Aside from the seasonal fairground cinnamon-sugar-dusted mini-doughnuts, the doughnut scene across Canada had long been a wasteland. However, for much of the past decade, it’s seen a reinvention.
Calgary’s Jelly Modern Doughnuts is noted for being the first Canadian gourmet-doughnut business venture with its original location opening in early 2011 to plenty of buzz nationally and internationally. It wasn’t long before the doughnut trend really gained traction and other Canadian culinary entrepreneurs followed suit. Contemporary doughnut shops popped up across the country from Cartems Donuts and Lucky’s Doughnuts in Vancouver, Oh Doughnuts in Winnipeg and Toronto’s Glory Hole Doughnuts all the way over to Vandal Doughnuts in Halifax.
By last year it seemed as though every city in Canada had more interesting O-shaped baked goods than it knew what to do with.
Well, every city except Saskatoon.
It wasn’t until late last year when the small city finally saw its first modern doughnut shop, Darkside Donuts from baker Bryn Rawlyk, whose creations are worth taking note of.
It all comes down to flour, an attention to a fundamental component that is, perhaps, overlooked by other doughnut makers nationwide, but one that could be uniquely accomplished in the Prairies. Darkside Donuts uses a blend of Saskatchewan organic flour and heritage-grain flour, the latter of which the baker grinds himself several times a week.
Mr. Rawlyk’s other main venture in Saskatoon is The Night Oven Bakery, a much-lauded and truly unique bakery that produces an extensive line of breads, pastries and other specialties using a wood-fired oven. It is here, in the humbly sized kitchen, that the baker grinds Saskatchewan grains into flour using a small stone mill.
In addition to using the milled grains for his satiating baking, the bespoke whole-wheat flour is available in small quantities for industry professionals and home bakers alike through his flour company, Two Stones Mill.
“There’s an emptiness to regular, bleached white flour,” the baker says adamantly. “I truly believe in the flavour of grain. We have five farms that we source from and even some farmers that grow grain don’t think about the diversity of flavour of grain. I always liken it to apples or tomatoes ... every crop varietal that you grow tastes different.”
He goes on to say that these heritage grains, more specifically small-batch flours made from local grains is, shockingly, hardly accessible to a person living in the bread basket of the world, i.e. the Prairies.
“The mission of The Night Oven was always to connect locally grown grain, which is what Saskatchewan is obviously known for globally, to local people and it’s the same now with Darkside," Mr. Rawlyk explains. “I like being that middleman and having a way to connect a commodity that’s usually removed from a ‘local’ diet to people here in Saskatoon.”
Starting with a proprietary blend of organic and house-ground whole-wheat flour, Darkside produces an assemblage of cake and yeast doughnuts on a rotating daily menu that includes mainstays such as a honey dip with Kitako Lake Honey and a vegan chocolate cake variety glazed with beetroot and dusted with dehydrated beet powder. The bakery even has a cool (literally and figuratively) doughnut-infused ice cream collaboration with its next-door neighbour, Fable Ice Cream.
“There are a lot of culinary techniques going on here with each doughnut and you can really nerd out if you want to,” he says, laughing. “Most people buy doughnuts not even thinking about the amount of work that went into them ... the grains and other local ingredients, but also they don’t need to. I just want them to enjoy it.”
And enjoy it they certainly have. As with his other popular doughnut contemporaries across the country, Mr. Rawlyk admits that Saskatoon residents have been pretty smitten with their offerings since the get-go. Naturally, he attributes much daily interest in terms of one-off doughnut creations and the like to social streams such as Instagram. Post it and they will come, as they say.
The idea of whole-wheat-flour baking isn’t always appealing to people, which is why the baker is careful to balance the amount of his own wheat flour in his dough recipes. He also doesn’t overtly advertise that he’s making something more especial in the realm of doughnuts. While it is the heritage-grain flour that helps to create a distinct flavour at Darkside, at the end of the day a doughnut needs to feel indulgent.
“The master plan is [to find a way] to sift and yield high-extraction flour without compromising the quality of the doughnuts we make. I would then be able to buy even more grain from Saskatchewan farmers, which is our ultimate goal: to buy most grain that we can in the province and then to use it locally.”