It’s no secret that Americans — self-isolating amid the coronavirus pandemic and feeling bored silly — have been baking more these days. And not just bread. Doughnuts have become (pardon the pun) the hot thing to make at home, particularly with many beloved doughnut shops either still closed or operating on a limited basis. With National Doughnut Day just around the corner (June 5 this year), what are you waiting for? Cheapism talked with professional bakers to find out how to make doughnuts that family and friends will eat up. (Need more inspiration? Check out these 49 Unique Doughnuts.)
Baked or Fried Doughnuts: Which is Best?
When it comes to making doughnuts, the old-fashioned way — frying — is still the best, many bakers say, because nothing else tastes quite the same.
“Give it a chance!” urges Annie Petito, senior editor at Cook's Illustrated. “Oil conducts heat directly to the dough, cooking it as quickly as possible, versus the convection/indirect heating you get with baking and air-frying (where it’s the air conducting the heat). The quicker cooking has a lot of benefits: It cooks the doughnut evenly and helps it to stay moist inside and tender on the surface.”
You can bake doughnuts, too. For some in the pro-baking camp, it’s the convenience that wins out; others see it as “healthier” than frying. Whatever the reason, make sure the recipe you’re using is designed for the oven, not a fryer.
“Working from a good recipe is key,” Petito says. “And yes, you can definitely have great baked doughnuts, they’re just different than what you would get from deep frying.”
Then there’s the air-fryer method, which is definitely not the way to go if you’re looking to replicate that doughnut shop experience.
“No matter how you make doughnuts in an air fryer, it won't resemble the deep-fried doughnuts in either flavor or texture,” says baker and food blogger Chris Riley, who writes for The Daring Kitchen. “It is an alternative if you want a more healthy and simple way to make doughnuts. However if you want truly crunchy and pillowy doughnuts regardless of the calories, go for deep fried.”
If you do go the air fryer route, bakers say, be sure to use a recipe that’s designed specifically for that appliance. And bear in mind that air fryers can’t accommodate more than three or four doughnuts at a time, which means making a dozen doughnuts will take longer than baking or deep frying.
Yeast Doughnuts vs. Cake Doughnuts
Strip away the frosting, the sprinkles, and the glazes, and you’re left with two types of doughnuts. Yeast doughnuts use a leavening agent (hence the name) and require time to rise before cooking. Most recipes call for deep-frying this kind of doughnut, although there are recipes out there for baked yeast doughnuts. By contrast, cake doughnuts rely on baking powder or baking soda for leavening. The result is moist and dense on the inside, not light and airy, with an outside that lacks the subtle snap that comes from deep frying.
What You Need to Make Doughnuts
If you’re planning to make deep-fried doughnuts, you’ll need a Dutch oven or similar large pot for frying. A simple $10 candy thermometer— one that can be attached to the side of the pot, leaving your hands free — is a must to make sure the oil maintains a consistent temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit. A spider strainer to fish the doughnuts out of the cooking oil is helpful, too.
Most yeast doughnut recipes suggest using a set of round cookie cutters to cut them from the dough (you can also use an inverted drinking glass). To make deep-fried cake doughnuts, you must pipe the doughnuts into a ring shape. A half-inch nozzle attached to a piping bag will do the trick (it is also useful for making cream- or jelly-filled doughnuts), or you can just use a resealable plastic bag with a half-inch hole snipped from one corner.
By contrast, all you need to bake doughnuts is a doughnut pan you can spoon the batter into. A set of two pans, which will make a dozen doughnuts, costs about $20.
Tips for Making Doughnuts
Like bread, yeast doughnuts need time to rise so they’re pillowy soft. Recipes vary, but expect to allow at least an hour to proof the dough in a warm, dry place (you can also let it rise more slowly overnight in the refrigerator).
Yeast doughs can be sticky and tough to roll out smoothly. As with bread, make sure you’re using a clean surface to roll out the dough to a thickness of about half an inch. Use flour if you have to in order to prevent sticking, but not too much, as flour can burn during frying and leave an unpleasant taste.
Speaking of frying, don’t be afraid of trying this technique. You only need to use about 3 inches of oil. It’s fairly easy to avoid spattering: Release the food away from you, never toward yourself.
“The doughnuts float leisurely on the surface of the oil like inner tubes — it’s actually a very calm frying experience,” Petito says. “Hold the doughnut near the top and carefully place it in the oil, releasing it when it’s partially submerged.”
And don’t be too quick to toss that cooking oil when you’re finished. “With cleaner-frying items such as potato chips or doughnuts, it’s fine to reuse the oil two or three times, especially if you’re replenishing it with some fresh oil,” she adds.
If all that work sounds like too much, a batter for cake doughnuts can be whipped together with little effort and baked to perfection in about 10 minutes.
“Spooning batter into those molds can be tricky,” says Petito. “A piping bag or plastic zip-top bag to pipe the batter in will save you some frustration.”
And don’t overfill the baking pan or your doughnuts will end up looking like puffy hockey pucks.
Glazes should be applied while doughnuts are still warm so it can soak into every little nook and cranny. If you prefer a thick frosting (chocolate, for instance), wait until the doughnuts are cool, otherwise they will melt and slide off the doughnut.
For a granulated sugar coating, dredge the doughnuts while warm so it sticks, then apply a second coat once cooled. If you’re dusting with powdered sugar, allow doughnuts to cool thoroughly before applying.
Want to try making old-fashioned doughnuts at home? Chris Riley offers the following recipe:
Ingredients for the dough:
1 c. whole milk
½ c. lukewarm water
¼ c. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar, divided
1 packet (or 2 ¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
4 ½ c. all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
2 large eggs
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
6 tbsp. melted butter
vegetable oil, for frying
½ tsp. salt
Ingredients for the glaze:
¼ c. whole milk
2 c. powdered sugar
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
Dissolve sugar in lukewarm water and stir in the yeast. After 5 minutes a foamy layer should form over the water. That is how you know that your dough will rise. Stir in the rest of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and knead by hand or use a stand mixer. Dough should be smooth and elastic. To test if it is ready, lightly press your thumb in the dough. It should bounce back almost immediately.
The dough needs to rise twice — the first one the dough itself, the second time the punched out doughnuts. For the first rise, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and allow it to rise for 90 to 120 minutes.
Use doughnut or cookie cutters to form the doughnuts, preferably 3 inches in diameter with a 1-inch hole. If you don’t have cookie cutters, use a wider drinking glass for the doughnut shape and a shot glass for the doughnut center. Place the doughnuts on a baking sheet, cover and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.
After you punch the doughnuts and are waiting for them to rise you can start heating up the oil to 350 degrees and begin making the glaze. When the oil is ready, fry the doughnuts a few at a time. Remove when golden brown and allow to rest on paper towels or butcher paper to soak up excess oil.
Glaze the doughnuts while they are still warm and the glazing will stick much better. After you dip the doughnuts into the glaze, put them on a cooling rack or a sheet of baking paper to let the excess drip off. At this point, you can sprinkle and decorate the doughnuts with chocolate chips, coconut or sugar sprinkles and so on.