Yes, you can make Old Fashioned Donuts at home with only a handful of basic ingredients -- and no yeast! Just like your favorite bakery treat, these cake doughnuts have a crisp, golden brown exterior, a light and fluffy inside, and plenty of nooks and crannies to hold that sweet glaze. Perfect for dunking in coffee!
If there's one food that we've missed while being stuck at home over the past few weeks, it's definitely fresh donuts. In normal times, it's very easy to just drive through the window at Dunkin' and pick up a few old-fashioned sour cream donuts (my favorite!) -- but these are not normal times. Instead, this self-proclaimed non-baker, who tends towards cake mix recipes and store-bought cookie dough, has resorted to making Old Fashioned Donuts at home. What world are we living in?!
In all honesty, though, this recipe is actually really easy. It's time consuming -- because there's a lot of waiting and downtime while the dough chills, and then again while the donuts cool -- but there's nothing difficult about it. In fact, it's a lot like making cookies, with one main difference: you're frying the donuts in oil instead of baking them in the oven. Otherwise, it's practically the same process, including mixing, chilling and cutting out dough. And since we're not running off to sports games each weekend or hustling out the door to complete a laundry list of errands, we've got time to "play" in the kitchen and treat ourselves to a homemade breakfast. I hope you'll join in the fun!
What are Old Fashioned Donuts?
Before we get started, let's be clear about what we're making here. These are old-fashioned sour cream donuts -- a cake donut that does not require yeast. The old-fashioned doughnut is prepared in the shape of a ring and has tapered edges (those nooks and crannies that I was telling you about earlier). Cake doughnuts originated in the United States in 1829, and the typical ingredients in old-fashioned cake donuts include flour, sugar, eggs, sour cream (or buttermilk) and leavener (the baking powder, in this case). Cake doughnuts first appeared in American cookbooks in the 1830s, around the same time that baking soda and baking powder first became commercially available.
Old-fashioned doughnuts are deep fried and then glazed, dusted with sugar or enjoyed plain. They have a rich flavor, thanks to the sour cream, and a crunchier texture than other cake doughnuts. That classic crunchy exterior is a result of deep-frying the donuts at a lower temperature than is typical with other donuts.
It's not entirely clear how old fashioned doughnuts got their name, but one theory is that they simply look cracked and more "old-fashioned" than the smooth, modern yeast donut (source).
How to make Old Fashioned Donuts:
As I mentioned above, this process for making Old-Fashioned Donuts from scratch is not difficult at all, but you need to bring your patience...because there's plenty of downtime while you chill the dough and wait for the donuts to cool.
I cannot take full credit for this recipe, which I borrowed (and tweaked) from this site. I did change the glaze and the cooking process slightly as well, and the end result is a simple homemade donut recipe that even non-bakers like myself can achieve! Let's get started...
Ingredients for Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts:
- Cake flour (or see my note below for a substitute)
- Baking powder
- Granulated sugar
- Salted butter
- Egg yolks
- Vanilla extract
- Sour cream
Ingredients for the Donut Glaze:
- Whole milk
- Powdered sugar
- Vanilla extract
Cake Flour versus All-Purpose Flour:
This recipe calls for cake flour, which is a flour that is very finely milled from soft winter wheat. It has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, and it is finer, lighter, and softer. It’s also bleached, so the color is paler and the grain is less dense. It's important to use cake flour in this recipe because it contributes to that light, fluffy donut texture that we all know and love. Do not substitute with all-purpose or other flours.
If you don't have cake flour at home, I'm with you! It's not something that I regularly keep in my pantry, so I've got a great tip for making your own cake flour at home (if necessary). There's a very helpful tutorial for a homemade cake flour substitute here. In short, you can use a combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch sifted twice to replicate the consistency and baking properties of cake flour.
For this particular recipe, you need 2 ¼ cups of cake flour. To make your own cake flour substitute, measure 2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour. Remove 4 ½ tablespoons of the all-purpose flour. Replace the flour with 4 ½ tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift the cornstarch-flour mixture twice. Then weigh and use in the recipe as instructed.
Equipment for Old Fashioned Donuts:
Before you set out to make the donuts, it's helpful to be sure that you have everything you'll need. Here are a few items that will make your sour cream doughnuts an easy success:
- Kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients (crucial for accurate measuring)
- Sifter or fine mesh strainer to sift the dry ingredients
- Electric mixer
- Large rimmed baking sheet
- Parchment paper and plastic wrap
- A doughnut cutter (or see my note below for alternatives)
- A deep-fry/candy thermometer
- A spider strainer or slotted spoon for frying the donuts
- Stopwatch or timer (helps to keep track of the frying time at first)
Step 1: Sift together the Dry Ingredients
First, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
Step 2: Make the Dough
Next, make the dough in the same way that you would make a cookie dough or cake batter -- creaming together the butter and sugar, adding the egg yolks and vanilla, and then finally alternating the addition of the dry ingredients and sour cream.
Step 3: Chill the Dough
The dough will be crumbly at first, and then as you continue to mix it will come together into a sticky dough, but that's fine -- just cover it with plastic wrap and chill it for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Step 4: Cut out the Donuts
Next, it's time to cut out the donuts! You can use an "official" donut cutter, or you can just use two different sized round cutters (such as biscuit cutters). I use a 3-inch biscuit cutter and a 1-inch cutter for the inner hole. This is the cap to my face cream (which works perfectly!), but a shot glass or other similar round cutter will work.
Tip: Dip the cutters in flour in between each donut so that they don't stick to the dough.
Step 5: Chill the Dough Again
Arrange the cut-out donut dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and return the dough to the fridge to chill for about 30 more minutes. Working with cold dough is helpful because it's not as sticky when you're transferring the donuts to the fryer, and because the butter in the cold dough expands when it hits the heat (making the donuts rise better and become puffier)!
Step 6: Fry the Donuts
Bring a pot of 2-inch-deep oil to a temperature of 340 degrees F. This can take awhile to come to temperature over medium heat, so just be patient.
Step 7: Cool the Donuts
As you pull the donuts out of the oil, place them on a paper towel-lined tray (to absorb any excess oil) and allow them to cool for about 15 minutes.
Step 8: Prepare the Glaze
Once the donuts have had a chance to cool off, whisk together the milk, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract to create the glaze. This glaze is very forgiving -- you can't mess it up! You want it pretty thick so that it adheres to the donuts, so if it looks too thin, just add some more powdered sugar. If it looks too thick, just slowly add a small splash of milk at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.
Step 9: Glaze the Donuts
Dip the donuts in the glaze, and then place them on a wire rack to set for about 20 minutes. The glaze will harden as it sits. I like to place the wire rack on top of the parchment-lined baking sheet that I used earlier to catch drips and make clean-up easy!
Step 10: Feast on your homemade Old Fashioned Donuts!
Tip -- dunk a fresh donut in a mug of hot coffee for total bliss!
Nutrition Information - Old Fashioned Sour Cream Donut Recipe:
No, deep-fried donuts are not healthy. That said, they're a special treat that should be fully enjoyed -- no guilt allowed! Old-Fashioned Donuts are not dairy-free or vegan (they include butter, sour cream, milk and egg yolks), and they are not low-carb or Keto-friendly. It's very difficult to calculate the exact nutritional profile for each donut made in your home, since it's hard to measure the amount of glaze on each donut or the amount of oil absorbed by each donut in the frying process. As a result, the nutrition information provided in the recipe card below only includes the actual donut dough for one donut and one donut hole (not the glaze or the oil). According to this, an average glazed old-fashioned doughnut contains approximately 420 calories, 21 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 57 grams of carbohydrates, 34 grams of sugar and 4 grams of protein.
Storage and Preparation Tips:
- Weigh the ingredients, if possible. If you have a kitchen scale at home, it's very helpful to weigh the ingredients before preparing the donuts. This is a much more accurate way of measuring, and yields a much more consistent result. For instance, if you pack the flour into a measuring cup, you will likely end up with way more than the 255 grams called for in the recipe. This will give you a heavy, dense or dry donut -- not ideal.
- Allow the donuts to cool for at least 15 minutes before glazing. If you dip them in the glaze when they're too hot, the glaze will just slip right off. The donuts will then need about 20 more minutes for the glaze to set.
- How to store Old Fashioned Donuts: Homemade donuts are best when enjoyed the same day that they are prepared. If you have leftover donuts, you can keep them in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days.
- To reheat a donut, warm in the microwave for just 8-10 seconds. Don't let it get too hot, or the glaze will melt right off.
- How to freeze Old Fashioned Donuts: Wrapped tightly, you can freeze these old-fashioned doughnuts for up to 3 months. When thawed the consistency of the glaze will be thin and runny, so I recommend freezing the plain donuts before glazing. Then, when ready to enjoy, simply thaw the donuts and glaze as necessary.
Cook's Tips and Recipe Variations:
- Nutmeg is an incredibly important ingredient in old-fashioned donut recipe. I've suggested just a small amount here (¼ teaspoon), which is almost undetectable in the finished product. If you like the flavor of nutmeg and you don't mind a slightly stronger taste, I recommend increasing the amount to ½ teaspoon.
- Don't have a donut cutter? Me either! I use a 3-inch biscuit cutter and a smaller 1-inch round cutter for the center of the donuts. In this case, I used the cap from my face lotion for the 1-inch center hole! A shot glass also works well.
- Make sure that you have plenty of canola oil on hand. I'm always surprised by just how much oil is required to fill a pot to a depth of 2 inches!
- Don't overcrowd the pot when frying. The donuts are harder to flip when it's crowded, and too many donuts in the fryer at the same time will bring down the temperature of the oil. I usually start with 1 or 2, and then when I've got the hang of it, I can fry 3-4 at a time (depending on the size of the pot). Don't forget to fry the donut holes, too!
- Air Fryer Donuts: Since I know that some of you will ask, I went ahead and tested the air fried version of these donuts. While it's technically possible to use the air fryer for this recipe, it is not recommended. The air fried donuts do not have the same taste and texture as the regular deep fried donuts. Instead, they're more dense, they don't rise as high and puffy, and they don't have the same craggly edges. This recipe is written for frying, and definitely yields the best results when deep fried. If you still want to use the air fryer, you can cook the donuts at 350 degrees F for 5-6 minutes, flipping halfway through.
- Cinnamon Sugar Donuts: Instead of glazing the donuts, dip them in melted butter and then in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. You can also just dust them with powdered sugar once the donuts are completely cool.
- This recipe yields about 8 donuts and 8 donut holes. If you plan to feed a crowd, you'll want to double (or triple) the ingredients to make more donuts.
- The deep fry thermometer is very helpful to make sure that your donuts cook properly. I aim for a temperature of 340 degrees F, which will likely dip slightly to 335 degrees F when you add the dough to the pot. Just keep your eye on the temperature and adjust the heat as necessary to keep the temperature within that general range. It doesn't have to be exact (you'll be able to tell when your donuts are golden brown and ready to come out), but if the temperature is much too cool, the donuts will be heavy, dense and oily. Too hot, and the donuts will get very dark on the outside really quickly, taking on slightly burned taste.
You can do this, friends! Just assemble the ingredients and equipment in advance and follow the instructions step-by-step. It's a fun project for the kitchen -- and your kids will thank you for the effort!
Enjoy baking? Here are even more breakfast recipes that you might enjoy:
- Morning Glory Farm Zucchini Bread
- Bran Muffins
- Cinnamon Roll Monkey Bread
- Brown Sugar Cinnamon Muffins
- Cinnamon Streusel Peach Coffee Cake
Old Fashioned Donuts
- 2 ¼ cups (255 grams) cake flour*
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (or increase to ½ teaspoon for slightly stronger flavor)
- ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (29 grams) salted butter, at room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (113 grams) sour cream
- Oil, for frying (I use canola oil, but vegetable oil or lard will also work)
- 5 tablespoons whole milk (or more, as needed to thin)
- 3 ⅓ cups powdered sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
FOR THE DONUTS:
- In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until combined (it will have a texture similar to wet sand). Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and beat until completely combined.
- Gradually add about ⅓ of the flour mixture. Then add half of the sour cream. Add another ⅓ of the flour mixture, and then the rest of the sour cream. Finish with the remaining ⅓ of the flour mixture, beating just until the dough comes together. It will be sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Roll the chilled dough onto a floured surface until it’s about ½-inch thick. Use a donut cutter or two round cutters (about 3-inches and 1-inch, respectively) to cut out the donuts and the donut holes. It’s helpful to dip the cutters in flour in between cutting each donut so that they don’t stick to the dough. Place on the parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic and chill for about 30 more minutes.
- Add enough oil to a pot so that the oil is at least 2 inches deep. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot. Heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches 340 degrees F.
- When the oil has come to temperature, carefully place a couple of donuts into the pot. I usually cook the donuts in batches of 2-3 so that I don’t overcrowd the pot (which will bring down the temperature of the oil). As soon as a donut floats to the top, fry it for 40 seconds. It’s helpful to use a stopwatch at first (until you get the hang of the timing). After 40 seconds, flip the donut over and fry for 60-80 seconds on the other side (until the bottom is a nice golden brown color). Flip the donut one more time and cook for about 60-80 more seconds, until the other side is golden brown. Then remove the donut to a paper-towel lined tray.
- Allow the donuts to cool for about 15 minutes before glazing.
PREPARE THE GLAZE:
- In a shallow bowl or dish, whisk together the milk, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract. The glaze should be nice and thick, but still easy to whisk. If it’s too thick, add a small amount of milk. If it’s too thin, add a small amount of powdered sugar. It’s very forgiving!
- Dip each donut into the glaze, then place on a wire rack. I like to put the wire rack on my parchment-lined baking sheet (that I used earlier for the donut dough) – this makes cleanup easy and prevents the glaze from dripping onto the counter. Allow the glaze to set for about 20 minutes.
- The donuts are best enjoyed right away, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days. To reheat a donut, place it in the microwave for about 8 seconds.