Cult doughnuts are the new concert tickets. While concerts may have taken a back seat, these highly coveted sweet treats require the same level of pre-planning and even camping at your computer to score them. If you snooze, you lose.
Home-grown Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery’s sourdough bomboloni – or Italian stuffed doughnuts – once sold out in less than a minute. These are released on its online store every Monday at noon and sell out within 10 minutes every week.
The bakery arm of Michelinstarred restaurant Burnt Ends now has a wait list of two to three weeks for its stuffed brioche doughnuts, which are sold only on its online store.
It started selling doughnuts at a weekend market in Dempsey Hill in March 2018, but ramped up production to meet rising online demand during the circuit breaker period.
Meanwhile, at hole-in-the-wall bakery Korio at Far East Square in Amoy Street, its American-style glazed brioche doughnuts sell out by 12.30pm, or earlier, every day. A queue usually starts at about 10.30am on weekdays or as early as 9am on a Saturday.
Unlike mass-produced doughnuts by chains that are available at malls, these artisanal doughnuts are handmade in small batches with higher-quality ingredients and unique flavour combinations – which also translate to heftier prices. They typically cost $4 to $5 a pop.
A box of nine Sourbombe – in flavours like Basque burnt cheesecake, lavender lime mascarpone and Thai tea mango – goes for $44.
Korio bakes 200 doughnuts daily. Its pandan and salted gula melaka, and peanut butter and jelly glazed doughnuts sell at $4.50 each.
Burnt Ends Bakery’s best-selling box of mixed stuffed doughnuts – flavoured with nutella, passionfruit and vanilla cream – retails at $24 for half a dozen. The bakery now pumps out 6,000 to 7,000 doughnuts every month.
Sourbombe’s co-founder is Genevieve Lee, 23, who is known for her stint on MasterChef Singapore, where she was the runner-up.
She attributes the cult doughnut boom to discerning Singaporean palates. “Good doughnuts are not everywhere... small bakeries are all artisanal and you can really taste the difference,” she says.
She started making doughnuts two years ago as a signature dish of hers and took them to friends’ homes. More recently, they featured in the care packages that she sent to friends during the circuit breaker period.
Two months ago, she launched her online doughnut business. Assisted by family members, she now makes about 800 bomboloni a week, using proofed and handrolled sourdough – which gives them a slight tang.
“In using sourdough, the whole flavour profile changes so it doesn’t just taste like plain old white bread. Instead it becomes a sourish, salty, almost umami kind of bite,” she says.
She also fries the bomboloni in coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, so they are crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, which sets them apart in texture from regular doughnuts.
They are then filled with silky custards flavoured with matcha and oolong tea and bits of adzuki beans – or her personal favourite, blueberry and lemon thyme.
For her Basque burnt cheesecake doughnut, which pays homage to the cult cake with molten insides, she sous vides cheese and egg custard “until it has a perfect consistency” before she pipes it into the doughnut, then blowtorches it to get the “burnt” effect.
Deliveries go out on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or customers can pick up the doughnuts from Lee Fun Nam Kee, her father’s famous soya sauce chicken rice restaurant in Toa Payoh.
If not for the pandemic, Ms Lee would have headed to New York earlier this year for a four-month internship at the renowned farmstead restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns. “But if I didn’t stay in Singapore, I wouldn’t have opened Sourbombe... so I choose to find the silver lining,” she says.
Just last week, she completed her bachelor’s degree in culinary business at the Culinary Institute of America’s Singapore campus, which means she can now focus fully on her booming business.
She is also looking to scale up and is sourcing for a central kitchen with co-founder C.R. Tan, 29, a food stylist and photographer.
As part of the expansion, she is looking into making her doughnuts with halal-friendly gelatin options.
The rising appetite for doughnuts is also being met by a slew of homebased online bakers like The Fat Kid Bakery (@thefatkidbakery), which takes pre-orders for sourdough bomboloni three to five days before delivery or collection.
There are also plenty of halal and Muslim-owned options like Fluff Bakery in the Bugis area, whose stuffed doughnuts sell out every day.
Joining the ranks of home bakers are Dough & Batter, which serves sweet (salted caramel honeycomb) and savoury (sambal) bomboloni, while Welovedelish’s selection of pillowy doughnuts come in flavours like durian pengat, passionfruit mango curd and strawberry. Both online businesses are on Instagram and orders can be placed via WhatsApp.
But the frontrunners are not resting on their laurels.
Burnt Ends head baker Teresa Tan, 34, is constantly doing research and development.
“Depending on the season, we try to switch the fillings up with the fruit that our supplier can get,” she says. “We also get customer feedback to see what flavours the public are leaning towards.”
Past flavours have included plum jam and lemon curd, while customers have requested flavours like durian and mango lassi.
It does not look like the doughnut craze is subsiding any time soon.
Ms Shaz Henshaw, 25, cofounder of Korio, says: “Singaporeans know their food and I guess word gets around fast when people find something they really enjoy.”
Doughnut lovers like Mr Alex Tan, 55, director of home decor and lifestyle store Strange & Deranged, orders anything from two to four boxes from home-based business The Fat Kid Bakery twice a month for himself and to give away to friends and clients.
“What I like about this business is that if a batch of doughnuts turns out bad, baker Ariel Tang will tell you she is not selling it,” says Mr Tan. “It’s artisanal, but it’s also honest, and when you give it to friends, you know you’re giving them good stuff.”