To put it conservatively, Pat is a donut enthusiast. He loves any kind of donuts. Hot, cold, filled, glazed, or plain. From anywhere. Safeway, Krispy Kreme, or fancy craft donut shops. On most days on our way home from work, he asks me if we can stop and get donuts. So when we were visiting South Carolina, of course the topics of donuts came up. There is a store in our little downtown that serves donuts, but only on Fridays. So my Dad had a brilliant idea – let’s make our own donuts! I make pizza dough all the time, so I figured I was experienced enough with yeast to be able to do it. So I browsed some recipes and found this one by the Pioneer Woman. I am a big fan of her recipes and she’s very good with comfort food so I decided to give it a try.
Working with yeast can be scary. It is a living organism and if it doesn’t work for some reason, can ruin your recipe. But never fear! Working with yeast is actually easy if you think about it as a living organism and what it is doing for you. The whole point of cooking with yeast is to generate carbon dioxide gas, which creates air pockets and lifts the dough. You can do this without yeast by using baking powder or baking soda, so why use yeast? Well the other thing yeast does is generate flavor. While the yeast is breaking down the sugar you put in and the sugars in the flour, it is generating flavor molecules. Yeast is really good at this and a lot of companies will add yeast extract to their food to give it that umami flavor.
Yeast comes dried and dormant in a package, so you need to wake it up with a warm liquid, but not too warm or you will kill it. To wake it up, use warm milk (or warm water) at about 110-115 degrees. When the yeast wakes, it will want something to eat – that’s where the sugar comes in. After you mix the milk with the sugar, the yeast will start to bubble after a few minutes, which is how you know it is waking up. It’s breaking down the sugar and turning it into carbon dioxide gas. Then, you mix it up with the flour and other things and then kneed. Kneeding helps develop gluten in the flour, which makes the bread springy and chewy.
Finally, it needs to rest and rise. This stage is where the yeast works it’s magic and ferments the sugar, generating carbon dioxide to raise the dough. If you’re just making something like pizza dough or a simple bread, this stage can happen in just an hour or so at room temperature. But if you’re making something with an enriched dough, meaning it has eggs and milk in it, that really slows down the fermentation process and it must rise for much, much longer. You can let the dough rise at room temperature for about 5 hours, or you can leave it in the fridge for about 8-9 hours. In the fridge, it will rise much slower because of the cold temperature.
After the dough has risen overnight, you need to make it into the shape of a doughnut. To do this, you have to roll it out, which pops all of the air bubbles you spent so long making! To compensate, you do a second rise, to regenerate those bubbles before you cook it. This second rise only takes about an hour. Then once you cook it, the carbon dioxide expands, making those air pockets slightly bigger, giving you really fluffy bread or donuts!
Left: before second rise. Right: after second rise
Once you’ve got the donuts ready, now you have to do the second scary part – frying. Frying is really not that hard, but if you don’t do it right, your food with be greasy. To avoid this, the oil needs to be at the right temperature – 350 degrees to be exact. If it’s below that, as soon as you add the donut to the oil it will just absorb the grease, and be soft, greasy, and not crispy. You don’t need a deep fryer to fry. I used one because my Dad has one and it does make frying easy because you can set it to the right temperature, but frying in a Dutch oven or cast iron skillet is just as easy. The donuts float, so you don’t need to even have that much oil, just about 2 inches or so.
The donuts only need to cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown. They need to be set on a paper towel to get off the excess oil and then transferred to a wire rack. The rack is key so that the donuts stay crispy and don’t get soggy sitting on a paper towel. Once the donuts have cooled for about a minute, dip the donuts fully in the glaze until they are coated and let them solidify on a wire rack. Then eat them while they are warm and ENJOY! They may be a lot of work, but BOY are they worth it!
Homemade glazed donuts
Prep time: overnight, plus 1.5 hours the next day
For the donuts:
1 1/8 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 package of yeast (7g)
2 large eggs
1 1/4 sticks butter, melted
4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
Vegetable oil or shortening for frying
For the glaze:
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
~1/2 cup whole milk
Heat the milk in a sauce pot to 110-115 degrees. Add the milk to a bowl with the yeast and sugar, stirring to mix. Let sit for about 5 minutes or until a few bubbles appear on the surface. Add the melted butter to the bowl of a stand mixer. The butter should be slightly cooled so that when you add the eggs, they don’t cook. Add the eggs. Then add the milk, yeast mixture, then the flour in about 1/4 cup increments and salt. Mix for 5 minutes on medium speed or kneed by hand. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise in the fridge overnight.
In the morning, the dough will be doubled. Pour it out onto a floured surface and roll out with a rolling pin until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out with a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass. To make the hole, you can use a small biscuit cutter or I used the small plastic container that tooth picks come in. Keep recombining and rolling out the dough to make as many donuts as you can. You can cut up what is left and fry that too in little irregular sized bits. Cover the donuts with a dish towel and let them rise again for an hour, or until doubled in size.
To make the glaze, whisk all of the ingredients in a bowl and add milk until it is a just thinned consistency.
Heat about 2 inches of oil in a cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. Add the donuts, frying on each side for about 2 minutes or until they are golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel lined sheet and then to a wire rack. Once slightly cooled, dip into the glaze and let it solidify on a wire rack.