Leigh Kellis was bartending one day when she and the restaurant owner lamented that there were so few old-fashioned doughnut shops in Portland.
Kellis had recently returned to Portland from San Francisco, where she’d lived for 10 years, and was looking for something new to do. So, she searched the bookshelves at Borders, writing down as many doughnut recipes as she could, including – at the suggestion of her boss – a few that used mashed potatoes in the batter.
Finally, Kellis settled on a potato-based recipe and experimented with it in her kitchen. This March, she opened her own homemade doughnut shop, called The Holy Donut, in the old Terroni’s Market building across from Hadlock Field in Portland.
“It was a time in my life when I wanted to take a new challenge,” said Kellis, 36, who is a single mom and a Portland native. “It became an obsession (to find the best recipe.)”
The recipe Kellis hit upon uses almost equal parts unbleached flour and mashed potato, with “no junk whatsoever.” Customers say they don’t taste the potato in the product, but that the doughnuts do seem lighter and less greasy, like a moist bread, as opposed to a gooey or cakey texture.
People seem to flock to the shop more for the variety than for the potato base. The racks behind the counter at The Holy Donut feature an impressive array of flavored doughnuts. The daily assortment usually includes dark chocolate with sea salt, sweet potato and ginger, roasted pistachio glaze, lemon, peanut butter or maple glaze, Allen’s Coffee Brandy glaze, red velvet, mocha, and a hole-less doughnut stuffed with bacon and cheddar cheese. You might not think that last idea would work. But it does.
“A doughnut. Bacon. Cheese. The three things all men want,” said Kevin Williams of Portland, a recent customer.
“They’re the best I’ve ever had,” said Amanda Glidden of Portland one recent Saturday morning as she sampled one of the half-dozen flavors she and her friends had just bought.
“Other doughnuts are just the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave,” added Luke Zaolinski, as he ate his dark chocolate-sea salt doughnut. “This is the Platonic ideal of a doughnut.”
Kellis makes her doughnuts from scratch every morning. She and her small crew peel a “ton of potatoes” and boil them. Then they rice them and let them cool before they combine them with flour and a few other ingredients. After the batter is formed into circles, they are deep fried in canola oil – one minute per side.
“We use Maine potatoes (from Fryeburg) and local dairy products to give it some cache,” said Kellis, who has her hands in batter pretty much all morning, pumping out 800 to 1,000 doughnuts a day on the weekends. All the glazes are made with real fruit flavors – no high-fructose sugar allowed.
“They’re doughnuts you can feel good about,” Kellis says.
The Holy Donut actually started out as an at-home project. Kellis began selling her doughnuts to Coffee By Design last fall and then to another dozen or so retail outlets. As word spread about her doughnuts, she found herself delivering more than 100 a day.
“It began to take over my life,” said Kellis, a Deering High graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Maine. “That’s when Dad stepped in and started making my deliveries for me. Then, we decided to have a store.”
Her father, Allen Kellis, helped her renovate the old market space to have the feel of an old-fashioned doughnut shop with small tables on one side and a couch and chair area on the other side. There also are a couple of tables outside for seating on a nice day. The doughnuts sell for $1.50 each and $15 for a dozen.
Her dad still delivers daily to Whole Foods, Lois’ Natural Foods and Coffee By Design and works the counter when he returns to the store. The shop started selling breakfast sandwiches in early May. On the menu are fritatta and provolone breakfast sandwiches with either bacon or sauteed arugula on toasted, buttered English muffin bread with a touch of spicy pepper spread.
After working as a concierge and a bartender, Kellis says, doughnut maker/shop owner feels right.
“I think this is my career,” she said.
Leigh Kellis’ Maine potato doughnut
3?4 cup sugar?
1 teaspoon vanilla?
Blend three ingredients
In a separate bowl
1 cup of buttermilk
2 cups cooked, riced Maine potatoes
1?4 cup butter melted
Blend those three with first three
Mix the following dry ingredients??
33?4 cups of flour?
21?2 teaspoons baking powder?
1?2 teaspoon baking soda?
1 teaspoon salt?
1?4 teaspoon cinnamon??
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients with dough hook on mixer. Sit covered in refrigerator for 2-24 hours. Roll out and cut with doughnut cutter, 1?4 inch thick dough. Cut with doughnut cutter. Let sit at room temperature for an hour. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Cook 1 minute per side. Remove and toss doughnuts in sugar or cinnamon and sugar.
When the number of doughnut deliveries kept rising, Leigh Kellis, in the kitchen with her father Allen, decided to open a shop. Allen Kellis helped her renovate the old Terroni’s Market so that The Holy Donut would have the feel of an old-fashioned doughnut shop.
Leigh Kellis fries up a batch of her potato-based doughnuts in canola oil. Varieties usually include dark chocolate with sea salt, sweet potato and ginger, roasted pistachio glaze, lemon, peanut butter or maple glazed.