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.
- 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
- 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.
- Add the milk, butter (make sure it is fully melted), eggs and half (40ml) of the water to the flour.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!).
- 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.
- Take them out of the oil and leave to cool on a cooling rack.
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