Instagrammable ube dishes may have helped put Filipino sweets on the map in New York City, but Eleven Madison Park alum and baker Kimberly Camara is looking to expand the understanding of Filipino desserts in the city with the launch of her new doughnut business.
Kora — which is online only for now — regularly sells 275 doughnuts a week, and the waitlist for its doughnuts has now grown to 800 customers. That demand is largely driven by Camara’s use of less mainstream Filipino flavors, she says. Doughnut fillings include champorado, a chocolate porridge, and pinipig, a type of toasted sweet rice preparation.
“I feel like there’s always more that could be done with [Filipino food] and more that people can learn about. That’s really huge for me,” says Camara, who grew up regularly visiting home-style Filipino restaurants in Woodside, where she now lives. “I knew ube was one of those gateway flavors that people like to buy,” she says. “But what’s going to make these doughnuts special is once I start bringing all the other Filipino flavors.”
Camara kickstarted the business a few months after she lost her catering job at Union Square Hospitality Group, in March, when the company laid off 2,000 employees due to the COVID-19 related shutdown. At first, the doughnut business just served as a side hustle, though in recent months, it’s taken on a life of its own.
Camara drops a Google order form on Kora’s Instagram account every Monday at 3 p.m., along with a new flavor for the week, with doughnuts available for pick up or delivery on Fridays. The glazes are made using condensed milk and sugar, and all the doughnuts are filled, mostly with a pastry cream base and always with whole Filipino ingredients — “not just the extract,” she says.
The fillings have so far included flavors like leche flan, but with Camara’s personal spin on it. Her version yields “a lot eggier, richer, and denser” flan than what diners might be accustomed to from Spain or South America. To introduce itlog na pula, a salt-brined, red-dyed egg that’s usually served with tomato, onion, and rice, Camara fills her brioche dough with salted egg yolk lava made of cured egg and condensed milk, and tops it with an egg yolk dust made from dehydrated and cured yolks. Her take on the popular turon — deep-fried pastry rolls with sliced bananas — comes in the form of a cruller with a saba banana and jackfruit filling, caramelized spring roll wrapper, banana chips, toasted sugar, and caramel drizzle.
Typically, the $6.50 doughnuts sell out within one minute each week. So many people have had trouble getting through to the Google form that Camara opened a waitlist for first-timers, who get first dibs on any cancelled orders. She also installed a 10-doughnut limit after a customer purchased sixty doughnuts at once.
Camara and her co-founder Kevin Borja say that this demand is a “good problem to have.” They invested in a baker’s rack that increased their production capacity from 175 to 275 doughnuts, but the move only temporarily extended their sell-out time to three minutes.
Kora’s overwhelming success has taken Camara by surprise, particularly considering the fact that the idea for the business was sparked nearly by accident. Camara recounts one day in early June when she found herself at her parents’ house with leftover brioche dough from her pandemic baking and extra ube filling from a friend’s birthday cake she had baked. “I was just like, ‘How am I going to use this up,’” she says.” Camara decided to proof up her dough, fry it, fill it with ube, and taste it. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is really good,’” she says. “I would pay for this!’”
The death of her grandmother from pulmonary fibrosis in early January and the subsequent discovery of her grandma’s recipes also served as inspiration.
“After I lost her, I had a new outlook on life; how short it is and how I need to take the chance, no matter what,” Camara explains. She riffed off her grandma’s name — Corazon — and started Kora.
In the future, the company won’t stay limited to doughnuts. Camara has set her sights on an expanded menu with savory Filipino dishes and is currently deciding between pop-up operations or a storefront.
Kora doughnuts are available on Fridays for pickup in Woodside from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and delivery in Queens (excluding the Rockaways) from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.