When I was a child and my classmates would bring boxes of Krispy Kreme-style plain glazed doughnuts to school, I would pass altogether. Those sugary puffs of fat and air had nothing on the dense, wholesome-seeming cake doughnuts I adored, which looked and tasted so cakelike that indeed I found it hard to believe they were fried, as doughnuts were said to be. How could this ungreasy ring with its soft, close crumb have emerged from a cauldron of bubbling oil?
Alas, my dears—I have now seen it with my own eyes, and can say that it is so. Recently, I resolved to set aside a lifelong fear of deep frying at home. (My newlywed mother set the kitchen on fire making, yes, doughnuts before I was even born, but the story has a place of privilege in my psyche.) Fear conquered, I mixed up a batch of dough for glazed buttermilk cake doughnuts from Karen DeMasco's entrancing and reliable The Craft of Baking.
It doesn't look promising in its raw state, but as soon as you slip a thin disk of the sticky dough into hot oil it develops brown blisters on top, among other signs of transformation. When you flip the cake halfway through cooking, its glorious brown belly confirms that you are in fact making a perfect cake doughnut in your own kitchen. Minutes later, it sits on your cooling rack, demurely glazed and seemingly innocent of the oily fug that has settled over the room.
Although I expected the frying to be the challenging part of this process, a thermometer made it simple as can be. (If only my mother the child-bride had had one!) No, the moment I mentally vowed "I'm never making doughnuts again" came when I was handling the super-sticky dough, dipping and redipping my cutter and knife in flour. And the moment when I realized I would break my vow was when my husband sighed and said, "This is the best doughnut I have ever had. This is the best doughnut I have ever had! Can I take some to work?" A platter of freshly fried doughnuts will be welcomed with truly gratifying enthusiasm, if your friends and relations are normal human beings, and would be an especially amazing way to celebrate the end of the school year.
In case it doesn't go without saying, this recipe is not recommended for small or poorly ventilated apartments. Your cooking space will smell like funnel cake, and not really in a good way. Further note: I always use 2 tablespoons cornstarch plus 7/8 cup all purpose flour as the equivalent of 1 cup of cake flour.
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup grapeseed (preferred) or canola oil
- 3 3/4 cups cake flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 cups confectioners' sugar
- Peanut oil, for frying, enough to pour 2 inches deep in your frying pot
Whisk together the buttermilk, egg, egg yolks, and grapeseed or canola oil. Sift 2 cups of the flour into another bowl (or simply put it in the bowl and fluff it up with a whisk).
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour, the granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and lemon zest. Mix on low speed to combine. Add the buttermilk mixture and continue mixing just until the dough comes together. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a spatula gently to fold in the 2 cups of flour you set aside. The dough will be very sticky.
Transfer the dough to a 12 x 14 inch sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Put a second sheet of paper on top and roll the dough between the paper to an 8 x 10 inch oval 3/4 inch thick. Put the dough, still between the sheets of paper, on a baking sheet and freeze until it is firm enough to cut, about 30 minutes.
Take the dough from the freezer and remove the top sheet of paper. Dust the dough with flour and replace the paper. Flip the dough over and remove and discard the bottom sheet of paper (which is now on top). Now the dough is loosened from the paper and should be easy to cut.
Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or rub with a paper towel dipped in canola oil.
Cut out the doughnuts using a floured 3-inch round cutter. Cut out 1-inch centers (I used a knife, since I don't have a cutter that small; this was a pain in the neck but got the job done). Transfer the doughnuts to the prepared baking sheet. Re-roll the scraps and repeat to make a total of 13 doughnuts and 13 holes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day. (If making dough ahead, bring it to room temperature before frying. I also experimented with freezing the dough, wrapped in parchment, at this point and defrosting completely before frying; the resulting doughnuts were excellent, but it was very hard to pry the defrosted dough from the parchment paper. I should have transferred the frozen donuts to a greased baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and defrosted in the refrigerator.)
Just before frying, prepare the glaze by whisking together the confectioners' sugar and 1/4 cup hot water; use a bowl wide enough to dip a donut in. Prepare a plate lined with paper towel for draining the donuts and have your bowl of glaze waiting next to a rack set over a baking sheet (to catch drips).
In a large high-sided skillet or wide pot (I use my 5-quart Dutch oven), heat 2 inches of oil over a medium high flame until it registers 375°F on a candy or frying thermometer. Fry the doughnuts 3 at a time until golden brown, about 3 minutes total, carefully turning them with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon halfway through. I adjusted the heat to keep the temperature between 365 and 375 when it threatened to climb past 380. Use your skimmer to remove the doughnuts to the paper towel-lined plate to drain for a second and immediately dip one side of each doughnut into the glaze. Put the doughnuts, glaze side up, on the rack; let set until the glaze sets, about 3 minutes.
Fry doughnut holes 1 minute per batch. Drain, glaze, and let set. Serve the doughnuts and holes warm or at room temperature on the day they are fried.