How to Make Yeast Doughnuts: generations of bliss

I was 19 years old when my grandma gave me a scratched-up yellow tin box filled with recipe cards in various levels of messy disarray. The box had belonged to her grandmother (my great-great-grandma). Nestled among recipes for casseroles and holiday cookies was a recipe for yeast doughnuts.

It was my first foray into the world of doughnuts, and they quickly became one of my favorite things to make. They have the feel of a big baking project (thanks to the yeast), but they’re so, so simple. Plus, they’re incredibly satisfying — I still insist there’s nothing in this world better than a warm yeast doughnut, fresh from the fryer, dripping with glaze.

Yeast doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

I fell for yeast doughnuts all over again when I was called to style the doughnut story in the Spring 2016 issue of King Arthur Flour’s Sift magazine. The story contains plenty of doughnuts, but even next to chocolate cake and maple pecan, I realized I’m still a total sucker for yeast-raised (it’s in my blood!). The recipe is simple, and yields incredibly soft dough that makes a perfectly tender doughnut.

The best part about yeast doughnuts is they’re infinitely adaptable. Need a simple finish? Toss them in confectioners’ sugar or cinnamon sugar. Looking to dress them up? Try a glaze – thin glaze for an all-over coating, or a thicker glaze for that perfect doughnut-shop look (and if you’re asking me, I’ll remind you to not forget the sprinkles).

Here’s how you get from point A (no doughnuts) to point B (eating warm doughnuts) as quickly as possible —

In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together 1 large egg, 1 cup milk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl all at once and mix on low speed until the dough just begins to come together. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

Yeast Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

After its rest, mix the dough on low speed for 6 to 8 minutes (you can do this by hand, too, if you prefer). The finished dough will be very smooth, but a bit sticky — you can lightly grease your hands in oil to make handling it easier at this stage.

Yeast Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl and cover. Let it rise until it doubles in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Yeast Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

When the dough has fully risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out about 1/4″ thick. The dough is very soft, and I find it can actually help to manipulate it a bit with your hands — gently stretching it or moving it to help keep it somewhat rectangular in shape.

Yeast Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

Cut out doughnuts in your preferred size and shape – you can use a doughnut cutter, or two circle cutters (the larger one should be 2 1/2″ to 3″ wide). Sometimes, I’ll just use a bench knife or pastry wheel to cut them into squares so I don’t have to deal with scraps!

Cover the doughnuts with greased plastic wrap and let them rise for 30 minutes while you heat 6 cups of frying oil (peanut oil is my top choice) in a deep, heavy kettle.

Yeast Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

Get the oil hot – around 350°F. A thermometer is great, but I usually use a doughnut hole to test the oil. If it begins to bubble and rise to the surface, it’s ready to go!

Have ready a draining station — a cooling rack set atop a baking sheet lined with a few layers of absorbent paper towels.

Fry the doughnuts, working in batches if you need to, until they’re golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove the doughnuts from the oil and drain for a few minutes before proceeding. Don’t forget to fry the doughnut holes too, if only as a snack for yourself while you finish!

Yeast Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

There’re so many ways to finish doughnuts, but I have a forever love affair with glaze (couldn’t you tell from my soliloquy before?). Your doughnuts should be warm, but not piping hot when you glaze them.

Yeast Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour

Remember, if you go for a thinner glaze, it will coat the whole doughnut, sliding down the sides a bit before it sets semi-translucent. If you opt for a thicker glaze, it will cover the surface of the doughnut, and be more opaque. Both are equally delicious, so it’s just a matter of preference. I like to make an array of glazes so I’ve got that whole pretty variety thing going on.

Vanilla glaze: Mix 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, 6 tablespoons heavy cream, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until smooth. Add more cream as needed to adjust the consistency to your preference.

Orange glaze: Mix 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons orange zest, and 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice until smooth. Use milk or heavy cream to adjust the consistency to your preference.

Strawberry glaze: In a food processor, process 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and 1 cup freeze-dried strawberries. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, mixing until smooth.

Dunk doughnuts face down in the glaze, then turn over and let rest, glaze side up, on the cooling rack. If you want to use sprinkles, toasted coconut, chocolate chips, nuts, or any other garnish, sprinkle it on before the glaze sets fully so that it sticks.

You actually don’t have to let the glaze set fully at all — I’m all about diving in while it’s all still a warm, sticky mess. But if you want them to hold up a little better, let the doughnuts cool and the glaze set so it’s no longer sticky to the touch.

But whatever you do, eat these doughnuts the same day they’re made. Because fresh doughnuts are everything. My great-great-grandma taught me that!

See Erin’s Yeast Raised Doughnuts recipe on our website.

Erin McDowell

Erin Jeanne McDowell grew up in Kansas amidst a food obsessed family. She landed her first (after-school) job in a bakery, and was hooked! After pastry school in New York's Hudson Valley, she combined her love of baking with her desire to share ideas, recipes, ...


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Some of the yeast tends to die during freezing, which unfortunately can compromise the texture of the final doughnut. You’re welcome to try freezing an experimental batch and increase the amount of yeast that’s added to the dough slightly (try increasing by 25%) to offset any yeast death. You can also try freezing the baked/fried doughnuts (without an icing or sugar on the outside) and then reheating to serve. If you pop thawed doughnuts in some foil and bake for about 5 minutes at 350*F before icing, it’s almost like they just came out of the oven for the very first time. We encourage you to try both of these techniques until you find what works best for you. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  1. MaryML

    Some day before I die I WILL make donuts! The family story is that my German grandmother made the best donuts. Otherwise, her daughters kept her out of the kitchen and in the fields where she was happier.

    I am happiest with a simple glazed donut from a bakery. When I make a glaze -confectioners sugar, milk, vanilla- it just tastes like sugar. What gives a commercial glaze that special flavor? The type of sugar they use? Secret ingredients?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmmm… we’re glad you asked, Mary! We’ve been trying to nail down that delicious, nostalgic flavor in our packets of glaze mix. (We now sell all kinds of delicious flavors like coconut, vanilla, and even almond.) We use confectioner’s sugar, which is a blend of cane sugar and cornstarch along with some natural flavors. You might want to experiment with the flavorings you’re using until you find one that’s just right for your taste buds. LorAnn Oils are professional-quality and super strong, so you might want to start there. When it comes to vanilla, try using a blend that has real flecks of vanilla bean in it. It’ll make your vanilla glaze out of this world! Kye@KAF

  2. Shirley

    Everything is good and after cutting the dough into shapes they rise beautifully. Oil is perfect temp. I pick the doughnuts up to put in the oil and they go flat. Is there a special way to pick them up.

    1. PJ Hamel

      Shirley, try letting the doughnuts rise a bit less; it sounds to me like they’re so puffy and fragile by the time you pick them up, they just deflate. Let them rise about 3/4 of the way to what you’d consider fully risen on a floured surface, and use a flat spatula to gently transfer them to the hot oil. Good luk — PJH

  3. Kathryn

    Would these donuts be adaptable to cut, cover with plastic wrap, keep in fridge overnight, proof and fry the next morning?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, Kathryn you can use an overnight rise with this recipe if you like. You might have the best success letting the dough rise overnight when it’s still in one large ball (step 2) and then cutting and shaping the doughnuts the next morning. Either way you choose to do this, be sure the dough is wrapped in plastic while it rests in the fridge so it doesn’t dry out. The next morning, you can let the dough rest at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes before proceeding with the recipe as written. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. carol

    My Gram made Doughnuts like these she called “Spudnuts”. I think they were made with mashed potato or potato flour. Any suggestions on how to adjust this recipe for those? They were just so good!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Carol, we do have a Mashed Potato Doughnuts recipe that sounds similar to your Gram’s recipe. It doesn’t contain yeast like this recipe, but it might still work to conjure up the memories of your Gram’s doughnuts. Barb@KAF

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