You’ve been on some awful diet since the beginning of the new year, and you could probably sniff out a chocolate chip cookie hiding in your coworker’s desk from a mile away. You may have even daydreamed about eating it while they weren’t looking, and now you’re having a half dozen hot and fresh donuts for lunch. With each bite of fluffy dough and warm glaze, you’re feeling better and better about your decision. You let out a sigh of relief because eating like a rabbit since January 1 was totally overrated. While you’ve been munching away on that last fried ring of goodness, your brain has been hard at work making you feel great about this decision. Your brain actually started drawing you closer to giving up on your diet long before this day. Our minds know that sweet treats are a 10 on the happiness scale, and who doesn’t like happy?

Tucked away in unsuspecting Orange Park, Kelly Weaver is serving up that high for the masses — and they can’t get enough. She’s been baking for over 20 years now and has spent the last two of those years at The Urban Bean Coffeehouse Cafe, a 70-seat shop right off the main strip of Park Avenue and Kingsley Avenue.

“Sweets and treats make people happy,” Weaver said, when asked why she thinks sweet things are so universal and approachable. I would have to agree that nothing made me happier than eating every last bite of her Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Donut when I visited The Urban Bean.

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“There are sensors in your digestive tract that are still telling your brain to release dopamine, a drug that makes us feel good.”

When you go in to take that first bite, taste receptor cells in our taste buds are triggered to tell our brain that we are receiving sugar molecules like sucrose, dextrose and glucose. Our cerebral cortex starts firing signals that activate our brain’s “reward system” and a chemical called dopamine is released. Even hours after you eat that whole pint of ice cream while watching Netflix and chilling, there are sensors in your digestive tract that are still telling your brain to release dopamine, a drug that makes us feel good about our decision, then tells us to do it again and again. Our bodies do this naturally when we indulge in things like drugs, alcohol, sex and most importantly, that second slice of chocolate cake. This chemical reaction to eating treats creates that classic “sugar rush” and leaves us craving more.

All that sweet can be overwhelming, but the focus of Weaver’s baking is on developing balance.

“I really dislike things that are one-note. I put a lot of thought into the layers of flavor,” Weaver said. “I go through phases. In the spring, I love lavender, orange or rose. In the summer, I use a lot of strawberries, pineapples and citrus. Fall is for cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. It’s winter now, and I am all about cardamom, ginger and brown butter.”

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“Sweets and treats make people happy.”

If there’s one thing that Weaver is known for, it’s her baked donuts. Scroll through the photos that The Urban Bean is tagged in, and you will see a gallery of glaze and sprinkles. There are flavors ranging from Vegan Blackberry Black Pepper to Banana Cream Dream and Sparkling Champagne Strawberry.

I wanted to know if working in Orange Park was challenging, especially after pulling up to see that there was a Starbucks going up just a building over. She laughed and told me that what they are doing at The Urban Bean is different. They even have a burger on their menu. Being from the Murray Hill and Five Points area, it’s almost second nature for me to blow off Orange Park when it comes to doing anything differently, but Kelly Weaver is working to change that.

“I had a hard time coming up with a recipe, because Orange Park is a sea of Dunkin Donuts and Panera. I picked Orange Cardamom Donuts with Brown Butter Frosting because the food scene is starting to awaken. People are slowly becoming more open to new things,” she said. “Donuts are very approachable and traditional. The addition of cardamom, vanilla beans and brown butter put an unexpected twist into them, and hopefully tempt someone to try a flavor they’ve never experienced.”

The Urban Bean is a local oasis in a desert of chain restaurants. I walked in on a Monday morning around 10:15 a.m. expecting it to be a ghost town, but it was filled both outside and inside with a wide array of customers. Maybe it’s the dopamine that keeps people coming back — or maybe it’s because Kelly Weaver is baking up the dopest donuts in Clay County. So go ahead and treat yourself, your brain will thank you.

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“Our minds know that sweet treats are a 10 on the happiness scale, and who doesn’t like happy?”

Orange Cardamom Donuts with Brown Butter Frosting:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional). It makes a HUGE difference, however you can double up on vanilla extract.
  • 2 oranges, zested
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange water – again this is optional but will really taste the difference. You’ll thank me later.
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom – a sweet spice from the Middle East. It’s highly underused and it’s delicious!

For the donuts:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Prepare donut pans with nonstick spray
  3. Beat eggs with other liquid ingredients
  4. Add sugar and beat until frothy
  5. Slowly add flour and baking soda
  6. Add remaining ingredients and mix till blended
  7. Fill donut wells almost completely
  8. Bake 8 minutes, rotate pan and bake another 5 minutes or until golden. Cool 5 minutes in pan. Remove and allow to cool completely before frosting.
Brown Butter

Brown Butter | Photo by H. Alexander Talbot via Flickr

For the frosting:

  1. Brown butter really takes this to the next level. Once you’ve discovered brown butter your life will be transformed!
  2. In saucepan, heat one stick butter over med heat. Heat until butter is melted, brown and has a nutty smell.
  3. Tilt the pan to allow the solids to settle. Pour the brown butter into bowl, discard solids.
  4. To brown the butter, add 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 4 tablespoons heavy cream.
  5. Beat all ingredients together. You may have to add more heavy cream or powdered sugar, depending on how thick you want the frosting.
  6. Frost the donuts, sprinkle with dusting of cardamom and garnish with orange wedge.

By Calli Webb | Staff Writer