Baker Todd Bross causes a Ruckus
"I can donut that."
interview NANCY GORDON
photography TODD BROSS
Tell us about your professional Maine food career.
I’m living proof one can find their passion and path later in life. My first professional kitchen position (Rockland’s Amalfi’s on the Water in 2011) came at the ripe age of 45. From there I got the opportunity to be the full-time baker for Van Lloyd’s Bistro in Damariscotta. That segued into becoming garde manger at Fresh in Camden for a season, which directly led to my current position as the baker at Boynton-McKay Food Co., also in Camden.
Any words of advice that have stayed with you?
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Less is more. Treat everything on your side of the pass [between kitchen and dining room] as if you were the one paying for it on the other.
How long have you been baking at Boynton-McKay?
I’ve been baking at Boynton-McKay since October of 2016.
Were you prepared for baker’s hours?
Yes and no. Yes, in that I was willing and prepared to do whatever it took to not just do the job but also, by my standards, do it right, make it mine and make it profitable for my employer. No, in that I discovered the price that would need to be paid to do so required constant personal sacrifice. Social outings, time with my family, forsaking sleep to make time for my son’s extracurriculars, eating lunch at 9am because bedtime is 5pm. It’s a solitary, shadow-world existence in which your Monday is my Saturday, and noon for you is 6pm for me. It’s no easy task keeping yeasty “vampire hours.”
Were you making donuts when you started at Boynton-McKay?
Yes. I inherited the responsibility for a variety of daily baked good offerings, among which were donuts, albeit cake ones.
Ruckus … Great name and it so suits you! How did you come by it?
LOL. Our Chef-Owner Brian Beggarly took a tumble over the handlebars of a mountain bike and fractured his humerus, which resulted in his having to take six weeks off at the very beginning of summer season (June 2019). As he (bad joke alert) broke the news about his bad break, he left us with one request: “Bring the ruckus!” That following Friday was the first time I made a concerted effort to not just do glazed donuts but also ones with different toppings and glazes. The response was overwhelming. From then on, every Friday I “brought the ruckus” to rave reviews and sold-out sales. Eventually I just started doing what we internally called “the ruckus” every day, so much so that the term stuck. Ruckus literally means “to cause a disturbance or commotion,” which I think describes what we do perfectly.
Tell us about your relationship with dough.
Intimate. Personal. I make yeast/raised donuts. That dough is alive. It reacts to temperature, humidity, time. I use a starter that must be re-fed daily to keep it bubbly, healthy and vibrant. I’ve learned how, through experience, to make the dough behave, be the best it can be any given morning, whether that’s during the 90º haze of late August or the arid, sub-zero bite of mid-February.
You mentioned that the donut dough is a buttermilk brioche. Why buttermilk brioche?
Because you never hear anyone speaking wistfully about how their grandmother made these ethereal water biscuits from scratch. Buttermilk adds a twang, flavor, personality.
Which is my favorite? A buttermilk brioche donut mere minutes out of the fryer.
See that horizontal band? That’s a “spring ring” from the dough rising so high that a portion of the donut never touches the oil.
The infamous “Chocolate Del Diablo” (Devil’s Chocolate) featuring a chocolate glaze seeped with local, unseeded Scotch Bonnet chiles.
Lemon Meringue & Coconut Meringue.
Blueberry Lemonade featuring local blueberries.
Maple Bacon Blues. The inspiration for this seasonal donut is a plate of maple syrup drenched blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon.
The Almond SQEEE with a chocolate glaze, toasted hazlenuts and Nutella mousse.
Name some of Ruckus's best sellers.
Of our House (daily) donuts, without question our best seller is what we call Classic, which is a buttermilk glazed donut. Our strawberry glazed donut (made from local berries) with sprinkles is called Homer, an homage to everyone’s favorite cartoon donut eater. Blueberry Lemonade, made with Maine blueberries, is also extremely popular and tastes exactly how it sounds.
We also have seasonal and weekly menu-themed donuts that appear as the seasons (or the baker’s moods) change. Our take on S’mores, complete with house-made Fluff filling hiding under a toasted home-made marshmallow, proved to be so popular it’s a House donut as long as weather permits sitting around a campfire. Peach Raspberry Pie is extremely popular when those fruits are in season locally. And during blueberry season we half-top our Maple Bacon donuts with fresh blueberries, becoming Maple Bacon Blues. The idea behind the donut was a plate of blueberry buttermilk pancakes drenched in real maple syrup with, of course, a side of bacon!
Is there any connection between the people and the donut flavors they order?
People bring a lot to the party when it comes to preferences. Our younger patrons love fun donuts like Homer and his sprinkled pal Emoji (dark chocolate glazed, named by a customer who exclaimed it looked like the iPhone donut icon). Maple Bacon appeals to men more than women. Many customers constantly order whatever donuts are new to that week’s menu, whereas others order the same thing so often I could probably tell you the name on the order if you tell me what donuts are on it.
What do you love about baking and about feeding people?
What don’t I (or should I say, 'donut I') love about it? There is the science that is baking, but yet not everyone can take a recipe, understand the various processes and bake really well. The art of baking, to be able to look at a recipe and alter it based off years of experience, as well as your gut instincts and make something new? That’s almost as satisfying as having others enjoy what you just created. To have them compare it to a special memory, or better yet have it become a new one. There is an adage that “when you eat great food you eat memories.” It gives me a tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction when my donuts transcend to become their memories.
“You can taste it on the plate how much someone cares” is an old expression that you mentioned. For you, what makes the difference?
Two things: passion and time. I often joke that the most misused ingredient is time and I don’t mean the herb of the same name. There is a reason some things just taste great: Someone was patient and used just the right amount of time to achieve that quality, flavor and texture. Today’s McHurry instant gratification culture has lost that, which is why they are often overwhelmed by something as simple as a really good yeast donut that has a LOT of time invested in it.
Passion is the engine. Call it what you will—spirit, heart, soul, fire—but you have it or you don’t. And you can tell in an instant when the person busting their ass in the kitchen has it or not. I’ve been moved to tears over a plate of food that’s filled my soul more than my stomach.
Boynton-McKay’s premises have an interesting history, including ghosts at ghostly baking hours. Tell us about your experiences!
Oh boy. Boynton-McKay was originally an apothecary founded in 1893. Its namesake owners, or perhaps some other spirits, are still very much “on the clock,” particularly in the wee AM hours that a baker keeps. Things falling off shelves in dry storage, flickering lights, random sounds that have nothing to do with a kitchen. The most “interesting” (per the question) experience was arriving at 12:30am to find, out of literally hundreds of individual items, one thing on the floor of dry storage. It was a filter stored on a very high, out-of-reach shelf. Printed boldly on the packaging was the word TODDY. Let’s just say we all had a li’l chat that AM...
Is your own Ruckus shop in the offing?
It is! We are in the process of trying to open a shop in downtown Rockland! It’s as exciting as it is terrifying, but I’m ready for the next path to see where it leads.
. . .
One? LOL. In no particular order, I literally salivate at the thought of a Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel affogato at the Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick, either of the Italian “B” wines (Barolo or Brunello), turning off the alarm clock on my iPhone and doing Sudoku ... with a pen.