By Alexandra Faszewski
The kitchen of Blackbird Doughnuts is a cozy space, visible to all through a glass wall. Trays of colorful doughnuts, oozing with icing and dotted with sprinkles, await purchase by hungry visitors. Located in South Boston, the artisanal doughnut shop has been open only since January 2015 and has already amassed a fan base of loyal customers. This is partly due to Blackbird being the only doughnut shop in Boston that bakes on-site, and also because of the aesthetically pleasing—and delicious—offerings.
Blackbird began with Rebecca Roth, owner of the Gallows, which is located down the road from the bakery. While in Chicago, Roth tasted an artisanal doughnut that blew her away and realized Boston did not have a shop that baked and sold doughnuts in the same storefront. Recognizing the gap in the market, she returned to Boston and decided she would be the first to do so. Before opening, bakers were in the shop for close to a month and a half, experimenting with recipes to perfect their menu.
“We were making doughnuts every single day, just trying to find the doughnut that we wanted,” said bakery director Tara Bresnick.
Blackbird offers 12 regular sized doughnuts at all times, as well as mini doughnuts that come in stacks of three. The number of flavors for mini doughnuts fluctuates, while the number for regular sized doughnuts does not. Regular doughnuts are sold for $3, and the stacks of three mini doughnuts sell for $2.50. Doughnuts can also be turned into doughnut ice cream sandwiches with the soft serve that is included on the menu.
The menu boasts popular flavors such as salted toffee and cookies and cream, but the offerings change sporadically; it depends on what is going on at the time. For example, holidays would influence a change in menu. However, the menu is adjusted almost every Friday to bring in a new flavor, and certain doughnuts can only be found seasonally.
“We change the flavors quite rapidly. For spring, we just came out with a strawberry honey . . . for October we had pumpkin doughnuts and in the summer we do lots of lemon and blueberry,” said Bresnick.
The signature Blackbird doughnut did not debut until the shop’s first birthday but was well worth the wait. The doughnut is an old-fashioned vanilla-bean cake doughnut, a classic that everyone can enjoy. Overall, the Bismarck is the fan-favorite doughnut. A Bismarck doughnut has no hole and has a special filling instead; Blackbird is currently offering a black-and-white Bismarck, which is filled with a white chocolate mousse and topped with chocolate ganache.
“We always sell out of those by 9:00 a.m. It’s hard to get one,” said Bresnick.
To create the beloved doughnuts, it takes between 15 and 24 hours to bake each batch, and four to five bakers are typically involved in the process from start to finish. Blackbird uses yeast in its doughs, meaning that the dough is a “live product.” The process involves feeding, growing, and then stopping the growth of the yeast. Contrary to popular belief, there is a fair amount of science in this craft.
Blackbird sources ingredients locally from farms and even entered a partnership with Lookout Farm in Natick. The shop used the farm’s cider to bake the doughnuts and sold them on-site. The farm also sold the apple cider doughnuts throughout the fall and winter.
With offerings such as strawberry-honey doughnuts and the raspberry-rhubarb Bismarck, it is not difficult to guess why Blackbird is known for its originality and ingenuity. Part of this can be attributed to the approach that Bresnick takes when brainstorming new doughnut flavors.
“I come from a pastry chef background, so [I] mostly played with desserts. Coming into this, I had never made a doughnut before. So most of my flavor combinations just come from desserts I’ve done in the past and just putting them into a doughnut—which is why they end up looking so intricate,” said Bresnick.
Blackbird is also involved with its customer base; customers can now follow the process on the shop’s new Snapchat, and they can keep up to date on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. While many social media fans are not local, the shop has been able to offer a back-to-school giveaway of doughnuts, which was won by a young, local student. Blackbird is also hosting a contest to design its new van; fans on Instagram are particularly responsive and can be polled for opinions on new flavors.
“The strawberry honey actually came from a girl who works at Starbucks by my house. She’s having a baby and she was telling me how she’s craving strawberries with honey at all times…And I came in that day and said to the head baker, ‘We should make a doughnut out of that,’” said Bresnick.
Baking for Blackbird has its perks because there are no limitations. There is freedom to explore the depths of creativity, and as the first shop of its kind in Boston, Blackbird is making the rules as it goes.
“We’re doing something that no one’s ever done. It’s fun to be able to surprise people with new things and also to be the first,” said Bresnick.
Whether a chocoholic or a fan of fruity treats, every visitor finds a favorite at Blackbird Doughnuts. Making its products with thought and care, the artisanal doughnut shop is a welcome alternative. Forgo that morning drive-through run and seek an elusive Bismarck doughnut. If there is anything to be learned from the forward thinkers of Blackbird Doughnuts, it is that anything is possible.