Meet Caitlin: Our Lead Pastry Chef
We sat down for a little Q& A session with Caitlin Wahl, our lead pastry chef and native of Cary, IL, to showcase some of the talent in our kitchen and let you know a little more about one of the faces you see in our shop!
What are your specific responsibilities at Craft Donuts + Coffee?
As the Lead Pastry Chef, I oversee all daily food production in the kitchen, as well as work on menu development and special orders with the management team. Our daily production includes all of the types of scratch-made dough, making and prepping the glazes and toppings for the donuts, rolling cutting, proofing and frying donuts, baking cinnamon rolls from scratch and assembling all of the finish pastries each day.
What do you like most about working here?
I love the people I work with, especially the owners and my manager, they're a great team to work with. It all fell into place at the right time for me, as I was looking for a new, more hands-on job and CRAFT happened to be hiring. We also have a great team in the back that is very supportive of each other.
How do you come up with some of the more unique donut flavors?
I take ingredients that I have liked from my previous experiences and to incorporate them into the donuts. Throughout my life, I've had specific flavors that I really like together such as chocolate, vanilla, and anything salty. The team here has also opened my eyes to a whole bunch of new flavors that I wouldn't have initially thought about doing. In the past 3 months alone, we've tried over 25 different flavor variations for the menu.
What is your favorite donut flavor?
A classic Chocolate Frosted with Sprinkles is my go-to, but if I had to pick something more interesting, I would say a Pistachio donut.
How long does it take to get the pastries ready for each day?
Before our busiest days, on Friday and Saturday, the dough-making process is an all day production. The dough mixing can be anywhere from 1-5 hours, then after it's made it sits over night for about 15 hours. The next day we come in early in the morning, roll out the dough, proof it, and go from there. The whole process takes almost 24 hours from start to finish.
How difficult is it to make vegan or gluten-free items?
It's actually not more difficult, and it sometimes might even be easier. Usually it's just swapping out certain ingredients in a recipe for something else that can work within the dietary needs and still makes a good product. I don't even think most people would be able to tell the difference between one of our regular yeast-raised donuts and the vegan version. They're really delicious!
What are some projects or menu items you look forward to working on in the next few months?
We are starting a collaboration with our next door neighbor, Emmett's Brewing Company, to incorporate their beer into some new and unique donut flavors. They just dropped off a sample for us to play with and we're going to try and do some fun stuff with it. Think of a citrus type of flavor with an IPA, and with a Stout we could go with more rich, chocolate-y flavors.
Why did you want to become a pastry chef?
Honestly, I have no idea. If I had the choice again I wouldn't have gone into this industry because it's a ton of work, but you can't choose what you love! I grew up baking, by choice, with my Grandma. She was a huge part of my being in the kitchen, and anytime I was over at her house we would always be baking or cooking something. Once I had graduated from high school, all my friends were planning to become lawyers or psychologists, and I convinced myself that baking and pastry was not a realistic career, that it was just a silly little side hobby. Then I went to a college in Minnesota for a semester and a half before I realized it wasn't for me. I called it quits, came home, and applied for Kendall College, the culinary school in Chicago. I graduated from that program 2 years ago.
Talk about your experience in pastry, what had you done previously?
After college, I was working as a plater at a well known pastry-centric restaurant in downtown Chicago, but eventually I reached a breaking point and knew I wanted to do something more creative and hands-on. Luckily, this opportunity was available close to home and at the right time, and the owners, John & Allison had faith in me to help them with their new business.
Any long-term plans or career goals?
I want to grow into this business as much as I can. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to step into management recently and handle the kitchen side of things. I've never been in the role of managing other people, so I was very fortunate that John and Allison had the faith and the trust in me to own that position. I want to learn as much as I can from the two of them.
We heard you may want to open your own bakery one day?
When I'm older, yes I would like to. Eventually, I will want to work for myself. But I saw how difficult it was opening and starting CRAFT Donuts + Coffee, so I can wait!
Now you know a lot more about our lead pastry chef, Caitlin! Be sure to say hi the next time you're in and don't miss out on more of Caitlin's unique creations by ordering ahead with our online service!