Imagine a doughnut made with a sourdough brioche dough that's stuffed with pureed Basque cheesecake and topped with a torched brulee.
This artistry is definitely not what you'd expect from your neighbourhood doughnut shop. You may think it's akin to the dessert menu of fancy hotels or an entry in an international baking competition. You may be right. After all, the creator of Basque burnt cheesecake-filled doughnuts is Miko Aspiras, the multi-awarded international pastry chef behind the newly opened Don't Doughnuts in the inner suburb of Darlinghurst in Sydney.
For Miko Aspiras, becoming a pastry chef was a sweet accident. As a boy, Miko helped his aunt make biscuits and cheesecakes for her catering business in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. This piqued his interest in baking and he set out to be a chef. He began studying hotel and restaurant management at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, an institute in the Philippines. There, he applied to enter a cooking competition but was rejected. So Aspiras asked himself, "What's the next best thing?" and found a cheesecake competition.
Despite not being far into his studies, he qualified and made it to the finals. Aspiras remembers, "I just practiced that recipe over and over again. But during that time, I did not have culinary or pastry training. Yet, I ended up winning that first competition I joined." Beating his junior and senior college student competitors, his winning entry was a white chocolate and strawberry fondue cheesecake.
"We discovered that sourdough brioche would be a wonderful doughnut base, because it has a flavour of its own. And it balances whatever glaze you dip in it."
From that day, Aspiras gained recognition as the best pastry chef from the 175 students. Once he graduated, he was hired to work in the pastry section of hotel kitchens. But Miko couldn't shake his competitive nature. While working for a casino in the Philippines in 2010, he decided to join the first culinary competition called the Philippine Culinary Cup. After his shifts, the young pastry chef practised from midnight to 6am.
Aspiras recalls, "For two months, I would go to work, go back home and then try to keep perfecting my recipes until the following morning." The young chef went up against his professors, the executive and sous chefs in prestigious hotels – and won. He then competed in international competitions in Hong Kong, Singapore, France and Korea. Of the 16 competitions he joined, he won the top prize in 12.
By 2013, Aspiras was offered by Unilever to open the inaugural Magnum Manila ice-cream bar in the capital, then branches in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. Since then Aspiras and his business partners have opened 17 restaurants in Manila.
The unassuming pastry chef still can't believe he's presented at the prestigious Madrid Fusion in 2015, alongside culinary greats like Jordi Roca and Grant Achatz, has been named a 'Forbes 30 under 30' and featured in So Good patisserie magazine.
After he moved to Australia in June 2019, Hilton Sydney quickly offered him the role of executive pastry chef and he worked there for 16 months. However, because of the pandemic, the hotel had to let go of the entire team.
But in June, Aspiras opened Don't Doughnuts with his business partner, Michelin Dapo, the Filipina chef behind Filipino ice-cream business Manila St.
For Miko Aspiras, becoming a pastry chef was a sweet accident. As a boy, Miko helped his aunt make biscuits and cheesecakes for her catering business in Manila.
The pair set about making the best doughnut. Aspiras says, "We discovered that sourdough brioche would be a wonderful doughnut base because it has a flavour of its own. And it balances whatever glaze you dip in it. It's like a blank canvas, but it can stand on its own.
"Relying on my background on my training for pastry competitions, I'm exposed to many different techniques and ingredients. I can say it's easy for me to twist a classic without destroying the integrity of the classic or the memories that people have with that classic. But making sure that it's distinctly mine."
People who love cinnamon sugar doughnuts should try his garam masala sugar. Who would've thought this North Indian spice blend usually used in soups, curries and stews would work well as a doughnut flavour?
One of his most interesting flavours is the coconut charcoal doughnut. The doughnut is filled with coconut compote, similar to the thick macapuno Filipino preserve made of grated coconut and cooked in sugar. On top sits a charcoal and meringue cream. Filipinos typically eat macapuno in halo-halo, a dessert with shaved ice, ube (purple yam) gelatin, sweetened beans and jackfruit, or paired with leche flan (creme caramel) or halayang ube (a thick purple yam jam made with sugar and milk). Don't Doughnuts also serves 'Purple haze' milkshakes and lattes, which are made from ube, the trendy purple yam popular in the Philippines.
The Basque burnt cheesecake filled doughnuts are gaining lots of fans, but Don't Doughnuts has other innovative flavours like Vegemite butterscotch glaze, chocolate 'fondon't', Tasmanian lemon and coconut, macadamia caramel glaze, Iranian pistachio, and strawberries and cream cheese. Each week, expect a new limited flavour.
If that's not enough to keep this young chef busy, on the weekends he accepts orders for Basque cheesecakes like the ube halaya and strawberry one or a matcha Basque burnt cheesecake with black sesame cream and raspberries.
Having opened Don't Doughnuts just before Sydney's 2021 lockdown may not have been the best timing, but with the talent, creativity and hard work of this award-winning Filipino pastry chef, nothing can stop him from churning treats using unexpected ingredients and techniques.