Union Square Donuts makes the most mind-blowingly delicious donuts in the world. Heather Schmidt is responsible for their creative combinations and her energy fuels a full kitchen making magic from scratch.
We chatted with Heather for Low Impact Life No. 4 to learn more about how she works to keep her environmental footprint small both personally and professionally.
What’s something you always carry on your person?
Lip stuff. Don’t leave home without it… or five. It’s in my coat pockets. In my pants pocket. At my desk at work. They’re all Burt’s Bee’s. Blueberry, coconut, chocolate, pear. I could go on.
What is the most durable thing you own?
My Anhaica backpack. That will be with me for life. She’s in Florida – she makes these canvas bags and waxes them with tupelo beeswax and she sends you a hunk to re-wax your bag. It’s pretty darn sturdy and beautiful and handcrafted and it smells good too.
What’s something you hate throwing away?
You know what dives me bananas? When you buy a jar of ketchup and there’s that little clear plastic ring around the cap that you have to snip off. I hate throwing it away because it’s not even useful, it’s just wasteful.
Whats your biggest concern about our environment?
I think that people need to learn how to compost. At the shop we have a lot of compostable items – napkins, the bags that our coffee comes in, but if you don’t compost them properly there’s no point.
We can sell as many coffees in compostable cups as we want but as soon as people walk out the door many people don’t know what the best thing to do with them is.
What’s the best made thing here in the shop?
Our Hobart mixer. It had been sitting in a barn for a handful of years – I’ve got photos of the day we picked it up. We put it on the back of a trailer in western Mass, plugged it right in and it started up. It needed some love, some cleaning. It’s a workhorse – it’s going to be around forever and is an awesome piece of equipment. It’s the most used and oldest piece of equipment in the shop and it’s the most durable and reliable too – and her name is Blanche. You know when you see something and you just know what it should be named? We saw Blanche and we just knew. We name our machines; the other mixer is named Kit. And we have another one named Dottie.
What’s one thing that totally goes over people’s heads in terms of donuts?
The actual amount of time and care that goes into it. Because we are making it from scratch with real milk, real butter, real eggs. We’re making what’s almost a brioche dough from scratch every day. And so, that timeline is two days – it’s a two day process. The amount of time that goes into it, and care that goes into it, is much more than what people think. We use, it’s almost like a pre-ferment, so we use some dough that we make the previous day in the next day’s dough mix. It gives it extra flavor and extra body so it’s always a two day process to get it the exact way we want it. It’s a very careful process. It’s amazing the quality of ingredient’s that we’re using right now has such an impact on the dough. It’s really kind of astounding. Last year we started using milk from maple line farm – they’re a local farm. And when we started using that milk in the dough – the flavor was so much better, the richness and the body, we spend the extra money because it so incredibly effects the quality of the dough and just little changes like that affect what we do and how we do it.
Donut or doughnut? Why?
Donut. Our name would be too long otherwise.
Tell us a bit about your compost set up?
We love composting. The most waste we generate is compostable waste. Our napkins and paper towels are compostable. The thing we use most of in the kitchen, parchment paper, Is compostable. Every piece of parchment paper that we use and reuse all gets composted. Our compost gets picked up on a weekly basis. Eggshells and any food waste gets composted. We use sage in Bacon Cheddar Sage – the little leftover sticks get composted. Every bit of food waste that we create gets composted. The only thing we throw away in traditional garbage is the gloves. Health code dictates not touching ready to eat food with bare hands and the only gloves we’re allowed to use are latex or plastic gloves. But everything else in the kitchen gets composted. We sell coffee by the pound and all those bags are compostable. We recycle our oil from the fry-a-lator – that gets picked up by a service that turns it into biodiesel.
What’s the last thing you bought that you were super psyched about?
I didn’t buy it, my boyfriend bought it for me, but it’s the lights on my bike helmet. They’re awesome. Oh my god, it’s life changing. I love those lights on my helmet. I’m always excited about anything exercise related.
What’s an ingredient you’ll never tire of?
Butter. I love butter. It’s not just involved in the dough or whether it’s the cake or yeast dough. We make a butter glaze. Butter is so versatile. It’s so rich and creamy and flavorful and um.. We couldn’t do anything without butter.
If your life depended on making a food item for someone that they would love - what would you make?
It would be a donut, and it would be… it would have to be warm from the fryer. Traditional yeasted donut. Tossed in cinnamon sugar. Warm is the key here though. It’s the best thing I’ve tasted. It’s my favorite. It’s gonna burn your mouth it’s gonna be so warm and the sugar’s going to be melty and it’s going to get all over your hands. Yeah, that’s my favorite and I think it would be a people pleaser across the board.