Sometimes doing one thing really, really well is all you need to do. That’s the modus operandi that chef Ian Palazzola, formerly of Acorn, is currently functioning under with his new pop-up bakery, Ayokay Doughnuts

Debuting on Sunday, February 28 (with online pre-orders going live on Sunday, February 21) at the Fifth String in Highland, Ayokay will have a table set up outside the restaurant for walk-up á la carte sales of its excellent malted milk doughnuts, hot and fresh from the fryer. Method Coffee Roasters drip coffee will also be available, and Palazzola and co-founder and wife Clara Klein (who is also a star sommelier for Frasca Hospitality Group), will have multiple doughnut flavors on hand to choose from. (More on that in a moment.)

Palazzola conceived of the malted doughnut concept while on a road trip with friend Reed Alexander last fall. The two chefs have been travel and work buddies for years, having cooked alongside one another at Mourad in San Francisco and vacationed in several countries together, from Singapore to France. During that fateful fall road trip, the duo stopped off in Asheville, North Carolina, at a shop called Hole Doughnuts, where they were taken with the still-warm, just-glazed treats. “There’s something so special about a doughnut straight from the frier, cooked to order,” Palazzola says. Klein agrees, and once Palazzola was back home in Denver, the couple began planning their sweet new venture.

Chef Ian Palazzola and sommelier Clara Klein. Photo courtesy of Ayokay Doughnuts

Every Sunday at the Fifth String, team Ayokay intends to fry malted doughnuts to order, so you can enjoy them at their peak of flavor and texture. It’s all about the dough, really, which Palazzola perfected over the course of several months. The three-day process begins with a poolish (a pre-ferment, like a sourdough starter but made with instant yeast) of freshly-milled Dry Storage all-purpose flour, water, and a bit of yeast. That ferments for 12 hours, then the dough comes together with more flour, malted milk powder, butter, baking soda, and salt, before proofing overnight. “The dough is so wet, you need to have wet hands to shape it,” Palazzola says, explaining that a dough with such a high percentage of hydration—and malted milk powder—yields a delicate, crunchy crust and a fluffy, open crumb. 

Just like at Acorn, where Palazzola fermented and preserved everything he could to avoid food waste, at Ayokay, he and Alexander aren’t punching out doughnut holes for perfectly round pastries; they use their thumbs to make the holes in their doughnuts, so each one is rustic with its own unique shape.

The glazes and toppings the duo have created are just sweet enough and buoyed by ingredients like Madagascar vanilla in the house glaze and Ceylon cinnamon, which Denver’s Savory Spice brings in from Sri Lanka every week, in the crunchy cinnamon-sugar coating. There’s also a toasted coconut version with vanilla glaze and big flakes of unsweetened coconut; yuzu made with fresh yuzu juice; honey-sesame with a touch of orange blossom water; and a perfectly tangy-sweet pomegranate-rose flavor, which gets its kick from pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, and rose water. Flavors will rotate each week, so be prepared to attend the pop-ups regularly to taste them all.

The team had hoped to also sell their homemade jams made with Ela Family Farms fruit, but recent hard freezes crushed those plans. When the fruit comes back this summer, Palazzola says they’ll resume that aspect of Ayokay’s business. He also hopes to open a brick-and-mortar shop one day, where the doughnuts will be fried in the center of the space so customers can watch them cook. 

Watch out, Krispy Kreme. Ayokay is coming for you.

Ayokay Doughnuts will operate out of the Fifth String on Sunday mornings, starting on February 28 at 9 a.m. until the doughnuts are gone. You can pre-order by the dozen as of Sunday, February 21, until 48 hours before the pop up begins. Credit card only; $3 per doughnut, $15 for six, and $28 per dozen. 3316 Tejon St.

Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen
Denise Mickelsen is 5280’s former food editor. She oversaw all of 5280’s food-related coverage from October 2016 to March 2021.