How to Make Fresh, Airy Donuts Every Time
True, you can always buy donuts; most supermarket bakeries sell them, and nearly every town has at least one local donut shop. But knowing how to make donuts brings its own sweet rewards: Yours will be fresher, less processed, and any flavor you like. One bite of your still-warm homemade donuts will be convincing enough that as long as you've got the time to make them from scratch, fresh from your kitchen will always trump store-bought.
Donuts (also spelled doughnuts) are deep-fried pastries made from dough. Donut-like fried pastries appear in many forms the world over, both savory and sweet. However, in the United States, donuts are most often sweet treats commonly enjoyed at breakfast. Although donuts are sometimes filled with jelly, jam, or pastry cream, the most common American donut type is circular with a hole in the center.
How the donut hole ended up in the center of the donut 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 donuts:
- Raised or yeast donuts: Featuring yeast for leavening, these donuts need to rise before frying.
- Cake donuts: Showcasing baking powder for leavening, the batter should be chilled before rolling to make it easier to handle.
How to Make Donuts at Home, Step-by-Step
Now that you know some basics, let's dive into how to make cake donuts—in other words, how to make donuts without yeast. To learn how to make donuts that are raised or yeast-based, try this recipe for Chocolate-Banana Donuts or try this recipe for Chocolate-Filled Donuts.
Step 1. Mix the Batter
Every donut recipe's batter will vary, but the way to combine wet and dry ingredients will be similar.
- Gather the ingredients for your desired donut. In one bowl combine the dry ingredients; set aside. In another bowl, combine the sugar and wet ingredients. Beat the sugar mixture with an electric mixer (we love the KitchenAid Ultra Power Hand Mixer, $59.99, Target) on medium speed 3 minutes or until thick. In a final small bowl, combine milk and melted butter.
- Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately to the sugar mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Cover and chill the dough 2 to 4 hours.
Step 2. Make the Coating, Glaze, or Icing
About a half-hour before the end of the chilling time, stir together a coating, glaze, or icing to top your donuts. Coatings and toppings should be prepared before you start to fry the donuts because they need to be added while the fried donuts are still slightly warm. Donuts can simply be coated with powdered sugar or granulated sugar. To do so, place the sugar in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate, then toss the warm donuts in the topping.
You can also master how to make donut glaze with your favorite flavors:
- Chocolate Glaze: In a small saucepan (such as a Cuisinart's 1½-Quart Saucepan, $22.99, Bed Bath & Beyond), melt 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate and 3 tablespoons butter over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in 3 cups powdered sugar and 1½ teaspoons vanilla. Stir in 4 to 5 tablespoons of warm water until the glaze coats the back of the spoon.
- Powdered Sugar Icing: That simple combination of powdered sugar and liquid.
- Chocolate Powdered Sugar Icing: The classic powdered sugar icing plus cocoa powder.
- Toppings: You can top iced donuts with chopped nuts, flaked coconut, cereal, sprinkles, or small candies. (Keep that candy handy for these two-for-one desserts with candy.)
Step 3. Roll and Cut the Dough
They just wouldn't be donuts without their classic shape. Here's how to get it.
- On a well-floured surface, roll the dough to ½-inch thickness. Do not stir additional flour into the dough; this can cause the finished donut recipe to be heavy and dry.
- Use a floured 2½-inch donut cutter to cut the dough into classic rings. Dip the cutter into flour between cuts to prevent the dough from sticking to the cutter. Each cut should produce one donut and one donut hole.
- Reroll dough scraps as necessary to make about 16 donuts and 16 donut holes. (Speaking of donut holes, did you know you can air-fry them to perfection?)
Step 4. Fry the Doughnuts
Don't be intimidated. We're here to talk you through every step of how to fry donuts. We promise: After a time or two, you'll get the hang of how to fry a donut at home—no sweat.
- If using an electric deep-fat fryer, heat the oil to 365°F according to the manufacturer's directions. Or, in a heavy, deep large saucepan, heat the oil to 365°F.
Test Kitchen Tip: The amount of oil you'll need depends on the fryer you use. Follow the 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 to allow the donuts to float in the oil.
- Ease a donut into the heated oil with a long-handle slotted spoon, taking care not to let the oil spatter. Fry the donuts, two or three at a time, in the oil 2 to 3 minutes or until they are golden brown, turning once.
- Remove the donuts with the slotted spoon, allowing excess oil to drain back into the fryer or pan.
- Drain the donuts on paper towels to avoid a greasy end result.
- Repeat with remaining dough.
- Cool the donuts slightly. Yes, just slightly; you want to enjoy them while they're still warm and soft!
Related: Or Try Baked Donuts
Step 5. Coat or Ice the Donuts
Add these optional finishing touches while the donuts are still slightly warm.
- To coat the donuts with powdered sugar or granulated sugar, simply roll them in the sugar until coated on all sides.
- To glaze, dip the tops of the donuts in the Chocolate Glaze, Powdered Sugar Icing, or Chocolate Powdered Sugar Icing (see Make the Coating, Glaze, or Icing, above). If desired, sprinkle iced donuts with chopped nuts, flaked coconut, or candy sprinkles. Allow the donuts to dry on a wire cooling rack.
You've officially learned how to make donuts at home! Now there's no need for a donut run (unless you're short on time or craving one of a donut chain's seasonal creations or limited edition candy bar-inspired mash-up recipes).
Safety Tips for Making Homemade Donuts
When deep-frying, the cooking oil reaches very high temperatures, which can start fires or cause burns. Before you roll up your sleeves to show off your new how-to-fry-a donut skills, keep in mind these safety guidelines:
- Have a kitchen fire extinguisher handy (and learn how to use it!) before you begin. (If you don't own one yet, you can order this Tundra Fire Extinguisher, $12.97, The Home Depot)
- Avoid letting water come into contact with the hot oil—the water will vaporize into steam, which can make the oil splatter 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.
Stock Up on This Special Equipment to Make DIY Donuts
A Deep-Fryer or a Heavy Pan and Frying Thermometer: A deep-fryer (such as this Oster 1½-Quart Stainless Steel Deep Fryer, $39.99, Target) 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 2½-inch Donut Cutter: If you don't have a donut cutter, use a 2½-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter (try this Ateco 2½-Inch Donut Cutter, $11, Walmart) 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.
You now know everything you need to succeed at making homemade donuts. With the right tools, a good recipe, and a mind for safety, you'll be whipping up dozen after dozen.