Having a doughnut shop in your neighborhood can be a great convenience, or a terrible temptation if you're watching your weight. One way to limit their allure is to make your own doughnuts occasionally at home. Once you're accustomed to having doughnuts fresh and hot from the fryer, the commercial version quickly loses its appeal. For convenience, you can prepare the dough a day ahead and have it ready to cook.
No matter what kind of dough or batter you're preparing, it's inescapable that the outer edges will be fully cooked before the middle. The signature shape of doughnuts sidesteps that difficulty by removing the middle, creating a sweet treat that's made up entirely of outer edges. The doughnut cooks quickly and completely in the time it takes for its surface to become golden-brown in the hot oil. Traditional or "old-fashioned" doughnuts, sometimes called cake doughnuts, are leavened with baking powder or soda. Yeast-raised doughnuts are different, relying on a dough made in the same way as sweet breads. Cake-style doughs usually contain eggs and yeast doughs often do, so they must be refrigerated if they're made ahead.
Refrigerating Cake Doughnuts
Refrigerating cake doughnuts is a chancy business, and your likelihood of success is directly related to the leavening you choose. Any recipe that relies on baking soda is dubious, because baking soda reacts and provides its leavening as soon as it's moistened. Double-acting baking powders have one ingredient that reacts immediately, like soda, and another that only produces leavening gases when it's heated. The actual leavening chemicals vary among brands, so some work better than others. Your refrigerated dough won't usually puff as completely as fresh dough, but if you love fresh-made doughnuts it's worth experimenting with a few brands of baking powder.
Refrigerating Yeast Doughnuts
Refrigerating yeast-raised doughnuts is less of a risk. Refrigeration slows the activity of yeast but doesn't stop it completely, so your dough will still continue to rise overnight. You can either refrigerate the whole bowl of dough, or roll and cut your doughnuts and refrigerate them in ready-to-cook form. If you want to refrigerate your doughnuts already cut and shaped, it's best to chill the dough before rolling and cutting them. That ensures they won't rise too quickly in the fridge, becoming overfermented and coarse. You might also need to cut back slightly on the amount of yeast in your dough.
Cooking Refrigerated Doughnuts
Cake-style doughnuts and fully risen yeast doughnuts can go directly from the fridge to the fryer without any intermediate steps. If your yeast doughnuts aren't completely risen by the next day, take them out of the refrigerator and let them come up to room temperature. As they warm, they'll rise more quickly, and can be cooked as soon as they're finished rising. If you've refrigerated the dough, roll and cut your doughnuts and spread them on a clean counter or baking sheet to warm up. Once they reach room temperature, they'll usually need at least more 45 minutes to rise fully.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.