Few experiences in life rival sinking your teeth into a hot, freshly made donut and feeling that light, airy dough melt in your mouth. However, when the craving strikes and not one of your nearby donut shops has freshly made dozens, you can make homemade donuts. You may be surprised that it's not as difficult as you think. Making donuts at home that taste like commercial doughnuts is just a matter of having the right tools and the patience to make them properly.

Making homemade doughnuts allows you to customize the flavor, glaze and toppings. Go to Instagram to find inspiration from the impressive, over-the-top donuts served in boutique shops around the world to learn about flavor profiles that differ from those of your local neighborhood shop. Use a donut recipe, get creative in the kitchen, and enlist the help of the kids or your significant other for a morning of doughnut decorating.

The Differences Between Homemade and Commercial Donuts

The primary differences between homemade and commercial doughnuts are the volume at which the donut dough is mixed and the uniformity of the donuts that are produced. Commercial donuts must be consistent to meet consumer expectations for taste, texture and size to ensure that sales remain consistent as well. To achieve this uniformity, donut shops often use industrial equipment that regulates how the dough is mixed, the amount of dough that’s used to form the doughnuts, and the temperature at which the donuts are cooked.

Homemade donuts are open to significantly more variations. Follow your instructions closely to create the right texture. Cooking donuts correctly and knowing when they’re done are also important in achieving texture.

Use a measuring spoon or cup to regulate the size of your doughnuts, so you can dole out the correct portion of dough to make each donut. Making commercial donuts at home is doable, but you must organize the process and regulate it as closely as possible. As a home cook, you probably don’t have the mechanized equipment necessary to make the perfectly uniform donuts such as those made at the commercial bakeries, but you can get close.

Yeast vs. Cake Donuts

Another key difference between homemade and commercial doughnuts is that many home cooks make cake donuts, which require less time and effort to make than yeast donuts. Cake donuts are usually quite dense, while yeast donuts are airy and much lighter. Yeast donuts are somewhat more time-consuming because once mixed, the dough must rest to allow the yeast to ferment. As the yeast ferments, the dough rises due to gas bubbles that form in the dough as the yeast grows. Once the yeast dough has rested, the donuts can then be shaped and fried.

Cake donut dough doesn’t need to rest after mixing. Cake donuts are typically fried, but they can be baked instead, which also makes them a little healthier. Frying yeast donuts at home, however, is possible.

When frying donuts at home, be sure to begin the process with clean, hot oil. After frying each batch of donuts, give the oil a few moments to return to the correct temperature; frying causes the temperature of the oil to decrease. No matter if you decide to make yeast or cake, fried or baked doughnuts, following a recipe closely and keeping measurements as equal as possible will ensure your homemade donuts turn out like those at a professional shop.

Commercial Donut Recipe – Yeast

Total Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes | Prep Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes | Serves: 1 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 tablespoons melted, cooled butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus a tablespoon for rolling out the dough
  • 2 quarts of a flavor-neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. On the stovetop over medium-low heat, warm the milk. The milk should not be so hot that it will kill the yeast, however. Stir in the packet of yeast and allow it to sit for 5 minutes until the liquid begins to form bubbles and foams.
  2. Using a mixer with a dough hook, beat the eggs, butter, sugar and salt into the yeast and milk mixture. Add half of the all-purpose flour, or 2 cups and 2 tablespoons, to the wet ingredient mixture. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined; then add the rest of the flour. Continue to mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until it pulls from the sides of the bowl. If the dough becomes too thick to continue in the mixer, scrape it onto a floured surface and carefully knead the dough until it’s smoothly combined.
  3. Pour a small amount of oil into a clean bowl and cover the sides. Place the kneaded dough into the bowl and cover with a towel, plastic wrap or cheesecloth, and allow the dough to rise and double in size. It should take about an hour for the dough to double in size.
  4. Once doubled, place the round of dough on a floured surface and roll it to a ½-inch thickness. Flour your cutters, which should be between 3 and 4 inches in diameter, and cut out the doughnuts. Donut or cookie cutters with a smaller second cutter for the center work well. A large drinking glass can also be used along with a shot glass to punch out the donuts’ center.
  5. If making filled donuts, don’t cut out the middle. Knead together the dough scraps, allow the dough to rest for 3 to 4 minutes; then continue to cut out more donuts.
  6. Once all the donuts are cut out, place them in a single layer on floured baking sheets and cover again with a towel or cheesecloth. Let the donuts rise for 45 minutes until they are fluffy and fragile looking. If the kitchen is cool or cold, turn the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit to warm the space, leaving the oven door open slightly.
  7. After the doughnuts have risen for 30 minutes, prepare the oil by pouring it into a deep pot or Dutch oven that’s suitable for frying. Heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Once the donuts have completely risen, add them to the hot oil in batches of two to three at a time, depending on size, so as not to crowd the donuts. Use a metal spatula to slide the donuts into the oil, and allow them to fry for about a minute on each side. Should they lose some puffiness during the transfer from the baking sheet to the oil, don’t worry. The dough will expand again during the cooking process.
  9. Once the donuts are golden brown all over, use a spider or slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and place them on cooling racks lined with paper towels. Glaze or fill the doughnuts when cool enough to touch, and serve as soon as possible.
  10. For a basic vanilla glaze, quickly whisk together 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 1/4 cup of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla. When the mixture is smooth, pour it over the hot donuts.

Note that yeast doughnuts are 25% oil by weight, which means that they take longer to fry than cake donuts because the oil temperature is lowered significantly between frying batches. Allow a few minutes between each set of donuts in the fryer to allow the temperature to rise to 375 degrees again.

Commercial Donut Recipe – Cake

Total Time: 25 minutes | Prep Time: 10 minutes | Serves: 1/2 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 quart canola or vegetable oil

Directions

  1. In a large, clean mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking powder. Pour the melted butter in and combine until the mixture forms a crumb.
  2. Beat the egg, and mix it into the dry mixture along with the milk. Mix until thoroughly combined, and place the dough on a floured surface.
  3. Knead gently until a smooth dough comes together. Roll the dough into a

    1/3-inch

     thickness.
    
    1. Using cutters of different sizes, a donut cutter or a glass paired with a shot glass, cut out the donuts. If filling, don’t cut centers into the donuts.
    2. Drop the doughnuts into heated oil that has reached a temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t add more than three donuts at a time to avoid crowding them while cooking.
    3. Fry for roughly 3 to 5 minutes, until the dough is completely golden brown. Use a spider or slotted spoon to retrieve the donuts from the hot oil.
    4. Place on a paper towel-lined cooling rack. Once cool enough to handle, roll the donuts in a cinnamon-sugar mixture, glaze or fill as you like. If filling, use a pastry bag or squeeze bottle to inject the filling from the bottom or sides of the donut.

Making Glazes

Making a glaze of any flavor is quite simple, but it’s best to make it right before frying your first batch of donuts in the oil. The glaze should be smooth and fresh enough that it has not formed a skin from sitting out in the air. This makes glazing the doughnuts fast and easy as they cool on the racks.

Allow the donuts to cool for a few minutes, so the glaze doesn’t simply melt off. Try pouring the glaze over the donuts, or dip the donuts into the glaze once they are cool enough to handle. To make a glaze, begin with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of whole milk, 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon of your desired flavor extract. Whisk together until smooth.

Glaze Flavors

Making donuts at home gives you the option of creating new glaze flavors, different fillings and unusual toppings. If you choose to add other complex flavors, stick to a basic glaze with vanilla extract, though other extract flavors can be substituted. Try peach, raspberry, lavender, lemon, orange, mint or any other flavor you can think of. Thanks to online shopping, endless varieties of extract flavors are available.

For a natural approach, try making your own flavor extract by combining a flavoring agent with alcohol and allowing the alcohol to be infused for several weeks. It's also possible to make fruit glazes by macerating the fruit in sugar. Collect the juice from the macerated fruit, and combine with milk and powdered sugar. No matter what flavor combinations you want to try, get creative and have fun experimenting in the kitchen.

About the Author

Molly Harris

Molly is a freelance journalist and social media consultant. In addition to Leaf.tv, Molly has written for Teen Vogue and Paste magazine. She is the former assistant editor of the Design and Style section of Paste magazine. View her work at www.mmollyharris.com.