This easy sugar donut recipe comes from my grandmother and makes traditional baking powder donuts, so no yeast required to make these! You can coat these with cinnamon sugar to make sugar donuts, or a maple glaze to make maple glazed donuts. Up to you!
As you can tell from the photo, my grandmother wrote up this recipe years ago on a recipe card, like most of her other recipes. My mom estimates that the recipe is almost 100 years old.
My mom has never made these donuts, and sadly, my grandmother is not here to coach me through my attempts to make her donuts. Her recipe card only has ingredients and amounts; no instructions, no mention of mixing methods, or order of addition of the ingredients as you can see in the photo.
I use the order of ingredients as listed to know what order to combine the ingredients and what mixing method to use. Since most of the wet ingredients are listed first, then all the dry, we can assume this uses the two bowl mixing method, also known as the muffin mixing method.
These are baking powder donuts that call for a chemical leavener instead of yeast. Both yeast and baking powder are common leavening agents used in donut making. Baking powder doesn't give a flavour to these donuts, while yeasted donuts taste a little different.
When you first mix the dough, it may seem like it's too sticky to do anything with. But once you've chilled the dough for 1 hour, the dough rolls out nicely on a floured surface.
How to shape donuts
Bagels are shaped either from a long "snake" of dough that is pinched together from end-to-end to form a circle or from a round ball of dough where the centre is poked through to expand it into a bagel shape. On the other hand, you use a different technique to shape donuts, which are cut out. The dough is rolled out into a sheet and then cut out. To do so, you have two options:
- use a donut cutter like this Ateco cutter—this is what I use, or a vintage version of it (I have both but the vintage one can be tricky to use because the donut can stick to the cutter and you only have a small hole to help you push it through)
- use two round cookie cutters of different sizes. Most bakers have a set of round cookie cutters with many sizes that work fine for cutting out donuts to the size you want.
Both work, but it might be easier to get the donuts out with two round cookie cutters because the dough can stick with some of the old donut cutters with handles and then it's harder to extract after. If you don't have a round cookie butter, you can use a round glass to cut out the donuts.
To deep fry donuts, I have tested two options: a deep fryer and a fry pan heated on the stove to 350ºF. I have tested both. By the way, a great trick for flipping donuts easily: use chopsticks!
Why use a deep fryer
I have fried these donuts in the Le Creuset Deep Sauté pan and also in a Waring Pro deep fryer. I find with the deep fryer, you can set it and forget it, and once the fryer hits the correct temperature, it's quite stable and the machine does the work of figuring out how to maintain the oil temperature for you. Just make sure to watch the thermometer (or to use one if your deep fryer doesn't have one) so that you know not to add donuts until the oil is the right temperature.
Also remember not to fry too many donuts at once. The cold donuts will lower the temperature of the oil and adding too many will cause the temperature to drop significantly. The donuts may then absorb too much oil and end up heavy and greasy.
Though the Waring Pro deep fryer has a basket, I don't use the basket to fry donuts because it limits the space. I remove the basket from the machine and fry directly in the deep fryer. This works fine. And to flip the donuts and get them out of the hot oil, you can use chopsticks or a spider strainer (which is commonly used in Asian kitchens) is great for fishing the donuts out of the oil.
How to fry donuts without a deep fryer
If you will be deep frying on the stove, I highly recommend investing in a Le Creuset Deep Sauté pan, which is the only pan I use for stove-top frying these days. The enamel cast iron pan is heavy duty so that when it heats up, it is very good at maintaining the temperature of the oil, which means that when you add the raw donuts, the temperature of the oil will be more stable, which will lead to a better fry.
Maintaining the temperature of the oil can be difficult on a stovetop. That's for sure. To avoid that the oil get too hot, I slide the pan on and off the burner. I find this works better than lowering the stove setting, which I set to 4 (medium or medium–low even) once the oil was heated to the right temperature.
You have to be VERY careful when you deep fry on the stove. And if there's ever a fire, remember to smother it! Turn off the heat and put the lid on the pan or throw a sheet pan down over the pot to cover/smother the fire.
If deep-frying truly scares you, remember that you can make baked donuts, like these baked sour cream donuts or these baked chocolate donuts, but you'll need a donut pan to do so! All of these recipes, like this one, use baking powder, a chemical leavening agent, instead of yeast.
Here's a half-recipe for my grandmother's baking powder donuts. It makes about a dozen donuts. You can coat them in granulated sugar or cinnamon sugar to make sugar donuts. Or you can make a glaze like the optional maple glaze below. You can also try a dark chocolate ganache glaze, or this chocolate amaretto glaze.
I've updated the recipe to use butter instead of shortening. I don't usually have shortening in my pantry, but feel free to use whatever fat you prefer.
Maple glaze (optional)
- 125 grams icing sugar
- 60 mL maple syrup
- whole milk (3.25 % fat) as much as needed for diluting the glaze
- Whisk together the egg, sugar, vanilla, butter, and milk in a bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and ground cloves.
- Combine the wet and the dry ingredients and stir to form a sticky dough.
- Cover the bowl tightly and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Roll out the dough to ½–¾ inches and cut out donuts with round cutters (use 1 big and 1 small cutter to make traditional ring donuts).
- Heat a deep sauté pan (like this pan from Le Creuset) half-filled with oil to 350 ºF (175 °C). Prepare a sheet pan with a wire rack set over it. Line with a little paper towel.
- Fry the donuts, 3 or 4 at a time until golden brown, then flip and continue frying until the colour is fairly even.
- Transfer the fried donuts to the prepared rack and let them cool slightly before tossing in cinnamon sugar to coat. Note that if you want to glaze the donuts, you would skip the sugar coating.
Maple glaze (optional)
- Whisk together the icing sugar, maple syrup, and a splash of milk to form a thick glaze.
- Dip the donuts on one size and twist to coat the surface. Then flip over and place back on the wire rack so that the glaze sets. Repeat with the other donuts.