I like donuts but I don't make them at home because for a bowl of donuts I consume a lot of oil.

The oil gets a sweet taste to it afterwards and can't reuse it for cooking something else than cakes. I also don't cook sweets very often and if I store the oil for a longer period of time it gets a somewhat of a stale taste.

The question is for a way to make delicious donuts with a small amount of oil but I'm opened to any idea: change in process, changing the dough type, different type of donuts etc.

  • Donuts are deep-fried by definition. You can't deep fry without using an amount of oil whose mass is much larger than that of the fried item. Are you looking for other ways to bake donut dough without frying it (which won't taste like donuts)? Or if not, what kind of solution are you looking for?
    – rumtscho
    Dec 12 '13 at 21:34
  • @rumtscho: I'm looking for a solution that uses less oil. Are there several types of donuts? Can I bake them instead of frying them? Does the dough need to change to change the "deep-fried" part?
    – John
    Dec 12 '13 at 21:40
  • I've reused oil for donuts without any negative impact on savory dishes. The opposite is a real problem: Deep frying something with onions or garlic or strong savory flavors tends to hold aromas that don't translate well with sweet fried items.
    – JasonTrue
    Dec 13 '13 at 0:19

Donuts are a deep fried food. The texture of deep fried food is unique and cannot be duplicated by other methods. If you bake doughnut dough, you will get small rolls, which will have a similar aroma, but not the same combination of moist, soft inside and fat-crispy outside. You could bake it, as with any other yeast dough, only nobody will recognize it as a donut.

Assuming that you want to get actual donuts, you must fry them. And no matter what you do to them, the more oil you use to fry them, the better your donuts will turn out. The physics of deep frying include throwing pieces of food with a starchy surface (potatoes, or breaded items, or dough pieces like donuts) in oil at around 190 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, the outer surface of the dough/vegetable/breading crisps immediately, preventing from any oil getting into the item and any vapor getting out of the item.

This only works when the oil in the vicinity of the fried item stays within a few degrees of the target temperature during the first ~30 seconds of the frying process. Which means that you need a stable temperature in your fryer. Now, thermodynamics tells us that, if you throw a 25 degrees piece of food into a puddle of 190 degrees hot oil, they will exchange warmth proportionally to their mass. So, if you want the oil to stay close to the correct temperature, the mass of the donut has to be very small in comparison to the mass of the oil — which means that you need lots of oil.

The options you have to do with less oil are all unsatisfactory from my point of view, you might decide to pick one of them.

  • Put up with the quality reduction. Use less oil in the pan, maybe even shallow frying in oil up to the half of the donut only. The donuts will lose moisture and soak up grease. The less oil you use, the worse the grease soak will be. Also, you will use up more oil, because you will have to constantly add the amount soaked up by the already fried donuts. You may consider it well used instead of wasted, because you get to eat it, but from my point of view this is the worst option.

  • Trade time for oil. You can use a small pot, and fry a single donut at a time. Frying 50 g donuts should go well with under 500 ml oil. You are still a bit constrained by the fact that the oil temperature will fluctuate more due to factors not related to the oil, but it should be manageable, if you have the patience. Note that if you place multiple donuts in the small pan, you are getting towards the first or third solution.

  • Try to manage a stable temperature in a donut-crowded small pan by using a very hot setting and letting the oil get too hot before adding a new donut. This is a very complicated thing to manage, especially seeing that you are trying to not burn the other donuts in the pan at the same time. I don't think I could manage it, and if I could, the oil wouldn't be worth the stress. There is also the extra energy to consider — not as expensive as throwing out more oil, but probably worse from an environmental point of view.

In the end, if you want good donuts, you have to use a pot/fryer where they can swim freely in oil. Any change you make to this setup reduces the quality of your donut, making it less donut-like.

  • This is an awesome answer!
    – Sylverdrag
    Dec 13 '13 at 2:26

Oil can be re-used multiple times, especially of you have a deep fryer. Alternatively, you can use an oil filter to reclaim oil after usage. I'm not sure where the "waste" you speak of is coming from.

[Edit] While I have never noticed a particular issue with oil carrying over a 'sweet' flavor after frying doughnuts I have not done a lot of doughnuts. If I where to want to use a minimum of oil and consider that oil 'disposable' after each use the key would be a smaller pan. Of course the trade off is that you can only do one doughnut at a time. A 1/2 quart pan would probably allow you to use no more than a cup of oil for a batch of doughnuts.

  • A tall 2 quart sauce pan is about as small as I would go (tall sides to prevent spatter), with an inch or two of oil This would permit several donut holes to be fried at once. This is what I plan to do when I treat myself to homemade donuts...
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 12 '13 at 21:59
  • @SAJ14SAJ, indeed you make a valid point, but as OP was wanting to minimize 'wasted oil' I suggested the smallest pan that would "do the job" safely. When I make doughnuts (or beignets) I use an electric skillet and drain off the oil to be reused later.
    – Cos Callis
    Dec 12 '13 at 22:15
  • A half quart pan is nearly a butter warmer... :-)
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 12 '13 at 22:18

Make Raised Donuts instead of Cake Donuts

The reason for this is that raised donuts don't have any sweeteners added to the dough, so will not leave any sweetness or anything on the oil. Alternately, you could make cake donuts without putting sugar in the dough, and instead glaze or powder them as normally done with raised donuts.

Use Shortening, not Oil

Besides making better tasting donuts, shortening will keep better, since it will re-congeal after use. Make sure to mark the container you put it in, so you don't accidentally use it for making something after this.

Advantages of shortening over oil:

  • Shortening produces less smoke than Canola oil (aka Rapeseed oil; This is the main constituent of most vegetable oil), so you lose less of it and get less soot on the donuts.
  • Shortening is thinner (i.e. less viscous) at deep-fry temperatures, so it will cook donuts faster, and the donuts will not retain as much shortening when removed.
  • Shortening is less dense than vegetable oil, so most scum will sink to the bottom, instead of floating to the top. It also heats up faster for the same reason.

Use an Electric Fondue Pot to fry your Donuts

This is probably the very cheapest way to get your own deep frier, and they have a very small volume compared to a similar-sized stovetop pot. They also simplify many other aspects of the process, like controlling the temperature, and are an excellent thing to have for parties. I have (two of) this model, and they have been very worthwhile.

  • Well, shortening and better taste do not combine well, at least for me... At the same time, the distinction between rasied and cake donuts is new for me, thanks.
    – dezso
    Dec 13 '13 at 9:14
  • @dezso Shortening works a hundred times better. Vegetable oil leaves oily scum and soot all over the donuts. Unlike vegetable oil, shortening is much thinner and produces no smoke at deep-fry temperatures, so it doesn't have those problems. Just try it, you will never want to go back. Dec 13 '13 at 15:56
  • 1
    Fondu pots can achieve and maintain frying temperatures? And recovery relatively quickly from the temp drop when food is added?
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 13 '13 at 16:28
  • 1
    @SAJ14SAJ Yes, they can, or at least the model I have can. The model I link to has an adjustable thermostat (with actual temperature markings), which makes using it extremely easy. Dec 13 '13 at 16:44

As explained by others, you need a sufficient mass ratio oil/doughnut to do the job properly, so the quantity of oil used can't be reduced significantly unless you are willing to do your doughnuts one by one and wait in between.

However, I think the issue might be exagerated:

If you fry donuts often, keep the oil and reuse it for that purpose - not an issue

If you don't, the total quantity of oil wasted isn't that significant. It looks like you are throwing away a lot of oil each time, but if you only do it once every few months, it's not a big deal.

If your concern is environmental impact, some cities welcome cooking oil donations and have drop centers for that purpose. If your concern is purely financial, you can look into using a cheaper oil, but if this is a treat you do once in a blue moon, how much difference does it make, really?

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