Anna Gatti is the classically trained pastry chef who brings her skills to bear on the workaday doughnut at her Doughnut Dollies shops. CONTRIBUTED BY LOREN HEINLE
Photo: Loren Heinle
Photo: Loren Heinle

Meet the metro Atlanta mom who’s passionate about making exquisite doughnuts

Doughnuts are a morning pastry. That means someone is working in the pre-dawn hours so you can enjoy fresh doughnuts at 8 a.m.

And, that’s why Anna Gatti, co-owner of Doughnut Dollies in Marietta and west Midtown, keeps a schedule that has her up at 1 a.m. and in the shop 45 minutes later.

“I know it’s crazy hours, but I love making doughnuts,” Gatti said. “I’ve surprised myself by how much I really do love it.”

The fact that she balances those hours with caring for three daughters and sharing responsibility with her husband, Chris, for their other venture, Canvas Cafe and Bakery, is testament to her passion for creating doughnuts that go beyond the basic.

When Gatti opens up the bakery, there are ovens and a fryer to turn on, and icings, glazes and toppings to assemble. By 2:30 a.m., she and her team of Brie Noonan and Marie Rizzo are rolling and cutting the cake doughnuts, and rolling, cutting and proofing the brioche doughnuts. The brioche dough and cake batter were prepped the day before.

Anna Gatti and her two-person team start their eight-hour days at 1 a.m., hand rolling, cutting, frying and decorating between 1,200 and 1,500 doughnuts. CONTRIBUTED BY DOUGHNUT DOLLIES
Photo: For the AJC

By 3:30 a.m., Gatti is frying the cake doughnuts. An hour later, she’s frying the brioche doughnuts. While Gatti is handling the fryer, Noonan and Rizzo are decorating the dozens of freshly fried pastries. One morning’s production will mean frying and decorating between 1,200 and 1,500 doughnuts.

It’s tough, physical labor. Full sheet trays with two dozen proofed doughnuts have to travel 30 feet from the proofing cabinet to the fryer. Each doughnut is hand turned in the hot oil, then the full tray is lifted to the rack to drain. Some will go into glaze while they’re hot. Some will go onto sheet trays in baker’s racks to await decorating. The icing-glazing table is more than an arm’s length deep, requiring Gatti to stand on her tiptoes to reach the ones in the back as she lifts the glaze dispenser up and over the rack of hot doughnuts.

Decorating the doughnuts is more than just applying a glaze. A Doughnut Dollies pastry can have five or six components, each handmade.

“I am a pastry chef by training,” Gatti said, “and what we’re doing is putting a lot of technique into what we do. Doughnuts are a pastry, and they deserve to be handled with care, and treated like any other fine pastry. That’s what we bring to the market.”

Chris (from left) and Anna Gatti have three daughters, March, Helena and Esme. CONTRIBUTED BY GABRIEL DOTY
Photo: For the AJC

The doughnuts are made from recipes developed by Gatti. The ideas come from everywhere. One week’s “you only live once” doughnut was inspired by a dessert Gatti had in New York. They named it the Sunday Brunch — a pancake cake doughnut that went directly from the fryer into a hot butter soak, then cooled and received maple syrup icing, a garnish of candied bacon, and a pipette of maple syrup, so the diner could drizzle maple syrup over the whole thing just before eating it.

Yes, pancake cake doughnuts. Re-creating favorite flavors in doughnut form is a Doughnut Dollies specialty.

There are sweet potato doughnuts made with sweet potato brioche, then topped with brown sugar glaze, chopped candied pecans and tiny vanilla bean meringues.

The brown sugar fig pastry is a Bismarck (a round, yeast-raised doughnut without a hole), iced with brown sugar buttercream flavored with roasted figs, then finished with a rolled edge of toasted pecans, and topped with slices of brûléed figs.

The shop’s signature doughnut is the Dollie. It starts as a Bismarck, and goes right out of the fryer into a pan of granulated sugar to be coated on both sides. The sugar then is caramelized quickly with a torch. Once the doughnut cools, it’s sliced and filled with vanilla bean creme brûlée.

Among the treats at Doughnut Dollies are fresh nectarine and raspberry shortcake doughnuts in the foreground (a seasonal specialty) and glazed Bismarcks filled with buttercream and slices of nectarine. CONTRIBUTED BY DOUGHNUT DOLLIES
Photo: For the AJC

“While we’re working, we talk about doughnuts a lot,” Gatti said. “We think about flavors we like. We ask, ‘Would this be better as a cake doughnut or would yeast show off the flavor profile?’ What are all the components we need to capture the flavors of a s’more, or Key lime pie?”

The three women are in constant motion. There will be 26 different kinds of doughnuts available for sale that day, with vegan options available only on the weekend. By 6:30 a.m., the pace is speeding up to make sure 25 dozen or more doughnuts will be ready to leave at 7 a.m. for the Howell Mill shop. Then it’s time to finish the doughnuts to sell in Marietta.

While Noonan and Rizzo finish the decorating, Gatti is mixing up dough and cake batter for the next day, and prepping the next day’s icings, glazes and fillings. Inventory, ordering and cleanup can take another hour. She may get out of the bakery by 10 a.m. Then, it’s home to breakfast with her family.

Every day, the display cases at Doughnut Dollies feature more than two dozen varieties of doughnuts. CONTRIBUTED BY DOUGHNUT DOLLIES
Photo: For the AJC

“Our girls are in University-Model school, so they don’t go to a classroom every day of the week,” she said. “At least one of them is home every day. It’s been a blessing for us, keeping them close to us and still giving them the best education possible.”

Gatti said the girls are doughnut fans, but there are some mornings they just don’t want a doughnut. “I definitely tested their limit of doughnut eating capacity very early on.”

And, she admitted she was not a doughnut fan until she opened Doughnut Dollies. “I always felt a doughnut tasted like a doughnut, no matter where you went,” Gatti said. “But, then I started to make doughnuts that I wanted to eat. Now, I don’t get tired of them. After all, I get to eat them first thing in the morning.”

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