The owner of Charnee’s Mindful Donuts is making the world a tastier place with whimsically decorated, relatively guilt-free donuts.
Cortney Carnes, a resident of Bellevue, honed her baking skills while working at Happy Belly, a healthy-food-focused café in Over-the-Rhine. There, owner Abby Reckman urged her to explore her passion for sweets by experimenting with different donut recipes. Though the establishment closed in May 2016, Carnes’ love for the pastry extended beyond her time there, as did her fanbase.
That same year, she was approached by the team at Off the Vine Juice Bar, who invited her to hold a pop-up shop at their store. Today, you can find her products there, as well as at The City Flea, Little Flour Baked Goods and DCCH Farmers Market. Along with classic and mini donuts, she also takes specialty cake orders.
Carnes’ mindful approach to baking is something you can both taste and feel in her donuts — they are light and energizing (and not in the usual sugar-rush way).
As a one-woman team operating out of a commercial kitchen in Northern Kentucky, baking these small-batch treats is an involved process. First, Carnes prepares and spices the flour — usually either almond or coconut. The next day, she works with the wet ingredients and commences the baking process. The donuts are then placed in a freezer and taken out the following day for glazing. The glazes are made with raw cashew, coconut oil, maple, honey, egg or fruit.
The finished product is a gluten-, dairy- and grain-free delicacy that makes satisfying your sweet tooth accessible to those with assorted food allergies and enjoyable to the general population as well. The dense desserts are moist, and the glaze seems to carry most of the sweetness, making them a well-rounded treat.
Carnes is committed to incorporating organic and local ingredients whenever possible; she even sources herbs like basil and thyme from her mother’s garden — Gone to Pot, a backyard nursery in Fort Mitchell — and utilizes local farmers markets for other ingredients, like the fresh beets used in her chocolate donut recipe.
For the adventurous foodie, Carnes’ orange turmeric donut boasts vibrant flavors. There’s the slight bitterness from the turmeric and a hint of sweetness from the glaze that complement each other in an unexpected way. The peanut butter beet donut is one of her most flavorful and approachable. Other options include samoa cookie, super matcha and tahini date, but flavors change seasonally.
The most captivating part of Charnees’ Mindful Donuts are the designs. Each golf-ball sized mini is covered with a layer of glaze and unique toppings like chunks of dark chocolate or shredded coconut. The orange turmeric is especially eye-catching with its sulfur-yellow glaze and bullseye-shaped drizzle of chocolate.
Emphasizing nutrition in her donuts is a move that stems from Carnes’ love for health and wellness, which she formed after years spent in a tumultuous relationship with food.
“When I was a young female in high school, trying to fit in and feel beautiful and all of those things, (I was) trying to figure out the right diet in order to sustain this image. And honestly, I always ended up feeling like crap when I would restrict myself or when I would indulge in sugar,” she says. “I was trying to get away from sugar and processed foods and just things my body couldn’t use for good.”
This mindset led her to pursue a more substantial diet that she carried with her into adulthood.
But food would become more to her than a way to gain sustenance. When stressed or anxious, she would pick a recipe to make and add personal touches, mixing flavors or swapping ingredients for healthier ones. Then, she would take the final product and give it away to coworkers.
“They didn’t seem to mind and loving others by making them treats was the beginning to my healing process,” she says.
In the future, Carnes is interested in starting a joint venture with her mother or going mobile with a business on wheels. But for now, she’s concentrating on putting out beautiful, tasty creations for loyal customers to savor.
“For those that can’t eat wheat or simply (do) not want to consume a lot of sugar, I want them to feel good about this one decision in their day,” she says.
Find Charnee’s Mindful Donuts at facebook.com/charneesmindfuldonuts.