DOUGHNUTS! Pictures, recipes and techniques for making professional quality raised doughnuts at home!
I can't remember what insane impulse drove me to try making raised doughnuts at home. After all, they're so inexpensive you have to wonder why anyone would bother. Yet attempt making them I did... and failed miserably. They were greasy, chewy lumps that I wouldn't feed to a dog. Frustration fired determination and before I knew it I'd spent two weeks frying doughnuts almost every day, gone through 20 pounds of flour and put on almost as much weight from tasting them. But, perseverance paid off and by the time all was said and done I managed to figure out how to make a doughnut that was as good as what's available in doughnut shops. This page presents my technique so that anyone finding it might be saved some of the frustration with which I had to deal.
Please understand that I'm not claiming that the method I developed is anything like the method used in doughnut shops. They have access to temperature controlled raising chambers, super-accurate heated fryers, and ingredients unavailable to home cooks. My recipe and technique is simply a way for people at home to get close to what they can make in a professional kitchen.
In addition to the ingredients and an explanation of the technique used to make doughnuts, this page also presents the results of many experiments to learn how changing certain elements of the recipe effects the doughnuts.
First, let's define the term doughnut. While I readily acknowledge the merits of cake and filled doughnuts, the one true doughnut for me will always be a raised, or yeast, doughnut that has been glazed.
A Little History:
While historians have yet to nail down who invented the doughnut with a hole in the center, the most likely originator is the sea captain Hanson Gregory. In an interview with the Boston Post around 1900 he claimed he invented the first "holed" doughnut when in 1950 he used the top of a small round pepper box to cut the center out of a circle of dough for what was going to be a standard doughnut for the time: something like a jelly filled doughnut without the jelly. (Certain uncharitable historians claim he did it to stint on ingredients.)
The term doughnut itself goes back much further when pilgrims and even people in Europe used to fry nut-sized lumps of dough. These nuts of dough were quickly simplified to doughnuts.
So much for history, let's make some doughnuts.
When I first tried making doughnuts I used several recipes I found on the Internet. Without exception they all came out considerably heavier than professional doughnuts and had a chewy texture reminiscent of bagels. The following recipe that I developed produces a light doughnut that is tender, not bready or chewy. Note: much of the success of this recipe lays with the technique as well as the ingredients. (While measurements are provided in cups and tablespoons, I prefer the more accurate technique of measuring ingredients by weight.)
grams (3 and 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
52 grams (1/4 cup) butter flavored Crisco
268 grams (1 and 1/4 cup) milk
38 grams (3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1 large egg
24 grams (2 tablespoons) dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon of salt
grams (two cups poured) powdered sugar
54 grams (3 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons) of cool water
A thermostatically heated deep fat fryer with at least 4 inches of cooking oil in it, heated to 375 (F.) degrees.
A large wood cutting board (10 x 14 inches or larger), rolling pin, and cookie sheet in an oven warmed to 100 degrees. The cookie sheet should be upside down, covered with two layers of paper towel, and topped with eight rectangles of Teflon coated aluminum foil, Teflon side up. Each piece of foil should be lightly coated with flour. (The pan's upside down so you don't have to fight the lip to lift the raised doughnuts up, the paper prevents the highly heat conductive pan from letting too much heat flow into the doughnuts and killing the yeast, and the foil allows you to lift the doughnuts by sliding a spatula under them without disturbing them.)
Take a cup of the flour and use a pastry cutter to cut the Crisco into it until a very fine crumble forms. Then use the pastry cutter to mix and cut this mixture into the rest of the flour. (I found this two-step procedure ensures a finer texture.) Place this mixture in a microwave for two minutes at the lowest or second lowest power setting. You want to gently warm the mixture but not melt the Crisco.
Whisk the milk, sugar and egg in a metal pan over a medium flame until it is warm but not hot to the touch while the flour heats in the microwave. Add the yeast and continue whisking off the heat until the flour is done heating.
Whisk 1/2 to 1 cup of flour at a time into the yeast mixture. (The reason for adding small quantities it so that you don't accidentally add so much flour that the whisk clogs up and is a mess the clean.) Once the mixture gets too thick for the whisk, switch to mixing with the handle of a wood spoon and add the remainder of the flour. Just before the mixture pulls together into a ball, add the 3/4 teaspoon of salt. (Yeast grows better in fresh water than salt water. Adding the salt at the end like this slows it's dissolving and helps the yeast raise faster.)
Finish mixing until the dough forms a ball. Use a stiff plastic scraper to clean off the sides of the bowl and scoop everything together into a ball. Kneed the dough until it's smooth, about one minute.
Take the warmed cutting board and rolling pin out of the oven, flour both and place the dough on the board. Roll it out so it's a 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Use a 3 and 1/2 inch diameter cookie cutter to cut out six to eight rounds, depending on the shape of the dough. Dip the cutter into flour before each cut. Lift out the surrounding dough and throw it away. (I've tried kneading it smooth and rerolling it but doughnuts made from second-hand dough never raise high enough to make a light dougnut.) Use a 1 and 5/8 inch diameter cutter to cut holes from the center of each round. (Don't worry if the holes look too large. They close up a little as the dough raises.) Pick the doughnut hole up out of each doughnut as soon as it's cut or the sticky sides will glue the hole back to the inside of the doughnut.
By the time you get this done the doughnuts will already have raised 1/4 inch so treat them very gently. From now on the strategy is to do everything possible to preserve the gas the yeast is giving off in the raising process. Bumpling, pressing, or almost any disturbance will cause some of the gas (carbon dioxide) to escape and the doughnuts, which rely on it to expand when they hit the hot oil, will not raise as high. Using a spatula, carefully transfer each doughnut to one of the foil rectangles on the cookie sheet.
Close the oven door and let them raise for 15 to 20 minutes. The doughnuts need to be 1 and 1/2 inches high or higher to puff properly when they hit the oil.
Doughnuts-to-be going into a 100 degree oven to raise.
Fifteen to 20 minutes later they should be 1 and 1/2 inches high or higher. If not, then give them another five minutes. Check to make sure the oven is kept at an even 100 degrees. (The reason for warming all the ingredients, cutting board, and raising pan is to to keep the dough warm so it raises faster. Using this technique the doughnuts will raise as high in 15 minutes as they might in an hour or more if cold ingredients and instruments are used.)
Once they've raised, very gently slide a metal spatula under the foil on which one of them rests and lift it out. Close the door of the oven to keep the remaining doughnuts warm.
Gently ease the doughnut, foil and all, into the 375 degree oil until it's floating. Then use the spatula to push the foil down into the oil and away from the doughnut. Again using the spatula, push the foil to one side and up, out of the oil. Be careful not to drip any oil on the top of the doughnut. (This sounds like a complicated maneuver but it really goes all in one step. The reason for all this is again to prevent disturbing the doughnut, which would reduce it's puff.)
Let the doughnut fry for 20 to 40 seconds or until the edge of the bottom is a light golden brown. Gently flip the doughnut over for another 20 to 40 seconds to cook what will be the top. (The second side cooked always comes out rounder than the first and makes a more attractive top for the doughnut.)
Lift the fried doughnut out of the oil, let it drip one or two seconds, then place it on a paper towel.
Quickly use the towel to blot off any oil on the surface of the doughnut. Be careful, even if the doughnut looks dry it can have enough hot oil on it to cause a serious burn. (Placing a doughnut on a rack "to drain" is fictitious. Try it and except for the few drops that fall back into the cooker when the doughnut is pulled out, the remainder soaks in. Blotting removes some of the surface oil that can make the doughnut taste greasy and prevent the glaze from adhering to the doughnut.)
Place the doughnuts on a wire rack to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. I like to elevate the rack several inches off the kitchen counter so that the bottoms of the doughnuts aren't kept warm by reflected heat. If they do, then grease inside the doughnut will tend to migrate to the warmer areas from the cooler areas and make sections of it greasy. (Note the light ring around the middle of the front three doughnuts. This is caused by the gas in the doughnut expanding so much when it hits the hot oil that the middle of the doughnut is kept slightly above the oil so it doesn't cook as much. If doughnuts don't raise high enough they won't float high enough and the middle of the dough will end up getting cooked twice, once as each side of the doughnut is fried. This results in a dark band around the middle, as can be seen in the doughnuts in the back row. These doughnuts will not be as light as the front row. They also have the risk of being greasier because they have less gas there to expand so there is less escaping gas to push outward preventing the liquid oil from getting into the doughnut. If your first doughnut has a dark band, let the rest raise more before trying to fry them. Also, no matter how evenly the dough is rolled out, there will always be some variation in thickness. Consequently some doughnuts will raise faster than others. When selecting which to fry first always choose the ones that have risen the highest.)
While the doughnuts cool, whisk the water into the powdered sugar to make the glaze. Cover and set aside.
Once the doughnuts are cool, place one on a wire rack held over a wide mouthed container and pour the glaze over the doughnut, completely covering it. Let the excess drip off into the wide mouthed container. After it's done dripping, transfer the doughnut to another rack, get a second doughnut and repeat the glazing process. When the first container runs out of glaze, trade it for the one under the rack and continue. (I've tried dipping and brushing the glaze on and found that the pouring technique provides the quickest and best coating by far.)
Let the glaze dry and harden, during which it will turn glossy, crisp, and transparent, place on a serving dish and dig in!
A plate of doughnuts looks good, but...
...the proof is in the eating. These doughnuts come out large, light, and lip-smackingly good.
Rather than throwing the leftover dough away it can be cut into small rounds, left to raise and fried for doughnut holes. Many people prefer them to real doughnuts. (I suspect it has something to do with their higher sugar-to-doughnut ratio.) The 1 and 5/8 inch cutter used to cut the center out of the doughnuts is actually a little too large for good doughnut holes, which should be more bite-sized. I've found a 1 and 1/4 inch diameter cutter works better.
I tried using cake flour to make the doughnuts lighter but it didn't work. It has so little gluten, the stretchy protein in flour that traps the gas, that it can't hold onto the gas and doesn't raise properly. Using better for bread flour created a higher rise but the doughnuts came out too chewy.
Leaving the Crisco out makes the doughnuts chewy. The reason is that Crisco acts as a shortening to limit how long the gluten strings can get. Short gluten strings makes for a lighter doughnut. This is the same process that makes biscuits tender instead of chewy.
Using liquid oils or melted butter didn't provide the shortening effect needed, the doughnuts came out chewy. I suspect this is because as a liquid they can be absorbed by individual flour grains.
I found that using less than 3/4 teaspoon of salt made the doughnuts taste insipid. Using more reduced the amount they raised.
Less than three tablespoons of sugar seemed to cause some batches to stop rising before they'd gotten high enough. Using more didn't seem to help.
Leaving the egg out appeared to make the doughnuts in the one test batch I tried this on come out greasy. It could be that the egg helps bind up the surface of the dough and prevent grease from getting in.
To increase the amount of raising I tried spritzing the doughnuts with warm water before placing them on the foil. The doughnuts rose higher, but when fried the surface often took on a wrinkled look. Also, sprayed doughnuts tended to spread into odd shapes.
Making the dough softer by increasing the amount of milk or decreasing the amount of flour resulted in doughnuts that spread outward more then upward as they rose. This made the doughnuts look a little flat. Also, the center holes tended to close up causing grease to spurt out, which created a burn hazard.
Making the holes smaller tended to allow the bubbling oil to pump grease up the throat of the doughnut, soaking the center with oil.
Decreasing the amount of Crisco made the doughnuts chewy while increasing it didn't make them more tender.
Cooking time depends on temperature. At 365 degrees the doughnuts take to the count of 80 (about 40 seconds) to brown on one side. At 375 this is reduced to 30 seconds. At 425 degrees it only takes 20 seconds to cook one side. But, cooking at this high a temperature causes a dangerous amount of splattering and creates an unevenness to the browning. I found 375 degrees was a good compromise.
Increasing the amount of water in the glaze results in a coating that's too thin. Decreasing the amount of water makes a glaze that dries white. Pouring the glaze over hot doughnuts creates a shinier glaze, but also traps moisture inside the doughnuts that quickly makes them soft and spongy. This moisture also causes the glaze to soften aftre half an hour.
Warming the glaze before pouring it over the doughnuts tends to cause sheets of crystallized sugar to form on the surface of the glaze before it's poured, sometimes resulting in chunks of glaze sticking out of the surface of the doughnut.
Placing warm, wet towels in the oven to increase the humidity didn't seem to help the doughnuts raise any higher.
Using the doughnut cutters upside down so that the dull edge is pushed through the dough results in doughnuts that have an odd, flat look.
Spraying the doughnuts with oil and covering them with plastic wrap did not help them to raise higher.
Using spray oil to prevent the dough from sticking to the cutting board doesn't not work as well as flouring the board. In fact the oil makes it stick to the board tenaciously.
Not putting a little flour on the foil results in doughnuts that tend to have flatter bottoms when fried and that are greasier.
Using whole milk, 2 percent milk, skim milk and even water had little effect on how the doughnuts looked or rose or their texture. Any milk gave them a better flavor.
Using an aluminum foil that does not have a non-stick Teflon lining causes the doughnut to stick to it when fried, even if the foil is sprayed with oil before the doughnut is placed on it to raise.
Letting the doughnuts rise on the floured board works, but when a spatula is slid under them to transfer them to the fryer it invariably deflates them a little resulting in them not puffing as high.
You can use larger cutters to make larger doughnuts, but they get hard to eat. Also, larger doughnuts seem to have a greater tendency to come out greasy.
I've read that doughnuts can also be baked in a 425 to 450 degree oven. I tried it and they came out tough with a thick skin, nothing close in quality to fried doughnuts. Worse still, they browned unevenly with any high points turning a burnt color.
I tried adding baking powder and/or baking soda to the recipe to see if it would give an extra boost to the raising when they were fried, but it had no effect.
Buttermilk give doughnuts a sharp edge that's tasty, but not the flavor I think of for raised doughnuts. Using potato water in place of milk gives the doughnuts an aromatic earthiness that put me off.
Research has led me to believe that commercial glazes have an additive called Agar making up 1 percent of the glaze by weight that makes the glaze thicker, shinier, more transparent, and more stable. I haven't been able to obtain any of it to see if this is true.
From time to time a doughnut comes out that has a slight greasiness to the bottom. I believe this is caused by not using enough flour in the foil. In such cases the dough contacts the foil, traps moisture, and causes too thin a skin to form, which allows oil to seep into the doughnut when it fries.
Making good doughnuts at home can be challenging. I think it's a lot more fun to go to a good doughnut store and buy them.
Note: In June of 2005 I received an email from Lydia Lane, A professional cake decorator, who very kindly offered the following suggestion:
1. SAF Gourmet Rapid Rise yeast should produce a greater rise than regular yeast.
2. Agar, used to improve the shine and texture of glazes, can have a fishy smell.
3. C & H's patented powdered sugar DRIVERT doesn't have cornstarch in it (can give the sugar a bitter edge) and has an additive that helps produce a good shine.
4. Blue label solid Crisco shortening is the best medium for frying doughnuts because less of it will be absorbed by the dough during the frying process.
5. My recipe seems a little low on eggs. Increasing them may increase the rise and improve the texture.
Thank you, Lydia! I'll certainly follow your suggestions next time I make doughnuts and report how they turned out.
UPDATE!!! Shortly after posting the above I tried three more experiments. Using Crisco did seem to reduce the greasiness of the doughnuts a little, though I'm not sure it was enough to warrant the hassle of using it. I tried Fleishmann's Rapid Rise yeast and have to report that it didn't raise any faster or provide a high raise than regular yeast. However, I go to a lot of effort to provide the perfect, warm environment of raising. Perhaps the Rapid Rise yeast is designed to be more forgiving so that it works better under adverse conditions. Finally, I increased the eggs in my recipe from one to two, decreasing the amount of milk to keep the total liquid content the same. The extra egg did not cause the doughnuts to rise any higher and oddly enough, caused this test batch to be consistently greasier than any other recipe I tried. I have no idea why.
There's one other observation I need to make: Sometimes the doughnuts don't raise at high as others. I don't know why because I'm very careful when making them to keep everything the same as possible. It seems there are still many aspects to making doughnuts that still elude me.
Caution: Making doughnuts involves the use of hot oil that can cause serious burns. Only try making them with the supervision of a knowledgeable adult.
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