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Chocolate, lemon, red velvet or maybe you prefer just a plain donut? There’s so many donuts out there, it can be hard to choose. Even though flavours might be overwhelming to say the least, texture wise most of us know what we’re looking for. Are you looking for a light and airy donut, or a more dense, rich, cakey one? If it’s the former, a yeast donut is probably your thing! And you’re in luck, because, we’ll be disussing all thing yeast donuts. (If you’d prefer a cake donut, no problem. No idea whether you’d like a cake or yeast donut? Learn more about the difference!)
What is a yeast donut?
Yeast donuts, as the name says, are donuts that you make using yeast. The dough is leavened and made airy thanks to the yeast in the dough. The yeast ferments, it eats sugar in the dough and transforms it into water and gas, carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide gets trapped inside the dough and will puff it up.
Making a yeast donut starts pretty similarly as a rich sweet bread, a bit like a brioche. You mix flour with butter, sugar, milk, eggs, yeast and a few other minor ingredients into a nice dough. The butter and the fat in the eggs help make your donut soft and rich. The sugar sweetens the dough and helps it brown during frying (thanks to the Mailard reaction).
After that, you’ll have to leave it for the yeast to do its work. The dough leavens, develops flavour and becomes somewhat softer in texture.
Types of yeast donuts
Of course, there are a lot of other dough variations for a yeast donut. First of all, you can make them using sourdough. This type of donut wil require some more patience since these doughs don’t leaven as quickly. Alternatively, you can use a water roux to help improve and soften the texture further.
Shaping yeast donuts
Once a yeast dough has proofed properly you can transform it into a donut. Some recipes ask you to roll out the dough and press out the donut shape (this one for instance). Others ask you to make a strand of dough, bring the two ends together and form a ring. Others just say to make a ball of your dough and leave the characteristic donut ring. These roundish donuts are especially good to use for making a filled donut.
Donuts are flexible and so are the ways of making them. When choosing a way to shape them keep in mind the type of dough you’re using. Some doughs simply aren’t up for being made into a strand (not enough gluten/strength to hold it up) whereas others really can’t be rolled out (too sticky).
What happens when frying a yeast donut?
Once you’ve transformed the dough into donuts and have left them to proof for a second time, it is time to fry the donuts. Frying of yeast donuts is very similar to oliebollen, also called Dutch donuts. You fry the dough in hot oil, of about 180C. The hot oil immediately sears and cooks the outside. The starch gelatinizes, the sugar & proteins form brown colours (thanks to the Maillard reaction), moisture evaporates and the yeast leaves one last puff of air before it dies because of the high heat.
Can you bake yeast donuts in the oven?
Yes, you could. However, baking them will take a significant longer amount of time. The efficiency of heat transfer through air as opposed to snow is simply lower. Also, the overall texture will be slightly different and chances are it turns out more like a rich bread then a light and airy donut.
Storing yeast donuts
If you happen to not finish your donuts within one or two days, you would want to know how to store them best. Before looking into that though, you would need to know what happens when a donut gets old, so you can come up with the optimal storage conditions to prevent exactly that.
How yeast donuts get old
If you leave a donut lying around on a plate for a while there is bound to be transfer of moisture. Moisture from within the donut will evaporate. Moisture from an icing may also evaporate, making the icing crispy instead of soft.
If you’ve got a sugar coated donut the sugar layer will absorb moisture from the donut and the environment. Sugar is quite hygroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture. This can cause the sugar to look a little more clumpy.
Also, as with any flour based bake, the donut will start staling. The process is actually very similar to that of bread and involves starches the recrystallize. Extra fat in the dough can delay the process though which is why donuts won’t be as stale as fast as a bread (and why cake donuts tend to keep longer than yeast donuts). The same goes for sourdough donuts, these also tend to stay fresh and moist for longer than their non-sourdough counterparts.
These moisture migration and staling issues are pretty much irreversible. Therefore, eating the donuts fresh is always the best solution. But when you can’t, at least cover the donut up. Don’t do this in a completely closed plastic container, paper or a box work better here since they prevent moisture from sitting on your donut. However, this will make the donut dry out more quickly.
Storing donut dough
For the recipe at the bottom of this post you can freeze the donut dough at the point that the dough is just ready to start its last rise. When you take the dough balls out of the freezer again you’d have to thaw them. This will also slowly reactivate the yeast which sets in the last rise you need just before baking.
If you would have given them that last rise before freezing they wouldn’t really be able to introduce any more air once they’ve been thawed and give less fluffy donuts.
Cake Spy, Holey Grail: Why do donuts have holes, link; a great collection of possible backgrounds of the hole in the donut
RVO Info central, What is the difference between a yeast raised and cake donut?, link
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