MINNEAPOLIS — The life of a baker means working when most everyone else is asleep. On a recent Sunday, for example, Abby Kastrul fried doughnuts from midnight to 6 a.m. to prepare for the Kingfield Farmers Market later that morning.
But the Bakery Box proprietor has one advantage most other professional bakers don’t. Kastrul can nap on the couch.
A year ago, Bakery Box was launched in Kastrul’s home, a classic south Minneapolis foursquare filled with wallpaper in mismatched floral prints and secondhand kitchen appliances. A 1930s marble-topped buffet sourced on Craigslist is the spot where Kastrul works the dough — a signature laminated sourdough brioche that’s intentionally fried to the teetering edge of burntness and topped with a rich brown butter glaze that would make your eyes roll back in your head.
It’s in this house that Kastrul has built a word-of-mouth business, fueled by the visual allure of Instagram posts and the novel back story of a (literally) homegrown product. Before farmers market season kicked in, the only way to get Kastrul’s doughnuts was by knocking on the house’s front door, like it was some kind of doughnut speakeasy.
Each week, Kastrul would post images of the $3 orbs that would be available the following weekend. Always the brown butter doughnut. Another rotating glaze (lemon raspberry, pineapple tarragon, turmeric ginger). Traditional or vegan. Customers would e-mail their orders and then swing by a few days later to do a pickup in Kastrul’s foyer.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Wait, can I tell people about this?’” Kastrul said. “Yeah, man, it’s legal. You’re all good.”
Kastrul is able to bake at home thanks to Minnesota’s Cottage Foods law, which allows small-scale businesses to sell homemade foods without a license from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Cottage food producers still register with the department, take a course on food safety, and must sell less than $18,000 a year. It’s how many of the jams and pickles at the farmers markets get made.
Kastrul took in only about $200 that first year. For one of the first sales, Minneapolis was hit with a freak April blizzard. “I had lots of leftovers,” said the 26-year-old.
But then word started getting out about those doughnuts, fried so dark they could be mistaken for chocolate.
Earlier this year, Kastrul made a concerted effort to spread the word on social media, posting on Reddit and regularly on Instagram, and went from selling three dozen doughnuts in a weekend to 300.
“People love it,” Kastrul said. “If you’re coming into someone’s house to get food, you know it’s made at their house.”
The popular vegan version took painstaking practice before Kastrul landed on a homemade “butter” mix of hemp milk, coconut and grapeseed oils, tapioca and xanthan gum. Instead of milk and eggs, Kastrul uses hemp milk and aquafaba (the water left behind in a can of chickpeas). In the traditional dairy version, Kastrul springs for European butter “instead of whatever they have at Aldi.”
The doughnuts are fried in rice bran oil, which helps them brown even more.
“The harder I fry them, the more I like them,” Kastrul said.
Kastrul also makes custom cakes, cinnamon buns, croissants and cookies. Find a rotating mix of sweets weekends at either Kingfield (Sunday) and Midtown (Saturday) farmers markets. Check Kastrul’s Instagram (@bakeryboxmpls) and website (bakeryboxmpls.com)
Kastrul hopes to move into a commercial kitchen soon — and eventually take Bakery Box brick and mortar. There won’t be any more naps on the couch in between dough rises. But Kastrul will be happy to be free of the only real drawback to working from home as a baker: the dishes.