Why It Works
- Brown butter adds subtle notes of nutty, toasty flavor.
- Rinsing russet potatoes before and after cooking removes excess starch, ensuring fluffy, not gluey, potatoes.
- Kneading the dough develops structure, helping the doughnuts keep their shape and contributing to a smoother skin that absorbs less oil.
- Using refined coconut oil for frying yields lighter, crisper doughnuts with a buttery finish.
If you’ve only ever had puffy, light-as-air yeast doughnuts or dense cake doughnuts with their compact crumb and crisp exterior, you’re in for a treat. Potato doughnuts combine the best of both worlds—crisp shells encasing fluffy insides with a rich, buttery flavor. The dough can accommodate various flavorings and will hold up to a thin glaze or light icing once fried, neither of which is an easy feat for doughnuts. Years ago, I ate my first potato doughnut at a Holy Donut in Portland, Maine. If my memory serves me right, I had a toasted coconut doughnut (I’m a sucker for any sweet that has coconut) and my husband helped himself to a vanilla glazed. Generously swathed in toasted shredded coconut and a sweet coconut glaze, the doughnut itself had a remarkably soft, fluffy crumb and a delicate crispy crust. That doughnut won me over. After we polished ours off, we headed right back inside for more.
While their exact origin is unknown, Serious Eats' own Stella Parks writes in her book, Bravetart, that doughnuts were once exclusively made with fresh yeast, like sourdough starter or potato yeast, the latter a symbiotic community of microbes made from a fermented mix of mashed potatoes and water. Potato yeast became a popular leavener due to its tendency to deliver moist, tender doughnuts. According to Parks, doughnuts made with potato yeast may have morphed into what we know today as potato doughnuts. The modern version replaces some of the flour in a standard doughnut with plain mashed potatoes while getting its leavening, not from potato yeast, but instead baking powder or soda.
Beside the usual suspects of flour, salt, baking powder and soda, eggs, and sugar, I reach for ground nutmeg and vanilla extract, a combination that permeates the dough with a subtle perfumed sweetness. I also rely on browned butter for its nutty richness that enhances the overall flavor of the doughnuts. Lastly, I use equal parts whole milk and buttermilk (an ingredient that reacts with the baking soda to help aerate the dough), which adds depth and a slightly tangy flavor. Previous tests with whole milk, buttermilk, and sour cream tasted one-dimensional, falling short on flavor.
For the mash in this recipe, I stick with russet potatoes, which have a fine, dry texture that is key to producing airy doughnuts. Rinsing the cubed potatoes both before and after boiling works to remove as much of the surface starch as possible—that excess starch is one of the main causes of gluey potatoes, which can similarly weigh down doughnuts. Once drained, I tip the potatoes back into the pot over low heat and give them a shake to evaporate any lingering moisture that could contribute to a wetter dough. Using a ricer effortlessly breaks down the cooked potatoes and results in a light, fluffy mash without any stubborn lumps.
Once the dough is mixed, I turn it out on a flour-dusted surface and knead until it’s smooth and no longer sticks to my hands, which takes less than a minute. Kneading the dough develops structure which the doughnuts need to hold their shape, otherwise they can sag into a misshapen ring or even disintegrate in the hot oil. The smoother skin also decreases the total surface area, preventing the doughnuts from absorbing more oil and becoming greasy as they fry.
When the dough has been rolled out until it’s ½ inch thick, I like to use 3-inch and 1-inch round cutters to cut out the doughnuts—a process that I find soothing and yields perfectly symmetrical rings. If you don’t have a set of nested round cutters or desire a more rustic appearance, you can use the rim of a drinking glass to stamp out circles; follow up with a firm poke in the center of each and then gently pull to form a hole in the middle. Gather up the scraps, knead together briefly, and cut out a few more doughnuts. Toss any leftover dough after that, as doughnuts made from twice-rolled scraps will be noticeably tough from being overworked.
For frying, I take a page out of Stella’s playbook and use refined coconut oil. Having been a long-time vegetable-oil user, I was eager to try out what I hoped would spare my kitchen from that notorious fried-food smell. Thanks to a high smoke point and fewer volatile compounds (both of which minimize its odor and flavor), refined coconut oil worked well, filling my kitchen with the heavenly scent of doughnuts. Plus, since it’s solid at room temperature, it imparts the doughnuts with a lighter, crisper texture and a buttery richness. (To satiate my own curiosity, I fried up a batch of doughnuts in vegetable oil and found that they had a slightly squishy texture and a slick finish).
As soon as the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, it’s time to select your finish: powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. My husband sticks with melt-in-your-mouth powdered sugar, while my toddler and I love the added crunch and earthy sweetness from the cinnamon sugar. Whatever you end up choosing, make sure to liberally coat your doughnuts on both sides with it. Between the plush crumb, crisp crust, and sugary coating, these potato doughnuts won’t last long.
- 1.4 ounces (40g; about 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 12 ounces russet potatoes (340g; about 2 medium potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 12.5 ounces all-purpose flour (355g; about 2 3/4 cups), such as Gold Medal
- 2 teaspoons (8g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4.6 ounces (130g; 2/3 cup) sugar
- 2 large eggs (3 1/2 ounces; 100g)
- 2 ounces (55g; 1/4 cup) whole milk
- 2 ounces (55g; 1/4 cup) cultured lowfat buttermilk, well-shaken
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7g) vanilla extract
- Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting (see note)
- 2 quarts (1.9L) refined coconut oil, such as Nutiva, for frying
In a small stainless-steel saucier or saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently with a heat-resistant spatula, scraping up brown bits that form on bottom, until foaming subsides and butter is golden and milk solids are chestnut brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large heatproof bowl; set aside.
Place potatoes in a medium bowl and cover with cool water. Using your hands, swish potatoes until water turns cloudy, about 30 seconds. Using a colander, drain potatoes, discarding the cloudy soaking water. Return potatoes to bowl, refill with cool water, and repeat rinsing process until water runs clear.
Transfer drained potatoes to a 3-quart saucepan and add 1 quart (945ml) cold water so that potatoes are just submerged. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender and offer little resistance when pierced with a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes in colander, then rinse under hot running water for 30 seconds to wash away excess starch.
Return drained potatoes to now-empty saucepan. Set over low heat and cook, shaking saucepan constantly, until surface moisture has evaporated from potatoes, about 1 minute.
Pass potatoes through a ricer or food mill onto a rimmed baking sheet, spreading them into an even layer to allow them to cool slightly. Set aside.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg until well combined, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Add sugar and eggs to bowl with cooled brown butter and whisk until smooth, fluffy, and light in color, about 1 minute. Whisk in milk, buttermilk, vanilla extract, and 5 ounces (140g; 1 lightly packed cup) riced potatoes until well combined; reserve remaining potatoes for another use.
Add flour mixture to potato mixture. Using a flexible spatula, stir until no dry flour remains and a soft, slightly sticky, shaggy dough forms, about 1 minute.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and, using floured hands, knead until dough is mostly smooth and no longer sticks to your hands, about 45 seconds. Dust work surface, dough, and hands with more flour as needed throughout the kneading process.
Lightly dust work surface with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough into a 1/2-inch-thick circle. Using a 3-inch round cutter, stamp out doughnuts, dipping the cutter in flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Transfer doughnuts to prepared baking sheet; you may need to slide an offset spatula under the cut-out circles of dough to loosen them from work surface. Using a 1-inch round cutter, cut out rounds from the center of each doughnut to form a ring, dipping the cutter in flour as needed. Gather scraps, knead briefly, and repeat rolling and cutting out doughnuts with the leftover dough; discard any remaining dough.
Prepare a small fine-mesh strainer with powdered sugar set in a bowl, or fill a shallow bowl with cinnamon sugar. Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and line rack with a double layer of paper towels. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high to 365°F (185°C). Working in batches of 4, carefully add doughnuts to hot oil, dropping doughnuts from as close to the oil’s surface as possible to minimize splashing. Fry, using a spider or slotted spoon to flip doughnuts halfway through, until golden brown on all sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer doughnuts to prepared wire rack.
Return oil to 365°F (185°C) and repeat frying process with remaining doughnuts, continuing to work in batches of 4.
When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, dust with powdered sugar or dip in cinnamon sugar, turning to coat on all sides. Transfer doughnuts to a serving platter and enjoy immediately.
To make cinnamon sugar, combine 1 cup (200g; 7 ounces) sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon in a wide shallow bowl. Whisk until well combined.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Potato doughnuts are best enjoyed the same day they’re made.