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Taupō doughnut maven Amanda Maclaren is beaming as she surveys the rows of glazed and sugared delicacies in her new store.
This story has been republished with permission from the original publication.
Her evident pleasure is part pride and part relief, in the wake of multiple delays and some nightmarish moments before The Doughnut Box opened in December last year.
A supposedly-new gelato machine, ordered from Italy, arrived filthy and full of chicken feathers. Most of her new baking equipment, purchased in New Zealand, was so sub-standard it continually broke down even before opening day. Key ingredients failed to arrive, and the outdoor freezer is still plagued with problems. The project took seven months longer than expected.
“This baby was so long in the making,” Amanda says of the seemingly endless delays. “It was a bit of a breach birth, but in the end, it had 10 fingers and toes and was deemed in perfect health.”
Today, the business owner has decided the lengthy gestation period and all the trials and tribulations were worthwhile.
She has a steady procession of eager customers ogling her baked beauties. One woman, leading a trio of others, loudly exclaims “Oh my god” at the sight of the fat cookies, chocolate-studded brownies and Boston cream doughnuts topped with dark chocolate ganache and a chocolate flake. “I’m never leaving,” someone else says. Plenty of people step inside the tiny corner shop, with its gleaming white tiles and polished concrete floor, seeking a single treat. Frequently, they leave with half a dozen.
“I can hear people genuinely excited when I’m out in the kitchen. I get a bit teary every time. It’s so, so touching."Amanda
“From the day we opened the door, every day is a pleasure. And you don’t get to say that about many businesses.”
Amanda was already busy with a food franchise in Taupō when she decided to start a second food business from scratch. A trip to the Fine Food New Zealand trade show in 2021 sparked the idea of a specialty sweet treat store and doughnuts seemed an obvious choice.
“Doughnuts are fun food. It’s a treat, it’s indulgent stuff. We’re not curing cancer.”
“And look what we invented this morning,” she says, pointing to a wooden board full of cinnamon apple doughnuts. Each cream-filled round is glazed, sprinkled with a crumble topping and finished with one of the imported French cherry-sized apples she discovered in a wholesaler’s test kitchen in Auckland.
She has made a point of personally visiting all suppliers, taking along her product and sometimes her staff to help build strong relationships. Likewise, visiting sales reps are always offered coffee and a doughnut.
Everything except the churros and miniature children’s doughnuts is made or finished in-house, in small batches of no more than 20 at a time to guarantee freshness and allow experimentation. If no-one buys a new flavour, they are never made again. If there is a run on a particular kind of doughnut, an extra tray or two will go into the ovens out back.
Customers can also order a batch of their favourites; currently the big seller is a biscoff doughnut, based on a caramelised European biscuit.
The dough itself is made in nearby Tirau, by industry stalwarts Yarrows.
“It took a bit of hunting to find the right people; I’ve bought the competition’s product over and over again."
"It’s a 90-year-old Yarrow family recipe and they’ve been making these doughnuts for years, for export. Nobody else gets them made there, I’m the only person that’s ever asked.”Amanda
Amanda says the dough requires lengthy processing, two lots of proving, specialist knowledge and $4million of equipment to create a level of quality and consistency she could never hope to replicate in her tiny commercial kitchen. The dough is blast frozen at source, then trucked to Taupō to be for thawed, cooked, filled, dressed and served fresh.
It isn’t only doughnuts emerging from her kitchen, though. At least five kinds of “big, oozy, gooey, loaded” brownies are baked each day, alongside chocolate-dipped truffle balls.
“The biscoff and Toblerone truffle balls sound very ordinary but they’re life-changing.”
Gingerbread cookies are made with brown sugar, a little molasses, white Callebaut chocolate and a perfect ratio of exterior crunch to soft, plump centre. Each one is topped with a miniature ginger biscuit.
Airy softness is key when it comes to the fried dough stars of the show, Amanda says. “It’s that pillowy-ness. Ours have got quite a bit of bite and chew to them and that perfect doughnut smell.
“I think layers of flavour are really important. And presentation. So our cinnamon doughnut has a mock cream filling, Lewis Road jersey milk vanilla glaze and a dark cane sugar sprinkle.
“The longjohn doughnuts kind of look like a school doughnut but there might be caramel on the inside, with caramel drizzle and a lotus biscuit crumb caster sugar coating. Everything we do is a homage to a thing you know, rather than a direct replica.”Amanda
From the start, she was determined to focus on premium ingredients. No cutting corners. All cream and milk comes from boutique dairy company Lewis Road Creamery. Atomic Coffee is the caffeine bean of choice and hot chocolate drinks are made with 70 per cent Callebaut chocolate. The gelato counter – defeathered and fully refurbished – stocks award-winning Little Lato gelato and includes a specially-commissioned Taupō chocolate fish flavour with milk chocolate marshmallow drizzle and chocolate trout.
The three staff are kitted out in white shirts and smart aprons, paid well above the going rate and granted guaranteed hours and fixed days off.
All are encouraged to contribute flavour ideas and discuss potential improvements and Amanda sings the praises of all and describes the 20-year-old store manager as “focussed, eager to please, just a joy to watch her growing into that role.
“Every day, I’m astounded at the competence of our young people. I think if you give people a voice and a vote, skin in the game, if you don’t micromanage them, they come up with good stuff.”
Trials are underway to add a savoury offering, using hand rolled, wood fired Best Ugly Bagels and slow cooked meats as well as Lewis Road butter.
“You can’t let the grass grow under your feet. You’ve got to be customer driven. If they don’t like it, we’ve got to come up with something they want.”
She envisages a series of doughnut box shops in other corners of the Waikato, each with a distinct personality.
“I wanted this to feel like a neighbourhood shop but one that could be scaled up in time.”
Thanks to an ever-growing range of restaurants, cafes and other culinary options, no-one need visit the region’s galleries or glass blowers or painters on an empty stomach. Learn more about the stunning food and art offerings in this part of New Zealand.