What would you do if you had to make a backyard barbecue-themed donut with beer in it? What if 10 grand was on the line to make a good donut? There’s only one person on Maui qualified to answer those questions: Madame Donut of Donut Dynamite in Wailuku. Last year, a brick and mortar shop had been on her to-do list, after operating out of a pop-up trailer and rotating commercial kitchens for the last couple years.
“I didn’t want to be in a strip mall,” says Madame Donut. “It’s cold. It’s got no character. I wanted a stand-alone building and I really wanted to be in Kahului or Wailuku.”
So when Keone Smith and Natasha Gould had to call it quits in their Wailuku Manapua Bakery location, it seemed like a good fit.
“So when they called me I was like, no way!” she says. “It’s a stand-alone building. It’s older, it’s got character, it’s got history, it’s got a story. They had other offers, they could have made more money. But they were like, ‘We spent some good amount of money on improving the building and we really want to hand it to people we believe in. We think you will do so well in this space. We think it will be a destination.’ I was like, oh my god, these people are dreaming with us. To me that was the sign that we were in the right place.”
But like all sweet and dreamy business plans, cash in hand can be tight.
“Money was still an issue,” says Madame Donut. “So Food Channel had been calling me to see if I wanted to get on Sugar Showdown. I had turned them down several times earlier in the year. They called me once more and told me they were offering one more time if I wanted to get on the show. They said it was my last chance to get in the season. They were casting for the last episode. My husband Frank [Parada] and I said we don’t really do this kind of thing. But then we could win $10,000. So we went for it.”
Sugar Showdown is a game show that pits three teams of two bakers against each other for the initial round, then the final two teams had a challenge to see who would win the $10,000.
“The first secret ingredient was beer,” says Madame. “Frank and I just thought obviously we couldn’t do our usual donuts–they are made of brioche and take much too long for a competition. But I still wanted to have a different base. Most people do cake donuts because they’re fast easy and simple. They usually start with the same batter. That was not our strategy. We did different bases. The second secret ingredient was chipotle. I think that was my edge through the competition, we went out of the box. Thankfully, we won.”
Another edge that Madame Donut has is the fact that she loves to plan her menu with whatever is fresh, so developing creative donut ideas for her ingredients is already part of her usual everyday flair. The menu always has new twists. Donuts like Samoa kine, Molokai sweet potato poi and lemon meringue grace the menu that can change from day to day.
“I always think donuts, it’s hard to take seriously–it’s like a fun food,” says Madame. “So to me everything goes together. The fact that the donut isn’t taken so seriously lets me use it as a canvas for my expression.”
All of her donuts at Donut Dynamite start with an amazing brioche dough.
“Brioche is known to be the rich man’s bread,” says Madame. “That’s the actual term that they use for brioche. It’s enriched, it’s extra butter, it’s extra egg. And by the way, when Marie Antoinette said, ‘Let them eat cake’ she didn’t say cake–she said brioche.”
In fact, there’s not just one dough. She develops each donut base specific for its flavor.
“In the brown butter, I brown the butter first before adding the dough, so it’s not just the topping that’s brown butter,” says Madame. “The topping is a brown butter streusel with cinnamon, caramel and oatmeal. Since the dough itself uses brown butter, it gives it a nuttier, kind of more dense structure.”
The maple bacon donut has apple in the dough, though it’s not mentioned in its name or description. It’s all part of her elevated donut plan.
“The apples kind of act as a cleanser because of the acidity,” says Madame. “So you don’t really taste the apples. It’s rich but you know it’s like when you eat a cold fatty meat… the apples kind of secretly cleanses that.”
There are other surprises, like the fact that the red velvet brioche uses beets to get its spectacular color.
“My approach is always like, I’m not going to say that my donuts are healthy,” says Madame. “No, they have calories. They’re fun, they’re all fun. You know if you’re watching your waistline, it’s probably not the right choice. But because there are real ingredients and real flavors you don’t have to feel guilty. It’s not just sugary sweet and nothing else.”
Recently Madame Donut branched out into savory donuts as well.
“I think I’ve made way too many donuts the past four years,” says Madame.“The savories kind of stemmed from me trying to snack on something else. That was the start of it. My husband thought I was crazy at first. Because I love ham and cheese croissants, and brioche really is more in the family of croissant and puff pastry. The main difference between brioche and croissant is the way you introduce the butter. So I started making a ham brioche dough, and just put the cheese on it and a bit of chili sauce and the Cheesy Hammy was born. I was just like, oh my god this would go so well with beer.”
Then Donut Dynamite got Green Eggs and Ham for breakfast. It’s a sourdough roll made from the trim leftover from the donuts. Its got an egg, some cheese and ham and she makes a vegetarian version as well. On Monday, Wednesday and Fridays she makes a malasada burger starting at 10:30am. They are made-to-order and ridiculously good. You can order from her website, and pre-order dozens of donuts to make sure you get what you want. She often sells out for the day.
“I’m so passionate about this business,” says Madame. “I want to make it a really, really good product. Whatever it is–my donuts, burgers, malasadas, savories–I want to change the way most people think about the donut. It’s not just the donut, you can have a crappy pizza or you can have a really good pizza. Once people start understanding that, it’s something special. It’s not at all what people would think of as a donut. This is really something different.”
Donut Showdown upcoming episodes:
Photos by Sean M. Hower