How to Make Doughnuts

The only question you'll have is: Should you eat them all today or save some for tomorrow?

May 08, 2020

Related To:

Sugar and Spice Cake Doughnuts


Sugar and Spice Cake Doughnuts

Photo by: LauriPatterson


By Heath Goldman for Food Network Kitchen

Homemade doughnuts automatically have a leg-up on any you buy because they’re fresher. Period. Every doughnut lover knows that today's doughnuts are better than yesterday's, and freshly made doughnuts have a completely different flavor and texture than 2-hour-old doughnuts. They're also just a satisfying project if you're tired of cookies. Read on for all the tips and tricks to DIY.

What’s the Difference Between Cake Doughnuts and Yeast Doughnuts?

Cake doughnuts, as their moniker suggests, are basically deep-fried cake batter. Their moist, fluffy crumb is similar to that of cake or muffins. Leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda, they’re typically fried, but can also be baked. Apple cider doughnuts and old-fashioned doughnuts (which have a crunchy exterior and tapered, craggy edges) are classic varieties of cake doughnuts.

Yeast doughnuts are, unsurprisingly, leavened with yeast. Chewy and light with a mild tang, yeast doughnuts get most of their sweetness from their glaze, topping or filling. The classic jelly doughnut is a yeast doughnut. So are the doughnuts from a certain popular doughnut chain… that America runs on.

Which Type of Doughnut Is Easiest to Make?

Though we love yeast doughnuts to the moon and back, the answer is simple: Cake doughnuts are easier. Here’s why:

Making yeast doughnuts is a bit like making bread: First, you have to bloom the dry active yeast, then incorporate it into a dough made from sugar, milk, eggs, butter and vanilla extract. Next, knead the dough with a dough hook and let it double in size for over an hour. Finally, roll out the dough, punch it out into doughnuts with a doughnut cutter or cookie cutter, and let the doughnuts rise a second time before frying them. There’s some guesswork in the amount you knead and how long you let those doughnuts rise, so expect trial and error over a few batches.

When it comes to cake doughnuts, all you have to do is beat together the ingredients (flour, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla extract), pipe them into rings and tip those rings into the frying oil.

We explain all of this not to discourage you from making yeast doughnuts (they’re a fantastic project!), but simply to let you know that if you’re hankering for doughnuts, pronto, the cake variety is your best friend.

Should You Fry or Bake Doughnuts?

This comes down to several factors. First, if you're making yeast doughnuts, they are almost always fried – so rule out baking them.

Beyond that, it’s all about personal preference. Fried cake doughnuts taste more classically like “doughnuts” – light and fluffy. Just like when you bite into a French fry or chicken tender and think to yourself, “I know you were cooked in the oven,” baked doughnuts taste different – a little more like scones – but are still delicious in their own way.

Baked doughnuts can be preferable, though, because they’re easier to make than fried doughnuts. Instead of ladling doughnuts into several inches of oil and carefully monitoring that oil with a candy thermometer, all you have to do is pour cake doughnut batter into a doughnut pan and bake it.

Can You Make Doughnuts Without Yeast?

Yes, cake doughnuts don't require any yeast. Alternatively, if you’re the proud owner of a sourdough starter, you can use it instead of commercial yeast to make doughnuts (we recommend following a sourdough doughnut recipe instead of simply substituting sourdough starter). Keep in mind that you’re leavening with sourdough starter, you’ll probably have to knead the dough much longer and let it sit in the fridge overnight to ferment (so more natural gasses develop, which aid in rising).

Homemade donuts decorated with colored icing and colored sugar on a light background. Selective focus.


Homemade donuts decorated with colored icing and colored sugar on a light background. Selective focus.

Photo by: Janna Danilova / 500px

Janna Danilova / 500px

How to Jazz Up Your Doughnuts with Apple Cider, Glazes and Fillings

If you’re making cake doughnuts, consider spicing things up by going the apple cider route. Apple cider doughnuts are made by stirring reduced apple cider into the batter (and reducing the volume of other liquid in the batter, to compensate). Although we recommend following a recipe for apple cider doughnuts over riffing, it’s easy to take inspiration from their warm spices and add any spice of your choosing to your favorite doughnut recipe. A pinch of cardamom, coriander, ginger, cloves or apple pie spice would go a long way in adding subtle sophistication.

Sprinkles and glazes are another great way to customize your homemade doughnuts. A smattering of cinnamon sugar or plain old confectioners’ sugar go a long way. Make a simple glaze by whisking milk into confectioners’ sugar until it’s thinned – or get fancy and infuse it with ingredients like rosewater or matcha. Frost doughnuts with ganache (may we suggest Caramel Ganache?) and top with rainbow sprinkles.

While cake doughnuts traditionally aren’t filled, it’s easy to take your yeast doughnuts to the next level by filling them with jelly straight from the jar or homemade curd (try Food Network Kitchen’s Lemon Curd or Mango Curd for delectable results).

What’s the Best Way to Store Doughnuts?

Hey you, trying to stave off day-two staleness: Store them as you would fresh bread – in an airtight container at room temperature. Or, simply, eat them all on the first day.

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