Summer School: How To Make Doughnuts

Aug 16, 2016

The first time Michelle Cunningham sold her homemade doughnuts at the Burlington Farmers' Market, she made too few. After selling out before noon, she realized there was a market in Vermont for high-quality doughnuts made from local ingredients.

Cunningham's business, The Doughnut Dilemma, has now grown beyond the farmers' market to a brick-and-mortar doughnut shop on Burlington's Main Street. In this installment of our "Summer School" series, we visited the shop to find out how the doughnuts get made.

"To make a doughnut is actually really easy," Cunningham says. "But making a really good doughnut is really hard."

Michael Membrino, a doughnut maker at The Doughnut Dilemma, starts off by sharing the necessary ingredients.

  • Bread flour
  • Pastry flour
  • Milk powder: "Which is just dried milk," Membrino explains.
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Baking Powder
  • Potato Starch: Membrino says the starch "helps them hold onto moisture, increase the shelf life a little bit."
  • Eggs
  • Water
  • Butter: "I'm getting the butter ready because I only have about a minute or two minutes to add it once I start the mixing process," Membrino says, adding he also cuts up some of the butter in advance.

Ingredients go into a giant mixer, which kneads the dough, Cunningham says.

"I just kicked up my mixer to a higher rate," Cunningham explains. "It's going to knead this a little bit faster, start developing the gluten structure."

Cunningham says she uses a gum analogy to explain gluten structure to her staff.

"If you've ever chewed gum, when you first try to blow a bubble – when you first put that piece of gum in your mouth – it pops really quickly ... We want to work this dough, just like we would work the gum and then eventually you can blow really big bubbles," Cunningham says. "It's the same type of process."

Michelle Cunningham, owner of The Doughnut Dilemma in Burlington, fries a batch of doughnuts. Cunningham says the doughnuts should be deep fried for about one minute on each side.
Credit Annie Russell / VPR

It gets noisy as the dough hits against the mixer's bowl, forming into a ball, Cunningham explains.

"If I were making this at home and I just wanted the process all together, I would do a 30-minute rise," Cunningham says. "I would fold it and then let it rise for another 30 minutes."

In that case, Cunningham explains the temperature should be around 80 degrees to help it rise quickly.

"I would roll it out after that second rise, and let it sit for about ten minutes after I rolled it out, just to relax," Cunningham says. "Because that gluten, it's all stretched out. So if you try to cut the doughnuts right away – again, they'll still taste fine, but they'll shrink quite a bit. So, we want to let them relax."

Once the dough is cut, Cunningham says it should be deep fried for about a minute on each side. When she was making doughnuts at home, she says she purchased fryers online.

"They were like $100 and they were definite workhorses," Cunningham says. "However, you could use just a pot with a little bit of oil in the bottom."

The final product will stay fresh all day, but keep in mind that Cunningham refuses to eat a doughnut that is more than 20 minutes old.