I get a lot of calls for donut robots from people who don’t really understand what they can and can’t do. So I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post dedicated to the subject of donut robots
Most people understand that the robots offer some level of automation, and that is what often grabs their attention. While this is true, many of the models on the market are designed only for cake donut production. This may be great for a concession type business, but for a stand-alone donut shop, it’s yeast raised donuts that normally hog the spotlight. And yeast donuts are a different process to prepare for frying- they can’t just be mixed and deposited by a donut robot straight into the fryer like cake donuts can.
A few people that called me over the years even thought that the donut robots were like home bread machines- that you can just add some ingredients and turn it on, and the robot will spit out ready to serve donuts. This is definitely not the case.
For cake donuts, I recommend a commercial dry mix. Making them from scratch ingredients is possible, but very tricky to get consistently good results with. Donut mixes from companies such as Dawn Foods or BakeMark have been blended for good flavor, tolerance to changing shop conditions, and easy preparation. You need some kind of mixer, usually a vertical stand mixer which can be as basic as a Kitchen Aid from any department or kitchen wares store, but I would recommend at least a 20 quart mixer of a proper commercial grade. Once the batter is prepared, it goes into the donut robot’s depositor hopper and the machine does the rest, discharging fried donuts at the other end. They still have to be decorated (sugar, glazes, icings, toppings, etc).
For some tips on making good cake donuts, see the Downloads page.
Yeast donuts, on the other hand, require more steps to prepare for frying. You have to mix the dough, allow some time to let fermentation begin, roll out the dough to a consistent thickness, then cut your donut shapes out and place them on proof/fry screens (or proofing cloths). These cut donuts then need to get their final proof or fermentation, essentially allowing them to rise like any other yeast-raised dough product, and this is usually done in a humidified cabinet called a proofer or proof-box. It is only once they’ve risen that they can be loaded into a fryer. Now, at this stage they are quite fragile. If you handle them too abruptly they will gas out on you, like deflating a balloon, and they will not likely revive themselves when fried. They won’t look like plump healthy donuts. This is where the challenge comes in when using a donut robot.
Companies like Belshaw do make some special accessories to allow certain models of their robots to handle yeast raised donuts and feed them into the fryer properly. As far as I know, those accessories are only available for the Mark II and the Mark VI models. This is where quite a few donut robot inquiries get “derailed” so to speak. The caller wants to open a donut shop and wants to buy a Mark II to do all of their donut production. Well, technically this can be done. If they purchase all the correct accessories, which could easily add up to $10,000 or more in total with the robot itself. The problem is that a Mark II isn’t really big and fast enough to service a successful donut shop with all varieties of donuts, including both cake and yeast donuts.
On paper, the machine is rated at an output max of around 37 dozen donuts per hour. That sounds like a lot doesn’t it? But that is peak output under ideal conditions with constant uninterrupted throughput. This is not the real world. In the real world you would have some changeover time between product varieties. But even more importantly, donuts are usually considered to be a JIT (Just In Time) product- meaning freshness is critical to keep customers coming back for more. Now combine that with the fact that the donut business is also usually condensed into a smaller window of time. There is a huge rush in the morning hours that probably forms the biggest chunk of the day’s sales. So back to our little Mark II robot friend… he would probably have to start the previous night to have it all done by the time the early birds hit at around 5 – 6 AM. And by the peak of the morning rush, the first donuts made that are out on the shelves are already almost half a day old. Once again, it can be done. But it stretches out the production hours so much that it poses a challenge to staff scheduling, overall labor cost, freshness of the product, and also accelerated wear and tear on the equipment.
As an alternative example, if you take the smallest manual batch fryer that you would see in most independent donut shops or cafes, that would be the floor standing 18″ x 26″ batch fryer, it is rated at 65 – 80 dozen donuts per hour. This is double of what the Mark II is rated at. The donut shop may not sell that many per hour even at the peak of the day, but if you asked the baker or the shop owner, “what would you say if we cut your donut fryer capacity in half?”, my bet is he/she would tell you “no way” or they might just throw you out of the store!
So, the only donut robot model that, in my humble opinion, is sufficient to supply a thriving donut shop business with a full variety of just-in-time fresh donuts is the Mark VI. At Bakery Equipment.com we have several nice used Mark VI fryers and fryer packages that we can customize to fit your needs, at a fraction of the price of new equipment. Call Darren at 360-876-7250 ext 225 (toll free in USA 888-869-5737) for more information and pricing.
Here is the link to a video of a Mark VI set-up in operation: