Doughnut or donut? To find out, we set up an appointment with Amanda Gibson, Recipe Tester for Good Dough, an artisanal doughnut shop. The original location in San Marco has just set up a long-term pop-up in the Town Center. The doughnut craze has swept through the nation, and we’ve survived—with only a little artery clogging residue to show for it.
Gibson is an involved, behind-the-scene force in Northeast Florida’s food scene. She started out in the corporate food industry, aka chain restaurants. “When I quit, I decided that I was never, ever going to work in corporate food again.” Eventually, in 2012, she was at the first Maple Street Biscuit Company, a breakfast and lunch spot specializing in down-home Southern cooking like fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, but with an innovative twist on what goes in or on a biscuit.
After spending time observing the back of the house (the kitchen) at Maple Street, she stepped up to the plate. She saw they were struggling to make consistent items every day from the recipes. Though not classically trained in the culinary arts, Gibson says, “I like to know the ‘why’.” Experimentation and research followed. She gathered knowledge on many kitchen science questions. Prior to the explosive expansion of Maple Street, she helped develop recipes to provide consistency in the kitchen. After streamlining ingredients and methods, she saw an opportunity and told the owners, “I’d like to make this into a career.” She then moved into helping train staff to open new restaurants in the Southeast.
During her time as a trainer, there were lots of trips and long hours. She needed a creative outlet in the kitchen, one that didn’t involve gravy. She started documenting her home bakes through blogging and Instagramming.
One of her favorite things to make was macarons, the delicate, colorful French cookie. “They were so technical. That’s when I realized that baking is such a science. And they’re so pretty to look at!” When she started blogging and Instagramming her beautiful creations, she began to make a name for herself.
That’s about the time she got an email.
“We’re looking for a baker,” it said.
Logan and Brittany Moore, owners of what would eventually be Good Dough, reached out because they were looking to work with someone in town to develop their dough recipes. When Gibson got that email, she laughed it off with an attitude, like, “I hope they find someone who’s the perfect fit!” She responded, saying, “I’m not a professional chef!” However, Gibson has always had a passion for working with and supporting local businesses, so she sat down with them to hear about their project and vision.
As she and Brittany Moore talked, Gibson started thinking it would be a really cool opportunity. Once they told her they’d already locked down their storefront in San Marco, she was sold. It sounded to her as if “I could be really creative and they didn’t mind that I wasn’t classically trained.” She kept her job at Maple Street, but signed a contract to develop the recipes for the shop. Then trial and error began!
Gibson’s job was outlined as encompassing testing all the raised doughnut and glaze recipes. “It was me in my tiny kitchen. I had never made doughnuts!”
As a layperson, recipe-testing sounds like the most fun you can have. In reality, it’s time-consuming and frustrating. “It took forever,” she says. “There’s a difference when you’re recipe-testing for yourself and when you’re contracted” for another’s palate. As anyone who’s cooked for a picky eater (or a toddler) will know, one person might say they LOVE the new mint chocolate chip and another might say it tastes like toothpaste, and that’s just glazes and toppings. The dough was an even bigger beast.
“Yeast is a living organism, so it kind of has a mind of its own.” Gibson would get up early to start mixing and proofing. Good Dough specializes in brioche-style raised doughnuts and those early morning baking sessions were crucial. “I learned a lot of life lessons with yeast dough,” she confides. “With any kind of dough ... you have to let it rest.” It couldn’t be too tough, too chewy, too anything other than perfect.
Even though it was 3 a.m. and she wanted to move the process along, she said that letting the dough rest made her rest, too. “You want to keep going but you have to rest. You have to be patient.” Those early solo baking sessions kept her connected to Good Dough and the recipes she was creating for them. She found herself thinking, “I am this dough. I need to rest. I need to be patient.”
Even through all the testing, she didn’t have plans to leave Maple Street. This was just a contract for the recipes, after all. Then, she started thinking about how much effort she had put into the dough and all she could do with local seasonal ingredients. She finally took the leap of faith.
“I’ve been with Good Dough for two years now.” The shop opened in May 2017 and she says, “I’m really thankful that everything happened the way that it did.” She was able to create a team, choosing people who had a passion for baking and learning. These folks are helping craft the menu now. The first person they hired is still part of the team, Tim Staley, aka the Doughnut Master. “He’s helped perfect the shape of the doughnuts. He is the one here at 1 a.m. making the dough every day!” Baker Madison Foster is a recent addition to the team, coming up with some great ideas like the specialty Harry Potter doughnut. This month, she has a Maple Pepita Brittle on the menu. Then there’s the manager of the San Marco shop, Jessica Golisch. “She was one of the first people I hired and she’s still here, so that means a lot.”
The constantly changing menu means that Gibson pulls a lot of inspiration from “other doughnut shops and actually a lot of ice cream places like Salt and Straw in Portland” for their crazy flavors. Check out some of her fave inspirations: “Dough” in New York, “Blue Star” in Portland, “PVDoughnuts” in Rhode Island, and the “Salty Doughnut” in Miami. In addition to the 10 new flavors a month, Good Dough does specialty ones, available for only a few days at a time (or until they run out), like the Harry Potter Doughnut on Harry’s birthday or the Ron Swanson, a maple butter glaze, mini pancakes and a pipette of maple syrup, egg custard in the middle, crumbled bacon and powdered sugar. If you didn’t get to try it, Gibson promises,
“It will be back soon.”
One of her fave accounts to follow is @amandafrederickson, who specializes in a little thing called “fridge foraging.” She dives into her fridge and makes something delightful out of what she finds. “It’s so simple; nothing is really technical.”
Before we ended our conversation, I had to know where Good Dough stood on the spelling war: doughnut or donut? Turns out, owner Brittany Moore is all about “ough.” It’s “doughut,” which is the way it was spelled in the 1800s. “I don’t know who abbreviated it but … ” Gibson trails off, giving the impression that whoever it was, they were wrong.
Follow @uhmandatodd to drool over her many homemade creations and her adorable baby!