True, you can always buy doughnuts -- most supermarket bakeries sell them, and nearly every town has a doughnut shop. But making homemade doughnuts yourself brings its own sweet rewards: Yours will be fresher and better -- and it's a great project for a rainy weekend afternoon.
What Are Doughnuts?
Doughnuts (also spelled donuts) are deep-fried pastries made from dough. Doughnutlike fried pastries appear in many forms the world over, from savory to sweet. However, in the United States, doughnuts are most often sweet treats, commonly enjoyed at breakfast or as a midmorning or midafternoon snack. Although doughnuts are sometimes filled with jam or pastry cream, the most common American doughnut type is circular with a hole in the middle -- it looks like a puffy, chubby ring.
The Hole Story
How the hole ended up in the center of the doughnut is unclear, but one believable story is that in the mid-18th century, a Maine baker's apprentice was frustrated by a succession of fried pastries that turned out with underdone centers. The apprentice decided to poke holes in the pastries before frying to help them cook more evenly.
There are two basic ring-style doughnuts:
- Raised or yeast doughnuts: These call on yeast for leavening and need to rise before frying.
- Cake doughnuts: These call on baking powder for leavening; the batter needs to be chilled before rolling to make it easier to handle.
Safety First When Making Doughnuts
When deep-frying, the cooking oil reaches very high temperatures, which can start fires or cause burns. Before you roll up your sleeves to make doughnuts, review a few safety guidelines:
- Have a kitchen fire extinguisher handy (and learn now to use it!) before you begin.
- Avoid letting water come into contact with the hot oil -- the water will vaporize into steam, which can make the oil spatter and cause burns.
- Never use water to put out a grease fire. Use a kitchen fire extinguisher, or cover the fire with a metal lid.
- Always add oil to a cold fryer that is turned off or an unheated pan. Make sure any fryer or pan you use is dry and set away from sources of water.
- Never leave the fryer or pan unattended when it is in use.
- When finished frying, turn off and unplug the fryer (or remove the pan from the heat). Make sure the fryer or pan is completely cool before cleaning.
- Once oil is completely cooled, pour it into a resealable container and discard it in the trash. Never pour it down the drain, as it can harden and clog pipes.
Special Equipment for Making Doughnuts
- A deep-fryer or a heavy pan and frying thermometer: A deep-fryer is ideal because it allows you to set and regulate an exact frying temperature. However, you can also use a heavy, deep large saucepan and a frying thermometer.
- A 2-1/2-inch doughnut cutter: If you don't have a doughnut cutter, use a 2-1/2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut the main circles and a smaller round cutter for the hole in the center.
- A long-handle slotted metal spoon: This is essential for easing the donuts into the oil, turning them, and taking them out of the oil.
How to Make Doughnuts
1. Gather the Ingredients
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- vegetable oil or shortening for deep-frying
- desired coating or icing
2. Make the Batter
- In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl combine eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 3 minutes or until thick. In a small bowl combine milk and melted butter.
- Add the flour mixture and milk mixture alternately to the egg mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Cover and chill the dough for 2 to 4 hours.
3. Prepare the Coating, Glaze, or Icing
About a half-hour before the end of the chilling time, get the coating, glaze, or icing ready for the doughnuts. Coatings and toppings should be prepared before you start to fry the doughnuts, as they should be applied while the fried doughnuts are still slightly warm. Doughnuts can simply be coated with powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Place the sugar in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate. Or you can ice the tops of the doughnuts with one of the following:
- Chocolate Glaze: In a small saucepan melt 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate and 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in 3 cups powdered sugar and 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Stir in 4 to 5 tablespoons warm water until the glaze coats the back of the spoon.
- Powdered Sugar Icing: In a small bowl combine 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk or orange juice, and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in additional milk or juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the icing reaches drizzling consistency.
- Chocolate Powdered Sugar Icing: Prepare Powdered Sugar Icing as directed, except add 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder to the powdered sugar and use milk, not orange juice.
- Toppings: You can top iced donuts with chopped nuts, flaked coconut, or candy sprinkles. Have these ready to go as well.
5. Cut the Dough
- Use a floured 2-1/2-inch doughnut cutter to cut the dough into rings. Dip the cutter into flour between cuts to prevent the dough from sticking to the cutter. Each cut should produce one doughnut and one doughnut hole.
- Reroll dough scraps as necessary to make about 16 doughnuts and 16 doughnut holes.
6. Fry the Doughnuts
- If using an electric deep-fat fryer, heat the oil to 365°F according to manufacturer's directions. Or, in a heavy, deep large saucepan, heat the oil to 365°F.
- Tip: The amount of oil you'll need depends on the fryer you use. Follow manufacturer's directions if using a deep-fryer. If you are using a heavy, deep large saucepan, you'll want to pour the oil to a depth of about 4 inches -- deep enough allow the doughnuts to float in the oil.
- Ease a doughnut into the heated oil with a long-handle slotted spoon, taking care not to let the oil spatter. Fry the doughnuts, two or three at a time, in the oil for 2 to 3 minutes or until they are golden brown, turning once.
- Remove the doughnuts with the slotted spoon, allowing excess oil to drain back into the fryer or pan.
- Drain the doughnuts on paper towels.
- Repeat with remaining doughnuts.
- Cool the doughnuts slightly.
7. Coat or Ice the Doughnuts
Add these optional finishing touches while the doughnuts are still slightly warm:
- To coat the doughnuts with powdered sugar or granulated sugar, simply roll them in the sugar until coated on all sides.
- To glaze, dip the tops of the doughnuts in the Chocolate Glaze, Powdered Sugar Icing, or Chocolate Powdered Sugar Icing (see Step 3, above). If desired, sprinkle iced doughnuts with chopped nuts, flaked coconut, or candy sprinkles. Allow the doughnuts to dry on a wire cooling rack.