No one loves to roll out of their warm bed to drive to the donut shop and grab breakfast. And, let’s be honest, getting out of bed, putting on “outside” clothes, and having to pay an arm and a leg for them makes them taste less good. So, benevolent being that I am, I’m handing over my go-to Easy Cake Donuts recipe. These fluffy wonders have a light spice of cinnamon and nutmeg and this addicting, buttery, slightly salty sweetness to them. The dough is crazy simple to make, and my kiddos find that rolling, cutting, and frying them is almost as fun as decorating and eating them.
On this National Donut Day, I thought it was only fitting to update my old cake donut post from 2017. This post is full of better images and more concise instructions. I also added weight measurements to the recipe card. Enjoy!
What are the differences between Cake Donuts and regular donuts?
The main difference between cake donuts and regular donuts is that a cake donut doesn’t contain yeast. Mixing the two types of donuts’ dough is also different, but the yeast is the largest factor between the two. With a yeast donut, you have to bloom the yeast, mix the dough, and go through the rising processes, much like in this Pan Sobao recipe. Whereas with cake donuts, you combine two sets of ingredients- wet and dry- mix briefly. Chill the dough, cut the dough, then fry the dough.
Frying both yeast and cake donuts happen the same way. Topping them, though, depends on how strong the base is. This is why I prefer cake donuts to yeast. Yeast donuts are fragile. They don’t stand up well to being loaded down with toppings as cake donuts do.
Why make donuts at home instead of buying them?
Can I be honest with you? I hate leaving the house if I don’t have to. I especially hate leaving the house early in the morning. Duck Donuts is the only place I like getting donuts from. The problem is, everyone else in San Antonio seems to love getting their donuts from there, too. So, as a result, I have to wake up super early to get there before the crowd does. Then someone’s touching me or standing too close to me, and I haven’t had my coffee yet because I’m waiting to drink it with my donuts. After all, I can’t have two coffees because of my blood pressure…
…I just don’t like buying donuts outside of the house.
You might, but once you see how easy these cake donuts are, you might become a donut hermit like me, too. Two bowls are all it takes to mix the dough. Because this dough is also freezer-friendly, you can double or triple the recipe and sock some away for later. Your family and friends can get in on the fun by rolling out the dough and cutting the donuts out, too. And we haven’t even talked toppings yet. You don’t have to settle for a measly amount of processed toppings when you’re in charge of the donuts.
Why wouldn’t you make donuts at home is the better question.
What do I need to make these Cake Donuts?
Remember I said that cake donuts are as simple as mixing two sets of ingredients together? Well, here are those two sets: dry and wet. And, no, I’m not oversimplifying them, either.
You have cake flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in the dry mix. The spices are optional, but you really should keep them in. If you try the donuts without the spices, you will see how flat the mix tastes. Even if you think you don’t like one or the other spice, you can’t taste them through the donut on their own.
You have sour cream, eggs, unsalted butter, milk, and vanilla extract in the wet mixture. You can replace the sour cream in the mixture with Greek yogurt or plain yogurt for a low-fat option. But, we are frying in oil so keep that in mind if you’re watching calories.
Toppings vary, and I will list some ideas and links to complete recipes for more interesting donuts later.
Why use cake flour to make cake donuts?
The lighter the dough you start with, the lighter the finished donut will be when you bite into them. I’m all about pillowy. Dense donuts aren’t my jam; no pun intended. If you were to use all-purpose flour in this recipe, the donuts would taste fine, but they will also be heavier. There are more gluten proteins in the all-purpose flour, so the amount of handling and mixing of the dough causes them to become stronger. Those strong gluten strands mean the texture, or crumb, of the dough is firmer, making for a tougher donut. Not terribly tough or chewy, but also not living up to its pillowy potential, either.
If you don’t have cake flour in the kitchen, here’s how to make it:
- Measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour using another measuring cup to shake the flour into the measuring cup. Once the flour is piled on top of the measuring cup, use a straight edge to level off the flour.
- Dump this level cup of flour into a bowl. Remove two level tablespoons of the flour from the bowl and return it to the all-purpose flour bin/bag.
- Replace the 2 tablespoons of flour you just removed with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
- Sift together the flour and cornstarch mixture three times to combine.
Obviously, this only makes one cup of cake flour. You need 4 1/2-cups of cake flour for this recipe. You can make 5-cups and use the remaining cake flour to roll out the dough, though. Buying cake flour is also an idea, but this is great knowledge in a baking pinch.
Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Use a whisk to stir the ingredients together until you can’t tell what’s in there. I mix the dry first since the whisk is still dry.
Why add spices to the cake donuts?
I believe in levels of flavors. If you’ve ever tasted a dish and just kind of felt let down, it’s probably because the flavors of the said dish weren’t highlighted with a spice. Though there’s only a small amount of cinnamon and nutmeg in the cake donuts dough, they come through in the end in an undetectable but appealing way. I encourage you to try the dough with and without it so you can see what I mean.
The salt, too! Some people think that salt is unnecessary. Obviously, avoid adding it if you have high blood pressure or are on a low-sodium diet, but if you’re not, it’s a must even in sweet recipes. Salt enhances the sweet in sweet. Without it, your dough tastes flat.
If you don’t have nutmeg or really loathe it with all your being, you can replace it with cardamom or more cinnamon.
Can I mix the cake donuts’ dough with a stand mixer?
I don’t advise using a hand or stand mixer for this dough. Not only is it not worth the effort to pull them out, but both will overwork the dough, which will cause your cake donuts to be tough. It really isn’t a difficult dough to mix by hand as you’ll soon find out. I find it’s very therapeutic, in fact.
After combing the dry ingredients with a stir of the whisk, use the same whisk to stir together the sour cream, eggs, milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. See, I’m even saving you dishes by using the same whisk. Gifts can be sent electronically.
Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and fold them into one another using a rubber spatula.
How long do I knead the dough?
As you mix, the dough will become very stiff and look crumbly and dry. You’ll curse me thinking I didn’t give you a good recipe. Use your fingers to scrape the excess dough off of the spatula and back into the bowl. Put the spatula down and get your hands in there to finish mixing the dough just until it comes together. Just fold the dough over 4 or 5 times until no flour is left on the bottom of the bowl.
Stop and reflect on the nasty things you said about me. Anything you’d like to say? Okay, I forgive you. Yes, I still love you, but you hurt my feelings. So let’s be better to one another. Come on, let’s finish.
Don’t overmix the dough. As tempting as it may be to want a smooth dough, that’s not the goal when making cake donuts. The goal is always soft pillowy texture. Consequently, you only need to mix the dough for 4 or 5 turns in this stage. Later, you roll out the dough, you will knead it again, so it’s best to knead less here.
How long do I have to chill the dough?
The dough will look pocked and slightly rough but will form into a slightly tacky lump. If the dough is very sticky, knead in a 1/4-cup of flour before shaping it into a square. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Now, before you go shaking your neck at me talking about, “I thought you said this was an ‘easy cake donuts recipe,’ Mar-tah!'”
First, lose the attitude.
I did say it was easy. And you can’t deny that it has been. I did not say it was fast. I mean, I’m teaching you essential culinary skills here. So while there’s a time and a place for it, this ain’t no, “Let’s bust open a can of dough and fry it and call it donuts.” That’s not how my crew rolls.
We’re going to chill the dough for an hour because we need the gluten in the dough to relax. Even though we’re using cake flour, it still contains gluten proteins that are agitated because we’ve been kneading the dough. The chilling time in the fridge relaxes those strands and firms up the butter in the dough as well. This helps our cake donuts keep their shape when we fry them.
Can I freeze the dough if I don’t want to fry my donuts right away?
Now’s a great time to throw the square of dough into the freezer if you don’t feel like frying your cake donuts right away. I mean, I would probably wrap them in foil to prevent freezer burn, but you can freeze the dough for 2 months at this point.
If you freeze the dough, you need to thaw it in the fridge before proceeding with the recipe.
But, if you are going full monty today, liberally flour your countertop. Then, after unwrapping the dough, give it 2 or 3 kneads on that floured surface. This should resolve any excess stickiness.
Next, use a rolling pin to roll out the chilled dough until it is between 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. The dough will be a rectangle that measures about 12″x 10″. Don’t focus too much on the exact measurements of the rectangle. Instead, focus more on the thickness.
Cut out donut circles using either a metal cutter, an inverted glass, or some other circular object. Don’t twist the cutter when you hit your countertop because that seals the dough, which prevents it from puffing up when it’s fried. I use a 3-inch circle cookie cutter and a 1-inch cutter for the inner holes. The larger your inner holes, the faster the donut will fry, but you’ll also have less donut to eat. Bigger donut holes, but I want donuts.
How do I keep the shape of my cake donuts?
I’m a stickler for perfectly shaped anything. Chalk it up to decades of being a pastry chef. I realize that perfection is a pipe dream, but we can try our best. Use a spatula to lift your cut dough from the counter to a sheetpan. This helps maintain the shape of the donuts better than lifting them with your fingers.
Just set the cut dough onto the sheet pan. No need to grease the pan or anything.
From the first rolling, I get 9 circles, sometimes only 8. Once you’ve transferred as many circles as you get, press the scraps of dough together with your hands. Give it a very light rolling with the rolling pin. Because these are leftover scraps that have been handled already, we don’t want to roll them as thin as the first cuttings. They’re going to shrink back when we cut them, so we’re going to roll these to 1-inch thickness.
Cut out the number of circles you need to get a full dozen. Discard any remaining dough. Put the pan of cut dough into the fridge while you start heating your cooking oil.
What’s the best temperature for frying my cake donuts?
In a deep, heavy-bottomed pot, bring 2 quarts of oil up to 350°-365°F (177°C-185°C). The best temperature for frying anything is between 350°F-375°F (177°C-191°C). But because we have a good amount of sugar in this dough, we want to stay on the lower end of the spectrum. When heated, the sugar caramelizes, which is great for achieving that beautiful, golden brown color, but it also means we can scorch it if we fry it too quickly at too high a temperature.
Invest in a good thermometer like this Chef Alarm from Thermoworks. It’s the most reliable way to make sure your oil is at, and stays at, the proper frying temperature.
The key to deep-fat frying is remembering that the oil’s temp will fluctuate every time you do something to it. If you add too many donuts too quickly, the temp will drop down so low that you’ll be poaching your donuts in oil. The result will be an oily sponge. You probably should only fry 4 donuts at a time, depending on how wide your pot is. My pan from All-Clad is a French braiser that’s 15-inches wide but only 6-inches deep. I can fit 4 donuts in there at a time, and they have room to float around doing their thing. A caldero, dutch oven, or even a stockpot will work the same.
What oil do I fry donuts in?
The type of oil you fry in is as important as the temperature. Use an oil made for deep-frying like peanut or vegetable oil. Avoid flavor-forward oils like lard or olive oils. Though shortening seems like a great fat to fry in because it congeals after it’s cooled, it will leave your donuts with a greasy coating. That coating will not only make it hard for toppings to stick to, it will also give your donuts a weird mouthfeel when you eat them. I fry my donuts in vegetable oil.
Pull out the sheetpan of donut circles and place it on the same side of the pot as your non-dominant hand. On the opposite side of the pot, put a sheetpan lined with paper towels and covered with a cooling grid/rack. This will help the donuts drain excess oil after frying without making them soggy. Have a spider and a pair of tongs handy for turning and removing your donuts.
How long do I fry cake donuts?
Carefully slip 4 donuts (or however many can fit and still float around) into the hot oil. Start a timer and fry the donuts on the first side for 1 minute. When you see a brown ring develop around the submerged portion, use your tongs to flip the donuts to the other side.
Restart your timer and fry the donuts on the second side for 1 1/2 minutes. Once your donut is golden brown and has fried for 2 1/2 minutes, use the spider (or the tongs) to remove it from the oil to the rack.
Continue frying the rest of the batch this way.
How long do I fry the donut holes?
We can’t forget the donut holes! I remember being yelled at by my step-father when he left me in charge of frying the donut holes in our family donut shop. I was going too slow flipping them because I handled them like I did the donuts. The holes are much easier to flip.
Slip all of the donut holes into the oil and fry them for 30 seconds. The donut holes only need a nudge on their edges with the side of your tongs or spider. Tap them on one of their edges, and they’ll flip right over. Fry them for another minute before removing them to the draining rack.
Can I air-fry these Easy Cake Donuts?
Yes, you can air fry the cake donuts. I’m not a huge fan of the texture, but they work if you have no other option. This recipe doesn’t require you to have a mold like other air-fryer donuts do, but I have to be honest that they’re not the same as frying.
Arrange 6 of the cut circles onto a lightly greased air fryer tray. If you can, use a butter-flavored cooking spray to help add some more flavor to the donuts. Air fry the donuts at 350°F (177°C) for 5 minutes. You might want to rotate your pan halfway through the air-frying time for even browning.
Remove the tray from the air-fryer and flip the donuts over. Spray again with the butter-flavored spray and air-fry for another 4 or 5 minutes, or until browned.
They won’t rise as much as fried donuts will, but they’re a great option if you’re on a low-fat diet.
Can you bake cake donuts?
Again, they aren’t as great as deep-frying them, but they’ll suffice. Preheat your oven to 375°F (191°C) and line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Brush the donuts with a light egg wash- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of cold water- or whole milk.
Arrange your donuts on the parchment and bake them in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
What toppings can I use on these Easy Cake Donuts?
A simple dusting of powdered sugar, and you have the classic powdered donut. You can also make cinnamon-sugar donuts by combining 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, then dipping the donuts in the mixture just after frying.
But, since we’re making these at home, we can go all out. Here are some quick ideas on how to top your easy cake donuts. Each of these recipes will top 1 dozen donuts. You can divide the recipes in half easily if you want to only top half your batch of cake donuts.
Blueberry Cheesecake Cake Donuts
- 3 cups (330 grams) powdered sugar
- 8 ounces (225 grams) cream cheese, softened
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups (360 grams) Blueberry-Ginger Dessert Topping (or blueberry preserves)
- 4 whole graham crackers, crumbled
Mix together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice, and vanilla in a mixing bowl until smooth. Thin the cream cheese topping with a teaspoon or two of milk if it’s too thick to pipe. Fill a piping bag with the cream cheese and drizzle over the fried cake donuts. Top the drizzled donuts with a tablespoon of blueberry-ginger dessert topping and a generous pinch of crushed graham crackers.
Chocolate Ganache Cake Donuts
- 12 ounces (340 grams) semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
- 8 ounces (250 milliliters) heavy cream
- 1 tsp cognac or vanilla extract (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on medium in the microwave for one minute, stirring after thirty seconds. Continue to heat in thirty-second increments until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Dip the donuts in the ganache.
Choco-Coco Cake Donuts
- chocolate ganache topping from above
- 2 cups (170 grams) sweetened coconut flakes, toasted
Dip donut into the ganache and allow to set up for a minute or two. Sprinkle with toasted coconut.
Maple-Bacon Cake Donuts
- 3 cups (330 grams) powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons maple extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or bourbon
- 6 tablespoons (90 milliliters) salted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) maple syrup, plus more to thin
- 1 pound (500 grams) bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, maple extract, vanilla extract, melted butter, and maple syrup until smooth. Thin with more maple syrup as needed. If you prefer a less sweet glaze, thin with milk instead of maple syrup. Dip the donut into the glaze and sprinkle crumbled bacon over.
Tres Leches Cake Donuts
- 3 cups (330 grams) powdered sugar
- 6 tablespoons (90 milliliters) salted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) half and half
- 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) evaporated milk, plus more to thin as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
- rainbow sprinkles or jimmies, optional
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, melted butter, half and half, evaporated milk, and almond extract until smooth. Thin, if desired, with a teaspoon of evaporated milk. Dip donuts into glaze and top with sprinkles.
Any of the glazes that have melted butter in them will begin to harden as the butter cools. Just pop them into the microwave to loosen them a bit, whisk to combine the glaze, and dip to your heart’s content.
How do I store the cake donuts after frying
Transfer the donuts to a covered container and store them at room temperature for no more than two days. You can reheat the donuts for 15 seconds in the microwave to give them a freshly-fried taste.
Can I freeze fried cake donuts?
If you plan to freeze your cake donuts, I would do so before topping them with anything. Just pop them into a freezer storage bag and freeze them for 2 months.
When you’re ready to enjoy them, you can thaw them at room temperature before topping them as desired.
WHEW!! That was a lengthy one, but I know I’ve just fully equipped you to be the best cake donut maker in all the land. Be sure to tag me @senseandedibility with the cake donuts you make. Don’t forget to share this Easy Cake Donuts recipe with the donut-lovers in your life, too!
Easy Cake Donuts Recipe
- pot for frying
- frying thermometer
- rolling pin
- tongs or spider
- donut cutter or two circle cookie cutters for the outer and inner circles
- 4 1/2 cups (615 grams or 1 pound 5 1/2 ounces cake flour
- 1 cup (215 grams or 7 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- 4 1/2 teaspoons (22 grams or 3/4 ounce) baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (10 grams or 1/3 ounce) kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon (1 gram) ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground nutmeg or cardamom
- 1 cup (305 grams or 11 ounces) sour cream room temperature
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten at room temperature
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters or 2 ounces) whole milk room temperature
- 1/4 cup (56 grams or 2 ounces) unsalted butter melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- vegetable oil for frying
- confectioner's sugar for coating, optional
- glazes for topping see links in post
Mix the Cake Donuts Dough
- Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, and ground nutmeg together in a large mixing bowl. Use a whisk to stir the ingredients together until they are fully mixed.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs, milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and fold them into one another using a rubber spatula.
- Once the mixture becomes too stiff to stir with the spatula, use your fingers to scrape the excess dough off of the spatula and back into the bowl. Use your hands to mix the dough just until it comes together. Fold the dough over 4 or 5 times until no flour is left on the bottom of the bowl.
- Don't overmix the dough. The dough will look pocked and slightly rough but will form into a slightly tacky lump. If the dough is very sticky, knead in a 1/4-cup of flour before shaping it into a square. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to relax the dough.
Roll Out and Cut the Donuts
- Liberally flour your countertop. Unwrap the dough and give it 2 or 3 kneads on the floured surface to remove any excess stickiness.Use a rolling pin to roll out the chilled dough to a rectangle that measure 12 x 10-inches and is between 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. Focus more on the thickness than the size of the rectangle.
- Cut out as many donut circles as you can using your preferred metal cutter. Don't twist the cutter when you hit your countertop as it seals the dough, which prevents it from puffing up when it's fried. Use a spatula to lift your cut dough from the counter to a sheetpan.
- Press the scraps of dough together with your hands. Give it a very light rolling with the rolling pin to 1-inch thickness.Cut out the number of circles you need to get a full dozen. Discard any remaining dough. Put the pan of cut dough into the fridge while you start heating your cooking oil.
Fry and Top the Cake Donuts
- In a deep, heavy-bottomed pot, bring 2-3 quarts of oil up to 350°-365°F (177°C-185°C). Insert a deep-fryer thermometer into the oil to monitor the temperature.Remove the sheetpan of donut circles from the fridge and place it on the same side of the pot as your non-dominant hand. On the opposite side of the pot, put a sheetpan lined with paper towels and set a cooling grid/rack on top of it. This helps the donuts drain without making them soggy. Have a spider and a pair of tongs handy for turning and removing your donuts.
- Carefully slip 4 donuts (or however many can fit and still float around) into the hot oil. Start a timer and fry the donuts on the first side for 1 minute. When you see a brown ring develop around the submerged portion, use your tongs to flip the donuts to the other side. Restart your timer and fry the donuts on the second side for 1 1/2 minutes. Once your donut is golden brown and has fried for 2 1/2 minutes, use the spider (or the tongs) to remove it from the oil to the rack.Continue frying the rest of the batch this way.
- Once the donuts are fried, slip all of the donut holes into the oil and fry them for 30 seconds. Tap them on one of their edges after a minute to flip them over. Continue frying the holes another minute before removing them to the draining rack.
- Dust the drained donuts in powdered sugar or cinnamon-sugar (see post) just after frying and draining and while still warm. See post for even more creative ways to tops your Easy Cake Donuts.
- Transfer the donuts to a covered container and store them at room temperature for no more than two days. You can reheat the donuts for 15 seconds in the microwave to give them a freshly-fried taste.
Storage and Freezing Instructions:
To freeze raw cake donut dough: wrap the plastic-wrapped square of dough in foil to prevent freezer burn. Freeze the dough for up to 2 months.
Thaw the dough in the fridge before proceeding with the recipe.
- Storing fried donuts: store the fried, topped donuts covered and at room temperature for 2 days or less. Storing them in the fridge will cause them to go stale faster.
To freeze fried cake donuts: freeze them before topping them. Transfer the cooled donuts to a freezer storage bag and freeze them for 2 months.
When you're ready to enjoy them, thaw them at room temperature before topping them as desired.
- Heat your air-fryer to 350°F (177°C) on the air-fry setting.
- Arrange 6 of the cut circles onto a lightly greased air fryer tray.
- Use a butter-flavored cooking spray to help add some more flavor to the donuts and spray a light coating over the surface of the donuts on the tray.
- Air fry the donuts at 5 minutes. Rotating the pan halfway through the air-frying time for even browning.
- Remove the tray from the air-fryer and flip the donuts over. Spray again with the butter-flavored spray and air-fry for another 4 or 5 minutes, or until browned.
- Air-fried donuts won't rise as much as fried donuts will, but they're a great option if you're on a low-fat diet.
- Preheat your oven to 375°F (191°C) and line a sheetpan with parchment paper.
- Brush the donuts with a light egg wash- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of cold water- or whole milk.
- Arrange your donuts on the parchment lined pan and bake them for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.