yeast donut dough is ready to proof

The Science of Basic Yeast-Leavened Donuts (+ Recipe)

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.

Donut dough rising in the oven

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.

donuts without a hole, with jam

Storing donuts

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.

yeast donut dough is ready to proof

A basic yeast donut

Yield: 30 medium sized donuts
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

This is a recipe for a basic yeast raised donut. It requires some time to proof but will then give a light textured plain donut. Spice it up with icing and other toppings! The recipe is inspired by the recipe I learned while taking a donut class at the Chopping Block.


  • 600g all purpose flour
  • 1,5 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg or cinnamon (the donuts won't taste like nutmeg or cinnamon, creates some depth of flavour)
  • 55g sugar (regular granulated)
  • 355ml milk - at room temperature (to ensure the yeast won't be slowed down by a low temperature)
  • 115g butter - melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 80ml water (don't pour everything in at once, hold some back)
  • Oil for frying, e.g. sunflower or canola oil


  1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast, ground spices and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or, if you're kneading by hand, in a regular bowl) and mix through.
  2. Add the milk, butter (make sure it is fully melted), eggs and half (40ml) of the water to the flour.
  3. Knead the mixture with your stand mixer (or by hand, it will be sticky for a while due to the high butter content), it will take several minutes to come together. If the dough stays very dry, add the remainder of the milk, it should form a smooth ball that just releases from the sides of the bowl. At the end of kneading it should be flexible and soft, not sticky. If it is very sticky, add a little extra flour.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a plate and leave to rise. The duration depends on the temperature of the room but it will take about 1-1,5 hours. When it's finished it should have considerably increased in size and have become a lot more airy and flexible.
  5. Flour a surface to prevent the dough from sticking to it and take the dough from the bowl. Use a rolling pin to gently roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm, don't exert too much force, you don't want to push out all the air. You could even do this with your hands.
  6. Cut the donuts in your desired shape, you can shape them in rectangles (no loss of dough!) or circles of 6-8cm (ideal for filled donuts, don't make them a lot larger or the center won't cook in time). Take the cut pieces of dough and place them on another floured surface to prevent them from sticking and leave to rise for another 30 minutes. They should have visibly increased in size while waiting!
  7. Heat the frying oil in a sturdy pot to 180C (don't heat to just under the rim, you don't want it to splash or overflow, halfway full tends to work fine!).
  8. Gently add the donuts to the oil, careful not to splash. Don't pinch the dough too much at this point to prevent strangely looking donuts. Fry until both sides are a nice golden colour. This should only take a few minutes.
  9. Take them out of the oil and leave to cool on a cooling rack.
  10. Enjoy!

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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  1. I tried this recipe but the donuts were a little dry from inside. What could be the reason. Can you please suggest something. Thanks

    • Hi Anju,

      Thanks for coming by and trying the recipe! There are a few options here: the first thing I would suggest is to reduce the frying time. Frying it for too long (or at too high temperatures) can dry out the dough. Also, tastes differ, if you like your donuts a bit more moist, you can try increasing the fat content slightly, or cover the donut in a glaze. The glaze will also help moisture stay within the donut while you store it. As goes for most donuts, these donuts do turn dry quite quickly. They will definitely still be edible a day later, but will be a little drier. Reheating them in the microwave for several seconds (but only if you don’t have a glaze) can in most cases revive the donut again.

      Hope that helps! Good luck.

    • Hi Phoebe,

      Great question and despite there being a ton of research in this area, the researchers have not found a main mechanism that helps you to prevent this. Here are a few tips that should help:

      • It is important to control the frying temperature of your oil. If it is too cold (or too hot) the overall frying time isn’t correct anymore and oil can be sucked in unwantedly. It seems to have something to do with crust formation, however, it isn’t really clear how that works.
      • Use fresh oil, one that hasn’t been used a lot for frying already. Some research suggests that using these older oils can impact the amount of oil absorption into the dough.
      • Ensure that you take out the donut with as little additional oil as you can. Research has shown that the majority of the oil is absorbed after frying, when the fried foods actually reabsorb some of that surrounding oil. So, place them on oil free kitchen towels or a rack where the oil can just drip away.
      • Hope those tips help!

  2. Hii I am just a bit confused about custard filled doughnuts. I don’t particularly want to use yeast or eggs to make my doughnuts but my question is if I do make an eggless no yeast doughnut, can I still fill it with custard filling?

    • Hi Aayu,

      Most custards really depend on egg, however, you can also try to use custard powder (type of corn starch generally) that will give you a very similar consistency! The flavour is slightly different but it should still work nicely!

  3. Wow, I actually love this recipe and I’m going to try it🥰
    I want to ask if I use custard powder for the custard filling is there still any need to use eggs to make the filling?

    • Hi!

      Glad you like it :-). If you use custard powder for the custard filling you do not need the eggs anymore, that’s correct! This article on ice cream explains the concept in some more detail!

    • Hi Milly,

      Did you cut the donut while hot? It might have not been fully cooked and by cutting it you release the steam that might cause it to collapse. Could that have happened for you?

  4. Hi,
    My name is Rufus and I make donuts and use 20kilograms of flour but my donuts sometimes comes out soft but other times hard. How much yeast should I use for the Said amount of flour 20kgs?

    • Hi Rufus,

      I’m afraid that it’s not just the amount of yeast that will impact the softness of your donuts! If you’re using the same amount of yeast every time, but do not work in a room where temperature and humidity are well controlled, the donuts can still turn out very differently! It might be that for some you’ve left them too long to proof, whereas others have not been proofed long enough.
      Also, softness is influenced quite a bit by other ingredients you add, for instance, the amount of fat (e.g. butter, margarine, egg yolks) and proteins (e.g. eggs, milks). Generally, enriched doughs are a lot softer than those made with just flour, water and yeast. This article might help.

      With regards to your question on yeast quantity. If you’re using our recipe, you’d need: 20/0,6*4=133 tsp of yeast. However, you probably realize that’s not very practical to measure :-). So for these larger quantities I would switch to a by weight basis. It’s best to determine this for the yeast type you use.

      Good luck!

  5. I try to get by with as little sugar in my dough recipe as possible but definitely the oil gets all up in there if there is none at all. But funny, I prefer the taste of them with all the other sugary add-ons. I’m wondering if there is a minimum ratio, flour to sugar, when the maillard reaction won’t work anymore.

    • Hi Nina,

      I also prefer my donuts themselves not too sweet and let the toppings make up for that!

      Interestingly enough, the Maillard reaction will happen even if there’s no sugar at all (just think of bread making, where you’d only use flour, water, yeast and salt, those breads still brown nicely!). However, it will be slower. Also, if you’re using yeast in your dough, the yeast will probably eat a good amount of the sugar you’re adding (it’s ‘free’ food for them!) so the sugar (especially in smaller quantities) serves more to feed your yeast than to brown your donut. As such, you can leave out all the sugar and still get a brown (though maybe a little lighter in color) donut! If you want it browner, simply fry at a slightly higher temperature.

  6. I noticed my twisted doughnuts tend to absorb more oil than plain round ones. What could be the cause of this? Am I not twisting the dough properly or is it something else entirely?

    • Hi Natasha,

      I’ve tried to find a proper answer, hoping some researcher looked into this at some point, but with no luck! So all I have are a few best guesses from my end:

      • Are the twisted doughnuts larger in overall size? If so, they could affect oil temperature more which is known to impact the amount of oil absorption. Too low temperatures lead to more absorption of oil.
      • My guess is that the twisted doughnuts have a slightly rougher surface? That might cause more oil absorption. Maybe they also have more nooks in which oil can stay on top of the donut when it’s taken out and thus seep back in?
      • Probably the twisted doughnuts have been ‘tightened’ more. By twisting them the overall surface changes. I’m not exactly sure whether this could have an impact, but it might impact leavening of the doughnut in the oil and maybe also the oil uptake? Not completely sure on this one though :-).

      Would any of these make sense?

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