant smile,” Shawn Neifeld said. “It’s a really wonderful part of the business. It’s nice to be in a business where 99 percent of the people we deal with are happy.”

It’s not only South Florida doughnut shops that are cashing in on America’s obsession with the nostalgia-inducing dessert. Restaurants, too, have responded to their customers’ clamoring for meal-ending doughnuts.

At Proof Pizza & Pasta (3328 N. Miami Ave.) in Wynwood, the seasonal doughnuts basically sell themselves.

“When someone sees doughnuts on the menu, they’re like, ‘Oh, gotta have it,’” Proof chef-owner Justin Flit said.

Proof’s kitchen amps up a basic yeast-leavened doughnut with fresh flavors like apple cider, brown sugar spice or the current: chocolate.

“The bottom line is that people just love doughnuts,” Flit said. “At the end of the day, we want to make the guests happy, and doughnuts make ’em happy.”

Hot and fresh

Josh Gripper, executive pastry chef at the W South Beach Hotel and the Dutch (2201 Collins Ave.) in Miami Beach, remembers his mom buying him Dunkin’ Donuts on their way to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He said putting doughnuts on a restaurant menu allows people to re-create the experience of having a hot, fresh doughnut: the best way to eat one.

“If you’re at a Krispy Kreme and it comes fresh out of the fryer and it’s warm, it’s so much better than if you go and get that same doughnut hours later,” Gripper said. “A lot of people don’t get to experience that nice, fresh doughnut with a pillowy filling.”

Gripper’s doughnuts aren’t currently on the Dutch’s menu, but when they are, they rival chocolate soufflé as the restaurant’s best-selling dessert. Until Gripper brings back his doughnuts, he is serving churros, which one could argue is also a doughnut.

Whatever form they take and wherever they’re sold or made, doughnuts are here to stay as a favorite guilty please.

“Doughnuts are awesome,” Gripper said. “More people should make them.”

Contact writer Nina Lincoff at and on Twitter: @nincoff.

Doughnut tips

A hot doughnut is otherworldly, and you can make them at home. Some tips:

▪ Be patient: With a yeast-leavened dough, patience is key. “It’ll take some time,” pastry chef Josh Gripper said. Go by volume instead of time listed on a recipe. A well-proofed dough leads to a fluffy doughnut.

▪ Use quality ingredients: Like any recipe, the outcome will be determined by quality of ingredients. And for doughnuts, flour is key. Bread flour has a higher protein content, which gives the dough strength, but an unbleached organic all-purpose will work fine.

▪ Know your temperature: From the yeast to frying, doughnuts are temperature-dependent. To keep yeast happy, make sure the dough doesn’t get too hot (80 degrees) or too cold (65 degrees) while proofing. For frying, keep the oil at a constant 350 degrees.

Chocolate Sugar Doughnuts

3 1/2 cups Caputo 00 Flour

1/3 cup high-quality cocoa powder, like Valrhona 100 percent Cocoa Powder

2 tablespoons rapid-rise yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature

Sugar, cinnamon and vanilla powder for garnish

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, yeast, salt and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fixed with the dough hook attachment. Whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix together on medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough completely pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Add butter and mix on high speed, or until the butter is fully incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 1 minute, turning and folding the dough. Place dough in a bowl that has been lightly oiled and cover with plastic wrap. Put the bowl in a warm place (75 degrees) and let it rise until it has doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Turn the proofed dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out until it is 1/2-inch thick. Cut out 2-inch or 1-inch diameter rounds depending on the preferred size and place doughnuts on a baking sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment paper. Cover the doughnuts loosely with plastic wrap to prevent drying and let double in size again, about 1 to 2 hours.

Heat 2 inches of oil to 350 degrees in a heavy-bottomed pot. Fry the doughnuts, four at a time, for one minute on each side. Toss the hot doughnuts in a mixture of granulated sugar, cinnamon and vanilla powder and serve warm. Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Chefs Justin Flit and Malcolm Xavier Prude, Proof Pizza & Pasta.

Brioche Doughnuts

1 1/3 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 vanilla bean

4 1/4 cups bread flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

9 large eggs yolks

1 stick unsalted butter, cubed

Warm 1/2 cup of the milk in a microwave until room temperature, about 15 seconds. Stir in the yeast to activate, and let sit until bubbly, about five minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, scrape the insides of the vanilla bean and sift in the flour, sugar and salt. Mix the ingredients on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Swap the paddle attachment for the dough hook. Add in the yeast mixture, remaining milk and the egg yolks. If making “Tuscan Doughnuts” (see note), put in the substitute ingredients for 1/3 cup whole milk. Add the butter and mix all the ingredients on low speed with the dough hook until everything begins to combine. Increase speed to medium-low until there are no visible chunks of butter.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and then place in a lightly oiled boil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and put bowl in a warm place (75 degrees). Let double in size, about 2 to 3 hours. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Beat some of the air out of the dough by punching it down slightly. Roll the dough with a lightly floured rolling pin out into a rough 1 1/2-foot circle 1/2-inch thick. Cut out doughnuts with a 2-inch-diameter cutter, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet that has been lightly oiled. Continue cutting out doughnuts, rolling the dough back out to 1/2-inch thick until you’ve used all the dough. Brush the tops of each doughnut with bit of oil to prevent them from drying out. Let the doughnuts proof until they have doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Heat 2 inches of oil to 350 degrees in a heavy-bottomed pot. Fry the doughnuts, four at a time, for 30 seconds or until golden brown on one side. Flip doughnuts and submerge slightly until they are thoroughly cooked, about 1 to 3 minutes depending on size. Toss the hot doughnuts in granulated sugar, or place on a wire rack to drain slightly before serving with chocolate sauce, fruit preserves or glazing. Serves 6 to 8.

Note: To make the “Tuscan Doughnuts” this recipe is adapted from, substitute the juice of one lemon, 1/3 cup brandy and the zest of two oranges for 1/3 cup whole milk.

Source: Adapted from executive pastry chef Josh Gripper, W South Beach Hotel and The Dutch, and “Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food” by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman.

Basic Doughnut Glaze

1/4 cup whole milk (substitute 1/4 cup coconut milk for a coconut glaze)

3 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract

Optional toppings: crushed nuts, toasted coconut flakes, rainbow sprinkles

Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl until combined. Pour glaze over hot doughnuts on a wire rack. Press toppings into wet glaze, or let plain glaze harden before serving, about 4 minutes.

Source: Nina Lincoff.

Guava Glaze

1/4 cup whole milk

3 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons guava paste

Optional: 4 drops of red food coloring

Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl until combined. Pour glaze over hot doughnuts on a wire rack and let glaze harden before serving, about 4 minutes.

Source: Nina Lincoff.