It’s dangerous work to change a beloved doughnut.
Orvin Bontrager knew that, but what he’s been doing with a group of others at Rise ’N Roll Bakery the last seven months is to keep the doughnut from changing too much.
They didn’t really have a choice. To keep up production as the business continues growing, they went from cutting the doughnut dough to extruding it — having a machine push out the dough into the classic round shape with a hole in the middle.
“Extruding a doughnut is a totally different ballgame,” he said.
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The new machine went into use in November and since then, as they produced and sold thousands of the sweet treasures, they worked behind the scenes to make it all work.
1065 N 1150 West, Middlebury
A few customers noticed the difference. I was one them and called Bontrager a while back. He said they were working on it. I didn’t want to incite a riot, so I stood down. After years of talking to him and eating his products, I trusted him. But I was wary.
These are my favorite doughnut. Some call them “Amish crack.” I prefer to call the cashew nut crunch “Amish crack” and refer to these as “the world’s best doughnuts.”
Over the years, I’ve learned their life cycle, how to freeze them and how to revive them in the microwave.
It was a couple months ago when I bought the cinnamon caramel doughnuts and noticed they weren’t the same. It didn’t have the same feel in the mouth. For the first time ever, a box sat on our counter and went unfinished.
First of all, they were perfectly round. Since the doughnuts originated out of Rise & Roll at its previous location in 2002 or 2003, they were hexagons flat on the top and bottom. It’s a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.
What makes these doughnuts so good? They’re a yeast-raised, fried doughnut that’s still moist. The caramel icing hidden underneath cinnamon powdered sugar is glorious.
The powder makes it a challenge to eat them neatly, though I believe I’ve perfected the method of devouring one without getting powder all over me. It involves grasping the doughnut between the thumb and forefinger, leaning forward and not wasting bites. On more than one occasion I did it while driving in the first mile after leaving the bakery.
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A few years back, Bontrager, who founded the bakery with his wife Viola and then sold it, called to say that as operations manager, he was working on a locally sourced or organic doughnut or one that could be sold at Whole Foods.
I told him that trying to come up with an organic doughnut is somewhat pointless. If you’re eating a doughnut, that’s not the first thing on your mind.
Fast forward to last fall. When the new machine came, shortly after a new addition was completed, Bontrager had to figure out how to get it to make the doughnuts the way customers knew them.
The dough is a conglomeration of ingredients. The process is food science. The result is a delicious $8.99 a dozen.
The temperature of the dough, the proofer in which it sits and the icing are all factors. It was trial and error, with records being kept of every batch. “There’s so many different angles to this,” he said. They did blind tastings and had meetings to get this right.
The doughnut I had a few months ago was drier than previous ones. Along the way, it has become more moist. Customers of the new franchise store in Fort Wayne got accustomed to a wetter doughnut and that became an issue, he said.
When Bontrager invited me come try the doughnuts last week, I found one that’s as close to the past as a round doughnut can be.
“You want enough chew there to when you’re eating something and it doesn’t quite dissipate like a Krispy Kreme,” Bontrager said.
That chew is back. The icing and powder are a tiny bit different, mostly because the top of the doughnut isn’t flat anymore. It has the same amount of icing, but is spread differently, Bontrager said. I doubt it has the same amount of powder, but there were times there was perhaps too much.
The doughnuts bear a day or two of age as well or better than those of old. More experimentation on that front is necessary, however. The challenge is keeping them around long enough.
Rise ’N Roll has become one of the area’s most successful food businesses because of the quality of its products and customer service. An average 700 to 800 paying customers visit the Middlebury location daily, Bontrager said.
It’s grown from a two-person shop alongside the Bontrager’s house to a small factory with a showroom that can accommodate buses. Three franchise locations sell the products and Tom Hart takes more to temporary markets in Chicago office buildings. Hospitals auxiliaries are selling the doughnuts as fundraisers.
The three couples who own the business have a big hit. They know that.
I’m just glad the doughnut’s back to what it was. You can have progress. I just want this food to be what I’ve grown to love and something that continues to elicit cries of joy when you bring a box into the room.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.