Harriet’s How To: Doughnuts

Words Harriet Boucher, Images Ashlee DeCaires

Doughnuts are a weak point in my diet. I just can’t resist a fresh cinnamon sugar or jam and cream doughnut if I see one at a reputable establishment. That being said, you won’t catch me eating doughnuts that look like a unicorn has barfed all over them or that are filled to the brim with overly sweet fillings and further drizzled with sauces and extra toppings.

The best doughnuts I’ve ever eaten are from Mister D in Napier. Mister D’s come out hot, coated in spiced sugar and you can opt to have injectable fillings of custard, chocolate or jelly. They’re to die for, and I’d love to know their secrets. I also love Little and Friday’s cinnamon sugar doughnuts, but we’ll get to these beauties soon.

Doughnuts are typically made from an enriched dough, which basically means it has the likes of eggs, butter and the odd other ingredient added into it to, well, enrich it. They’re cooked in a deep fryer rather than the oven, making them extra naughty.

Little and Friday:
Little and Friday is a bakery in Auckland owned by Kim Evans. I vaguely recall making her brioche dough recipe when I was younger (and really quite bad at baking), without using a stand mixer. It was a total flop and a sticky mess. Now experienced, I found this dough very achievable second time around, but using a stand mixer was key. This was the quickest dough from start to finish and it proofed successfully, despite being a cold winter’s day. Shaping the doughnuts was a breeze as the dough was easy to handle, although I found the suggested measurements made excessively large doughnuts, so I had to cut them down. I did notice a crucial error in the book as it said to fry the doughnuts at 80°C, I’d still be waiting for them to cook if I followed this. The oil temp needs to be about 180°C for doughnuts to cook. Once fried and coated in cinnamon sugar, these doughnuts were perfection. The dough was fluffy and flavoursome, not stodgy, or too bready like some doughnuts can be. From the start I knew these would be hard to beat, and I’ve eaten my fair share from their bakery, you see.

The Joy of Cooking:
The Joy of Cooking is a 1000+ page book that’s described as the ultimate guide to home cooking. It has four doughnut dough recipes within its pages, but I tested the Yeast Doughnuts. This was a fascinating but lengthy dough method. First, you cream butter, then add sugar, then eggs as if you were starting a cake. Next, flour is added along with an activated yeast/flour mix that has been developing for 30 minutes and it’s kneaded together to form a very soft dough. It rises, then proofs in the fridge overnight before being shaped the next morning. I found this dough quite hard to work with as it was really sticky and soft. Compared with Little and Friday’s, they were on par with flavour, a lighter texture, but the dough was harder to work with, which plays a big role.

Donna Hay:
I felt it necessary to try a baked doughnut recipe, which I found in Donna Hays book Baked. I’m not quite sure why I bothered with this because (in my opinion) to be a doughnut it must be deep fried. They were meant to be custard filled with a brûléed top but in an effort to not waste food I didn’t complete this, it just wasn’t worth it. The dough itself wasn’t a fail, they just weren’t doughnuts! Enough said, so moving on.

Mint Cakery:
I recently came across Mint Cakery on Instagram, owned by Michelle Morfett. It’s a little bakery in Ellerslie and she makes the most incredible range of scones, cakes, cookies, pies and, of course, doughnuts. I had high hopes for the doughnut recipe; however, I think I somehow mucked it up. The dough itself was beautiful and easy to work with, but I think I over-proofed it and it became too soft to handle. Visually, they didn’t rise as much as I expected and when I went to pick them up to drop into the oil, the dough lost its shape and it was disastrous. As for taste, the successful doughnuts had a great flavour, but this just wasn’t the recipe for me.

After trying these four very different recipes, I was torn between the ease of Little and Friday’s and the flavoursome and light result from the Joy of Cooking. I attempted to shorten the method from the Joy of Cooking’s recipe, as well as change the ingredients just enough to firm up the dough without losing the flavour. This was a success, and I can’t wait for you to try them at home. They make enough to feed a crowd – if you’re willing to share!

Doughnuts with Brown Sugar Caramel Cream
Start this recipe the evening before and you’ll have fresh filled doughnuts ready by mid-morning. Despite my love for either jam and cream, or cinnamon doughnuts, I’ve made a brown sugar caramel cream to go in this recipe. It’s no sweeter than a Chantilly cream, holds its shape beautifully and is easy to work with.

For the Doughnuts:
4½ tsp active dried yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
145g softened butter
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
4 cups flour

Canola oil for frying
1–1½ cups icing sugar

For the Brown Sugar Caramel Cream:
¼ cup packed brown sugar
500ml cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp gelatine powder

To make the doughnuts:
Whisk the yeast into the water and allow to sit for about 10 minutes, or until it starts to get foamy and the yeast is almost dissolved.

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between, followed by the vanilla.

Switch to the dough hook attachment and add in the flour and yeast/water mix. Mix for about 10 minutes on low, scraping the sides of the bowl down occasionally. In this time the dough will form and it should start to come away from the sides. It should be slightly sticky but if it isn’t coming away from the sides, add a touch more flour (max ¼ cup extra).


Spray a large container with oil, shape the dough into a nice ball and place it in the container. Pop the lid on, leave on the bench for 1–2 hours until doubled in size then knock it back and refrigerate the dough overnight. At this point, also make the brown sugar caramel cream.

The next morning, tip the dough onto a clean bench and roll it into a long log. Cut the dough into about 18–22 even pieces. If you want to be really specific, aim for about 60g pieces of dough.

Using the palm of your hands, roll the dough around until it forms a ball. Line 3 trays with baking paper (I like to cut it into individual squares for easier handling later) and spray with oil. Place the shaped doughnuts onto the greased paper, giving them plenty of room, about 6 per tray. If you want to make cinnamon sugar doughnuts, use your fingers to gently work a hole into the middle of the dough balls before proofing. I find making half-filled and half cinnamon sugar is the best of both worlds.

Heat a deep fryer to 180°C.

Allow the dough to proof, uncovered, for 30–45 minutes while the oil heats up. You want them to be light when touched and for the dough to spring back.

Working with 2–3 at a time, carefully place the proofed doughnut into the hot oil and cook for 3 minutes on each side. Drain on a wire rack set over an oven tray. If filling the doughnuts, allow to cool completely, then toss in icing sugar. If making cinnamon doughnuts, toss them immediately in cinnamon sugar (use 1 tbsp of cinnamon to 1 cup of sugar).

–If it’s a cold day, heat the oven to 100°C for 3 minutes, then turn it off. Proof the shaped dough in here, as a makeshift proofing oven.
–If you don’t have a deep fryer, you can use a large pot filled half way with canola oil. I highly recommend using a thermometer to determine the temperature and ensure you control the heat, so it doesn’t get too hot.
–The cooking time will vary if you’ve made smaller/larger doughnuts. Cook one first to check.
–Ensure the dough has proofed properly before cooking or they will struggle to cook through.

To Make the Brown Sugar Caramel Cream:
Heat the cream and vanilla up until almost boiling, then take off the heat.

Stir the gelatine into 1 tbsp of water and allow to bloom.

Place the brown sugar in a small pot over a medium-high heat. Allow it to melt, stirring occasionally. Now be warned that it may smell like it’s burning, but unless you see black, it’s probably not burnt, but keep an eye on it. Once fully melted and caramel-like, pour the hot cream in a steady stream, whisking constantly. It may splutter and the sugar might seize but that’s ok. Keep whisking until the sugar melts back down and you have a smooth sauce. Whisk in the bloomed gelatine, then pour the cream through a sieve into a bowl. Place a piece of baking paper over top to stop a skin forming, then refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.

The next day, using an electric beater, whisk the set cream for a few minutes until very thick, then transfer into a piping bag. Cut the icing sugar dusted doughnuts horizontally, two thirds of the way through, gently pry open and pipe the cream in.

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