Breakfast

Homemade Doughnuts So Simple, You'll Actually Make Them

September 18, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, holy-cow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week, we're making easier-than-you'd-think, yeast-raised doughnuts.


I would never turn down a doughnut—but I never sought one out either—until I moved to North Carolina.

There, doughnuts are as beloved as pimento cheese or biscuits or pimento cheese on biscuits. It’s easy to understand why:

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Top Comment:
“I've made only cake doughnuts for the past several years, mainly because yeast doughnuts turn to hockey pucks if they're not eaten the day they're made. Still, I need to try making the yeast version again. One change I'll have to make however is sticking with active dry yeast, because a)I don't use white flour, and b)whole-grain flour needs (kneads?) a long, slow rise for the flavor to develop and instant yeast simply rises too quickly, even if I reduce the amount. Otherwise I would likely stick with peanut oil for the frying step as refined coconut oil isn't cheap and I would probably need more than 3 cups. Only if this type of fat truly extends the edible life of the doughnuts would I be convinced to make the switch.”
— Terry
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Krispy Kreme opened in Winston-Salem in 1937. A couple years later, Britt’s Donut Shop opened along the boardwalk, which is why locals head to the beach as much for a dozen glazed as they do for the ocean. And seventysomething years later, Hole opened in Asheville.

That was my ah-ha moment.

In 2016, Bon Appétit named Hole the best dessert of 2016, calling it “the greatest doughnut you’ve ever eaten”—and, for me, it was. Hole’s doughnuts are crispy-edged, chewy-centered, sourdough-tangy, and misshapen.

Not in a bad way. Most doughnut shops would consider them unfit to sell but at Hole, it’s all part of the plan. Instead of cutting out one circle, then cutting out another to create an O, the bakers use their fingers to poke through the center, then stretch and spin, stretch and spin, yielding a hole that’s wider—like, way wider—than usual.

Once fried, each doughnut turns out with its own personality and irregular shape that I can’t help but love. That’s what I was chasing after here: a simple but deliberate, classic but standout yeast-raised doughnut—that you don’t have to drive to North Carolina to get. Here’s how I did it:

Instant Yeast

I became an instant—aka rapid rise—yeast convert thanks to Alexandra Stafford and her Genius No-Knead Peasant Bread. As Stafford writes in her book Bread, Toast, Crumbs, unlike active dry yeast, “It’s easy to use because it doesn’t have to be hydrated or ‘bloomed’ with water first, which means it can be whisked directly in with the dry ingredients.” Just like baking powder or baking soda. Easy-peasy.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Buttermilk

I wanted these doughnuts to have a sourdough-esque flavor, but I didn’t want to put in the work or time, say by adding a sourdough starter or preferment, or doing a slow, overnight rise in the fridge. (In other words, I wanted to have my doughnuts and eat them, too.) Enter: buttermilk. Using this as the liquid instead of water accomplishes a few things: It adds tangy notes to counter the sugar crust’s sweetness and enriches the dough with some much-needed fat, so the doughnuts will be tender and buttery.

Eggs

A given in most doughnut recipes, yeast-raised or otherwise. This being Big Little Recipes, though, I wasn’t convinced that I needed them. Ovenly’s Secretly Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies drop the eggs without blinking an eye. So, I skipped ’em, and you know what? Nothing bad happened. In fact, eliminating the eggs seemed to contribute to their chewy, almost breadlike texture, which my taste testers and I totally loved.

Coconut Oil—Two Ways

Butter is another usual suspect in doughnut doughs, but not this one. I knew that I wanted some sort of fat in the dough—it is a doughnut, after all—but why add 2 ingredients to the recipe list when you could add one? In BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, Stella Parks convinced me that refined coconut oil was the way to go: “It’s naturally solid at room temperature, odorless, flavorless, and stables at temperatures up to 450° F.” What’s more, Park writes, “Coconut oil guarantees doughnuts that fry up light and crisp and are tasty even on the second day.”

Photo by Rocky Luten

Salty Sugar

Many argue that a doughnut is nothing without adornment. You could roll it around in powdered sugar or dip it in a fresh fruit glaze. But I like to keep it simple with two ingredients that are already in the dough: sugar and a tiny pinch of salt. Dump on a plate, dredge the doughnuts, and that’s it. I love the way the granules cling to the crust, underscoring its crunch.

Like most doughnuts, these are best day-of, hopefully still warm from the fryer, and served with very, very strong coffee.

What are your favorite doughnut memories? Tell us in the comments!

9 Comments

Terry September 24, 2018
I've made only cake doughnuts for the past several years, mainly because yeast doughnuts turn to hockey pucks if they're not eaten the day they're made. Still, I need to try making the yeast version again. One change I'll have to make however is sticking with active dry yeast, because a)I don't use white flour, and b)whole-grain flour needs (kneads?) a long, slow rise for the flavor to develop and instant yeast simply rises too quickly, even if I reduce the amount. Otherwise I would likely stick with peanut oil for the frying step as refined coconut oil isn't cheap and I would probably need more than 3 cups. Only if this type of fat truly extends the edible life of the doughnuts would I be convinced to make the switch.
 
Judith M. September 23, 2018
Can we use melted butter or vegetable oil in the dough, instead of coconut oil? Although it's on-trend, I don't have it around and am unlikely to use it for anything else.
 
Kaitlin B. September 23, 2018
I made these with butter in the dough to great results!
 
Patricia September 23, 2018
I’m wondering whether instead of rolling out you could use bagel shaping technique...divide dough into equal pieces, form balls, flatten slightly, let rise, poke hole in center and stretch, etc.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 30, 2018
Cool idea! I've never seen that method with yeast-raised doughnuts before (maybe because the dough is more delicate?), but if you give it a go, let me know!
 
Dana September 19, 2018
What kind of buttermilk? Low-fat? Whole? No fat? There are so many options and no one ever specifies! <br /><br />Also, can I fry these in vegetable oil instead of refined coconut oil? <br />Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 19, 2018
Hi Dana—great Q! We tested this with low-fat buttermilk, which I find is a lot more accessible than whole-milk. And yes to frying in vegetable oil!
 
Kaitlin B. September 18, 2018
Homemade doughnuts have been on my to cook bucket list forever. I think you just convinced me it's time to make good on it with these!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. September 18, 2018
It's definitely time!