Key Ingredient: Francis Brennan tarts up doughnuts | Key Ingredient | Chicago Reader

Key Ingredient: Francis Brennan tarts up doughnuts 

The Do-Rite Donuts chef tops long johns with the acidic Middle Eastern spice sumac.

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click to enlarge Dried sumac berries - MSK.NINA/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT
  • Dried sumac berries
  • Msk.Nina/Getty Images/iStockphot

The Chef: Francis Brennan (Do-Rite Donuts, Summer House Santa Monica, Stella Barra Pizzeria)
The Challenger: Jeff Mahin (Stella Barra Pizzeria)
The Ingredient: Sumac

Sumac, a spice that's made from the brilliant red fruit of certain varieties of the sumac bush, is popular in the Middle East for flavoring meat, hummus, salads, and rice. Francis Brennan (Do-Rite Donuts, Summer House Santa Monica, Stella Barra Pizzeria), challenged to cook with it by his business partner, Jeff Mahin, opted to use it on a doughnut.

"Sumac has a really nice tart flavor, almost like a substitute for lemon," Brennan said. He's used it in savory cooking before, particularly on grilled fish at Summer House, but never with anything sweet. "It's not like a lot of spices that have big, bold flavor or a lot of aroma. We're using it much like lemon, or an acid, to freshen up our doughnut and make it really pop."

Francis Brennan - JULIA THIEL
  • Francis Brennan
  • Julia Thiel

Brennan started with Do-Rite's brioche doughnut, topping it with a sumac-vanilla glaze and filling it with Greek yogurt with agave nectar, vanilla, and a bit of lemon. To finish things off, he sprinkled pine nut brittle, fennel pollen, and a little more sumac on top.

Because of their fine-dining background at L2O, Brennan said, he and Mahin approach doughnuts the same way they would a composed dish. "We want to have all the flavors represented in one doughnut: salty, sweet, spicy sometimes. We try to make it as round as possible." In this case, the yogurt makes it creamy but light, the pine nut brittle adds nuttiness, and the fennel pollen gives it a floral note. Sumac contributes "that really sharp tartness."

Brennan declared the doughnut "delicious," and said he's going to sell it at Do-Rite as a special (how long it stays on the menu will depend on how popular it is). He will make one tweak first, though: "I think it could use a little more sumac," he said. "A little more tartness."

Yogurt-filled long johns with sumac-vanilla glaze, pine nut brittle, and fennel pollen - JULIA THIEL
  • Yogurt-filled long johns with sumac-vanilla glaze, pine nut brittle, and fennel pollen
  • Julia Thiel

Who's next:

Jenner Tomaska, sous chef at Next, tasked to create a dish with pig's feet. "I think it's a great ingredient," Brennan said. "They're a lot of fun to work with . . . it's a great textural experience."

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