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Quechee doughnut operation serves up treats with a twist

  • From left, Jocelyn Salvatoriello, April Lawrence, David Pauly and Ben Pauly prep and decorate French cruller donuts, a choux pastry that is piped and deep fried, at Farmer and The Bell at the Parker House in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, July 2, 2022. Lawrence and her partner Ben Pauly first encountered French crullers on a trip to Maine and decided to start a business to bring the pastries they loved back home to Vermont. “We had a lot of spectacular failures along the way,” Lawrence said, but the couple eventually perfected the recipe and their donuts have rapidly gained a following in the Upper Valley. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Co-owner Ben Pauly removes French cruller doughnuts from a vat of oil after they finished frying at Farmer & The Bell at the Parker House in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, July 2, 2022. The pastries don’t rise or have a cake-like texture like traditional donuts, instead they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Co-owner April Lawrence, left, sets completed donut orders on the counter while William, 7, Lilly, Henry, 10 months, Owen, 5, and Denis Kinnally, all of Westchester, N.Y., wait to order at Farmer and The Bell at the Parker House in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, July 2, 2022. Several people in line were return customers, including Chris Apel-Cram of West Lebanon, N.H., who said that she always looks forward to visiting the donut shop. “It’s the joy of my weekend.” (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Katie Ryan greets Tom Hodgkins, right, both of Smithfield, R.I., and their dog Ruby after picking up a box of doughnuts at Farmer the The Bell at the Parker House in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, July 2, 2022. Customers arrived at 8 a.m. sharp and the line wrapped around the porch for most of the morning. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Jocelyn Salvatoriello carries a tray of glazed French cruller doughnuts at Farmer and The Bell at the Parker House in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, July 2, 2022. The business, which opened on April 30 after hosting several pop-ups at Angkor Wat Restaurant in Woodstock, is open from 8 a.m. to noon, or whenever they run out of doughnuts. Due to the popularity, they have only made it to their official closing time “once or twice,” co-owner April Lawrence said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report for America — Alex Driehaus

For the Valley News
Published: 8/3/2022 5:02:42 AM
Modified: 8/4/2022 3:45:04 AM

For April Lawrence, the art of doughnut-making can be traced back to her grandmother, who once ran Lake Shore Farm, a bucolic inn in Northwood, N.H. There were no televisions and just one telephone.

“It was very rustic, but I grew up in the kitchen with her,” Lawrence said. “She made the bread and the muffins and everything from scratch. She made doughnuts on Sundays, old fashioneds.”

Today, Lawrence welcomes guests of her own to the Farmer & the Bell, a doughnut shop in Quechee that specializes in French crullers, a deep-fried pastry that’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Running a restaurant hadn’t ever crossed Lawrence’s mind. But then during the pandemic, she and her partner, Ben Pauly, took a trip to Kittery, Maine. They stopped for a meal at Lil’s Café and bit into a French cruller so good that it took up all of the “real estate in our brains.” They began thinking about making one on their own, even though neither of them knew much about baking. Lawrence has had a successful career in interior design, while Pauly is the creative director of landscape and design at the Woodstock Inn.

“We both love being creative, and during the pandemic, everybody was trying to find joy,” Lawrence said. “I was like, ‘If not now, then when?’ ” Trying to make the perfect cruller was an idea that “just made sense.” At the time, Lawrence owned a farm with chickens and had a lot of “fresh, gorgeous” eggs on hand. However, it turned out that making a cruller was more complicated than they had imagined.

“There are so many steps that can go wrong with it,” she said. “We experimented with a bunch of different recipes that we found, and we failed spectacularly.”

Lawrence and Pauly kept tweaking their recipe until they got a batch that they “were not super-embarrassed about.” They gave their doughnuts to friends to try. After getting their seal of approval, they decided to host a pop-up last December at Angkor Wat Restaurant in Woodstock, advertising on the Listserv and on Instagram.

“We sold out every single day, which was amazing,” Lawrence said. “We had to get up at 1 o’clock in the morning because we had so many pre-orders.”

Then in the spring, with the help of family members, they settled in at the recently renovated Parker House and began thinking of a more permanent plan for the Farmer & the Bell, a name inspired by both their childhoods. Pauly grew up on a farm in Minnesota, where he had his hands in the dirt all the time, and created the Woodstock Inn’s Kelly Way Gardens, a farm-to-table program. And at the bed and breakfast run by Lawrence’s grandmother, children rang a bell whenever a meal was on the table.

Farmer & the Bell is still “totally a family affair,” Lawrence said. Her son occasionally hands out doughnut holes to customers when the line is really long, wrapping around the building before the shop even opens. Pauly’s mother works at Kelly Way Gardens and brings fresh flowers every weekend to beautify the space. She’s also made signs for the business and still “boxes every single doughnut,” Lawrence said. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

Each week, Farmer & the Bell offers six flavors. None are your standard jelly doughnut. New options are added every week and advertised in advance on Farmer & the Bell’s Instagram account. So far, they’ve included creative options like the Samoa cookie (inspired by its namesake Girl Scout cookie), browned butter banana and cacao nibs and a piña colada, which has a pineapple and spiced rum glaze. There’s even a browned butter doughnut made with Vermont-made Whistle Pig whiskey. A maple doughnut and a sugar and spice doughnut are also on the menu every week.

“Everything we use is natural,” Lawrence said. Their maple doughnut is “the real deal,” with no artificial flavors. Just “a ton of maple.”

Making the glazes for the doughnuts is what gives Lawrence pleasure; the opportunities for creativity are endless. “It doesn’t get old because it’ll always change,” she said. In the spring, for example, they featured a lemon viola doughnut, taking violas from the garden and placing them on the doughnuts. Come fall, Lawrence wants to feature a doughnut with an apple cider glaze.

“We’ll have fun when the seasons change, which is really great about living where we do,” she said. “We get so much diversity with what’s being offered.”

Ideas for each week’s doughnuts are inspired by seasonal ingredients, holidays and just about anything else that crosses Lawrence’s mind. For the Covered Bridges Half Marathon, she dreamed up a vanilla bean glazed doughnut with confetti on top. And when the Supreme Court reversed the Roe v. Wade ruling, Lawrence created a red-white-and-blue doughnut to honor a woman’s right to choose. It tasted like vanilla bean and strawberries and filled her inbox with positive messages from followers.

“Everybody was super-supportive,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence’s desire to make her doughnuts beautiful is something she attributes to her background in fashion and design. “In my first job out of school, I worked for Disney and designed porcelain dolls. I think that could be why I like things looking lovely,” she said. “I really make sure things are decorated just so.”

When Lawrence created a strawberry-rhubarb doughnut, she carefully garnished each doughnut with dried strawberries, then pureed the leftovers to create what she called strawberry dust.

“I like taking what we have seasonally and then reimagining it in different forms,” she said, a trick learned from her grandmother. “She grew up in the Depression, so she re-used everything. If you’ve got this, and you’re not using it, add to it, reconstitute it to give it a new life. I definitely pull a lot of practices from her of how to reuse things.”

Lawrence recalled how summer after summer, the same families returned to her grandmother’s inn, which had been in her family since the late 1800s. After her grandmother died, hundreds of guests attended her memorial service. “Everybody had such fond memories of what she created to help them create memories. I enjoy the same thing,” Lawrence said. “What gives me the most energy is bringing joy to a situation and creating moments for people to share together. And my grandmother definitely did that.”

Farmer & the Bell opens at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with coffee available from Middlebury-based Little Seed Coffee. Preorders are available if ordering a dozen. Doughnuts are $4 apiece.

Betsy Vereckey is a freelance writer. She lives in Norwich.




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