Photo Credit: Blondie's Doughnuts
Meet The Black Scientist Behind Blondie's Doughnuts
Michelle Diggs, a Black scientist and now owner of the Baltimore-based Blondie’s Doughnuts, was just looking for a change of scenery when she agreed to accompany a friend to New England in 2018. Her travel companion wanted to capture the turning leaves of the fall foliage and Diggs was mulling a transition into a more creative space after spending over 21 years in clinical research.
“I sort of wanted to do something a little more creative, that would allow me to have a bit more fun and science was very black and white, no room for interpretation there,” she told Travel Noire. “It’s just sort of testing hypotheses and that’s what it comes back to every single day.”
Their road trip took them through five states over a long weekend. One of their stops before heading home was a popular doughnut bakery in Portland, Maine that Diggs discovered on Yelp. Despite having read multiple positive reviews, she was still floored by the long line extending around the corner when they pulled up at 8 a.m. But by the time she bit into her first doughnut, Diggs was converted.
“The owner actually created a potato doughnut. So think about a potato bread. It’s a potato-based doughnut. And it was amazing. Like it was so good. I was intrigued by the item itself because it was something I hadn’t seen before.”
Her curiosity now piqued, Diggs went home and did a bit of research on the company and found that the owner had no formal pastry training. She had left her teaching job to start a bakery out of her home. It was a risky, but successful move.
At a crossroads in her own career, it was just the push that Diggs needed to try her hand at something different and strike out on her own. By 2019, Blondie’s Doughnuts was up and running.
All Natural Everything
As the name suggests, Blondie’s primarily sells doughnuts. They offer a variety of doughnuts filled with custards and jellies and also raised doughnuts with the traditional hole in the center.
“Our most popular, I would definitely have to say, is our Sassy Sally,” she said. “It’s like a Boston cream doughnut; chocolate on the outside and our vanilla bean pastry cream on the inside. We also have a snickerdoodle doughnut that we make with a brown butter glaze and actual snickerdoodle pieces on the outside. Also, our lemon doughnut is very popular. It is like heaven in a doughnut.”
What separates Blondie’s Doughnuts from other confiseurs and pâtissiers is the commitment to creating every product from scratch. That includes everything from their custards and lemon curd to the jams and jellies. All 100% homemade. Diggs wants to replicate her own upbringing where every baked good started with the basic foundation of eggs, sugar, flour, and yeast. It’s a labor-intensive process, but the results have captivated their clientele.
Besides doughnuts, Blondie’s offers small pastries and four types of cinnamon rolls that are rotated throughout the years based on seasonality.
“Our cinnamon rolls are super popular. We were playing with some extra dough one weekend and were like, ‘let’s make some cinnamon rolls and see how they taste using the exact same dough’ and they were amazing. Ever since then, they have been a hit with our customers.”
A quick look at Diggs’s family history indicates that her shift into the baking industry, or even business in general, isn’t so random. Her father was an entrepreneur and ran his own business up until his death. Diggs remembers him as the “most shrewd businessman” she’s ever met and credits him for her own entrepreneurial spirit. The women in her family all know their way around an oven. Her grandmother baked, her aunt worked in a professional bakery for 30 years, and her mother worked for Nabisco for 34 years. Baking is in Diggs’ blood.
“I’ve always been around it, understanding how to read recipes, how to interpret ingredients, and how to test different flavors,” she explained. “That’s always been something I’ve been doing my whole life because I used to bake as a hobby for a long time. I was thinking, maybe I can bridge the gap and go from just a little part-time, weekend thing to something that’s more full-time.”
Diggs’s business partner is her husband. The two are constantly tossing around ideas as they envision the future of their burgeoning business. Among their tentative plans are a fleet of food trucks serving the Mid Atlantic Region from Pennsylvania all the way down to North Carolina.
Diggs has no desire for a brick-and-mortar doughnut shop — “that’s never been in my sights” — but she is interested in a bakery café.
“Just something that would open a couple of days a week in the mornings from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. We would have breakfast, coffee, teas and then close around lunchtime. Then, I also would love to have a dessert bar. In my mind, I could see it being like a late-night place; very small, intimate like a little date spot or girls night kind of occasion. We would have live music, and an amazing menu of desserts and cocktails.”
Rooted in Science
Though she is now firmly entrenched in the baking business, Blondie’s Doughnuts allows Diggs to remain close to her academic roots as a Black scientist. She admits that part of why she enjoys baking is the scientific nature of the process, starting with the dough.
Diggs uses a brioche-style dough that ferments for at least 24 hours overnight, developing a more robust flavor-profile. The biology and pre-med major can’t help but geek out over the methodology.
“It’s how the yeast reacts with the sugar and that whole process to me is fascinating — just to watch it sort of change in front of your eyes,” the Black scientist touts. “When we first make the dough, we do an initial rise before it goes into the fridge overnight. You just watch this living organism in front of you rise to double, and then you put it in the fridge. You do the exact same thing the next day but to me, it’s fascinating. I mean its science and that is my background and will always be something that I love.”
Even the name Blondie’s has ties to the fermentation process, particularly the rise and proofing aspect. It’s also a nod to her determination to consistently deliver a top quality doughnut.
“When you actually fry a doughnut, you know that it’s perfectly proofed when you can put it in the oil and it never submerges below a certain point. So if you look at your doughnut itself, it should have a very light band around the very center of it. And when you see that — what I call the blond band — you know that you have a perfectly proofed doughnut, your flavor is there, it has the fluffiness you want and your overall product is great.”
Visit Blondie’s Doughnuts on your next trip to the DMV area and show this Black scientist some love.