Drew Watson likes to do things the hard way. That’s why the doughnuts made at his four-month-old endeavor, Berkeley Donuts, located inside Hops & Pie on Tennyson Street, are made with an eight-year-old sourdough starter, mashed Colorado-grown potatoes, and house-made toppings and fillings. “Everything’s from scratch, every day,” Watson says. “We’re making all of our glazes, all of our fillings in classic French ways. That’s what happens when you give a bunch of fine-dining kids a pizza shop and doughnut shop.”

Watson and his wife Leah, who once traveled the country working in upscale restaurants and who now oversee the often long lines snaking out the door at Hops & Pie, have been satisfying the doughnut cravings of Denverites since February. Watson felt called to make the shop’s Maine-style potato doughnuts since visiting the Holy Donut in Portland, Maine, several years ago. There, Drew tried the shop’s specialty and became obsessed, spending every free moment experimenting with different recipes once he returned to his home kitchen. “I couldn’t think of anything else,” he says. “I was making donuts around the clock. Our house smelled like a carnival for two years, just a fryer constantly going on the kitchen counter.”

Potato doughnut master Drew Watson. Photo courtesy of Berkeley Donuts

Drew made another trip to Maine, this time for dedicated doughnut research. Imagine his surprise when he arrived at a different Holy Donut’s location and realized it was located next door to his mother’s childhood home; the building had once held an Italian market where he remembered, as a child, buying clam cakes and grinders while visiting his grandparents. “It’s this weird goose-bumpy kind of thing,” he says. “I just felt this unnatural draw to it.”

Fast forward to February, when even as the pandemic essentially shuttered the local restaurant industry, the Watsons’ sweet venture was proving successful—the shop regularly sold out by 9 a.m., with a socially-distanced line of people winding along the sidewalk. Drew believes it served as a small bright spot for Berkeley residents during otherwise grim times. “It gave people something to look forward to,” says Watson.

Berkeley Donuts is celebrating National Doughnut Day on June 5 with a special flavor reminiscent of a breakfast parfait: a sourdough-based potato doughnut topped with white peach glaze, granola, and a yogurt drizzle. No matter the flavor, all four styles—raised, cake, vegan, and gluten-free—are made using Russet-style potatoes from Jones Farm in Hooper, Colorado, a tiny town in the San Luis Valley. Bakers, led by Hops & Pie alum Audie Mauk, cook the potatoes, pass them through a ricer into a finely textured mash, then add it to the doughnut batter before frying. “The potato adds this crispiness to the outside that you would get from a french fry, and it adds this earthy, unique sweetness to it,” Drew says.

To guarantee there’ll be doughnuts set aside with your name on them, pre-order a dozen at a time the day before you want to eat them; Berkeley Donuts is also allowing same-day pre-orders during the pandemic. You can also take your chances, put on your mask, and join the crew of doughnut lovers lining up on Tennyson, or try your hand at making Berkeley Donuts’ delightful treats at home, thanks to the recipe below.

Berkeley Donuts’ Chocolate Potato Cake Doughnut Holes with Strawberry Glaze and Sprinkles

Makes approximately 40 doughnut holes 

For the doughnuts:

1¾ cups (227 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (128 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (32 grams) cold mashed Russet potatoes
½ cup (99 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (240 grams) milk
2 large eggs (50 grams)
¾ cup (71 grams) cocoa powder
2 Tbs. (28 grams) yogurt
1½  Tbs. (21 grams) pure vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons (5 grams) baking soda
1 tsp. (2.5 grams) kosher salt
Canola or vegetable oil, for frying

For the strawberry glaze and sprinkles

2 Tbs. (1 ounce) strawberry milk
2 cups (256 grams) powdered sugar
Red food coloring
Rainbow sprinkles

Make the doughnuts: Put the flour and butter into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add the potatoes and sugar and mix on medium speed until combined. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except for the oil, until a thick, smooth, scoopable batter forms.

Heat two to four inches of oil in a medium pot until it registers 360 degrees on a candy thermometer. Using a small 2-ounce ice cream scoop or a large spoon, carefully drop balls of dough into the hot oil, taking care not to crowd the pot. Fry for 20 seconds on each side and then transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate or tray. Let cool completely.

Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and powdered sugar until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring and whisk until combined.

To finish the doughnuts: Roll the cooled doughnuts in the glaze, one at a time, until coated. Using a fork, transfer to a rack set over a sheet pan, letting excess glaze drip off. Immediately top with sprinkles before the glaze hardens. 

Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta is Colorado-based writer and editor. She writes about travel, lifestyle, food and beverage, fitness, education and anything with a great story behind it.