Mascarpone glazed doughnut with blueberries and a cream cheese center from Handcraft Doughnuts
Mascarpone-glazed doughnut with blueberries and a cream cheese center Credit: Nevin Martell

First there was the Cupcake Craze, a national trend that took the region by sweet storm in 2008 with the opening of Georgetown Cupcakes. A few years later, Doughnut Delirium took over. It’s never really ended. Though some of the O.G.’s fryers went cold (R.I.P. GBD and Zeke’s DC Donutz), D.C. is now a certifiable doughnut town, home to a myriad of high-quality doughnut shops such as Donisima, Donut Run, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, District Doughnut, and B Doughnut, as well as several bakeries putting out rounds that earn top marks, such as Rose Ave. Bakery and Sunday Morning Bakehouse. And shout-out to the creative doughnuts restaurant pastry chefs are making, including Yesenia Jarquin’s tiramisu stuffed bomboloni at Piccolina and Mary Mendoza’s doffle (doughnut-waffle) at Bantam King.

The newest addition to the scene is Handcraft Doughnuts, a Union Kitchen-based ghost bakery whose top-notch treats are available for delivery and pickup. Open since the middle of May, the upstart is a side hustle for Kara Terrell, 37, who does project management in the tech space and her husband, Ike Emejuru, 39, a civil rights lawyer. Self-described foodies with a penchant for travel, they plan their globe-trotting itineraries around where they’ll eat. Trips to Vietnam, Australia, and Barbados were all beloved, but a Kenyan safari may have been the biggest influence on their latest venture.

While staying at Giraffe Manor (which looks truly enchanting), they enjoyed pastries as the long-necked namesakes poked their heads through the windows, yielding a predictably cute photo. Not only did that magical moment cement their shared love of baked goods, leading them to take a doughnut making class at Baltimore Chef Shop and start fleshing out the idea for Handcraft Doughnuts, but imagery from that experience became integral to their packaging. Take a close look at the parchment paper lining the doughnut boxes and you’ll spot a giraffe poking its head out of a safari-classic Jeep Defender, with the phrase ‘good memories’ floating nearby. Little details like this are a big focus for Terrell. “I don’t just think about taste and flavors,” she says. “I think about someone having the unboxing experience. What are they thinking about?”

The couple handles the business side of the operation and oversees flavor development with execution handled by executive pastry chef Jared Rubin, an alum of Gramercy Tavern and Bouchon Bakery in New York. Fabulously fluffy butter-rich brioche dough powers the lineup of roughly 10 flavors, which include set options as well as seasonal offerings. On the classic end of the spectrum: simple but sensational buttermilk glazed, chocolate glazed sprinkled with chocolate shavings and sea salt, and an indulgent riff on cookies and cream. All are solid standard bearers for the fledgling brand.

A doughnut filled with lemon curd and topped with meringue pirouettes from Handcraft Doughnuts
A doughnut filled with lemon curd and topped with meringue pirouettes Credit: Nevin Martell

However, you need to go beyond the basics. A favorite of mine bulges with just-tart-enough lemon curd and is topped with gently torched meringue pirouettes. Another standout: a mascarpone glazed circlet, its center packed with creamy cheesecake vibes, crowned with blueberries enlivened with lemon thyme and lemon zest. I also say hooray for the PB&J with tangy raspberry jam, raspberry lemon glaze, and salted roasted peanuts, as well as the latte glazed, espresso dusted round polka-dotted with crunchy chocolate pearls.

When I first tried Handcraft Doughnuts, there was an ethereal passion fruit option speckled with black sesame seeds, but that is no longer available. Consider this an impassioned plea to bring it back.

passionfruit brioche doughnut from Handcraft Doughnut
Passion fruit brioche doughnut Credit: Nevin Martell

To introduce their new company to a wider audience, the couple is arranging a series of pop-ups over the coming months, including an upcoming stint at Solid State Books from Aug. 11–13. The goal is to open a brick-and-mortar location, but there are no firm plans yet.

Handcraft Doughnuts, 1369 New York Ave. NE.