Cake Doughnut Troubleshooting

Cake doughnuts, especially when they’re made from scratch, are extremely fussy things. I can’t emphasize enough how important temperature is to getting them just right. The most common problem with cake doughnuts is an too-high batter temperature. When the temperature of the batter goes up (usually because the temperature of the room goes up) the fat in the batter softens or even melts. This causes the batter to get runnier than it would ordinarily be, and that causes a couple of problems. First, because the batter falls through the depositor incorrectly — and then spreads out in the oil — it creates a doughnut with a lower volume. Second, because the batter is more porous, it creates a greasy doughnut. So if your room is hot and your doughnuts are turning out thin and greasy, try switching to shortening instead of butter as your fat since it has a higher melt point. You can also simply try to firm up your batter by reducing the amount of fat and/or increasing the amount of flour.

Sometimes the reverse happens and the batter temperature is too low. In that case the batter will be firmer than normal and again won’t fall through the depositor. The resulting doughnut will have a lower volume and may again be greasy as it will tend to sink and sit in the oil for too long and soak up too much fat. The solution is to simply let the batter sit until it warms up.

What about the oil? If the oil temperature is too high, the doughnuts will turn out small and fat. The reason, because the outside skin of the doughnut will harden before the interior gets a chance to rise. The result can be a virtual tennis ball. If the oil temperature is too low, once again the batter will want to spread out into very large, flat rings (that turn out very, very greasy).

So you see there are a lot of things to consider if you want a perfect doughnut. How obsessive you get about them is up to you, but I’ll tell you right now you’ll need a good thermometer. How obsessive am I about my doughnuts? Just ask the missus. That, however, is no reason for you to get uptight. As you can see from the below recipe, decent doughnuts are very easy things to mix and to make. Push the perfection envelope as far as you like, but above all have a good (safe) time. Even an imperfect doughnut is one fantastic breakfast.

13 thoughts on “Cake Doughnut Troubleshooting”

  1. What can I do with a kind of failed doughnut batter? It’s kind of tasteless. A possible explanation is that I had run out of plain flour and used whole wheat flour.

    1. Hi Gita!

      Honestly I don’t know. Perhaps thick pancakes? I’ve never tried cooking the batter any other way!

      You can try baking it into a quick bread, I think. Pour it into small loaf molds, until they’re a little more than half full and bake about 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour

      That’s my best thinking!

      – Joe

    1. Hello Arturo!

      I used to get cracks in the tops of my doughnuts because the oil was too deep. If the oil is very deep the doughnuts turn over as they rise. This gentle twisting is enough to open cracks in the top. Try a shallower pan.


      – Joe

  2. Hello, thank you very much for your troubleshooting blog. Could you please help with one problem:

    my cake donuts experience FLUTING. This means shape of indentations around center hole developed by break and flow during the frying of the first side.

    Thank you very much in advance!

    Best Regards,
    Tobias, Germany

    1. Hello Tobias!

      Can you send me a picture? I’ve seen just about everything with doughnuts but am not completely sure what you mean by “fluting”. Is it happening mostly with large batches? I ask that because sometimes when you scale up a batch of cake doughnuts the amount of chemical leavening needs to come down a bit. Too much leavening can cause the center hole to bubble and close.

      Also so many cake doughnut problems are caused by temperature variations. Has it gotten colder in your kitchen lately?

      – Joe

      1. Hello Joe, how are you?

        It seems that I’m having the same problem as Tobias. Have you guys discussed that case? My doughnuts are cracking up on top and blistering…

        Wish all the best.


  3. Hi Joe,

    Love the taste of these donuts, but I think I am having a problem with my dough temp. My dough comes out a little thicker looking than your pictures and when I make donut holes with a disher it is difficult to get them off the disher. I don’t think this would feed through a dispenser, especially one of the $15 ones I plan to try.

    “Room Temp” is such an ambiguous term. What would the ideal temperature be if I used an instant read thermometer to check?


    1. Hey Tom!

      Temperature is the single biggest risk to a good cake doughnut, which is why most doughnuts shops go to great lengths to control their water (because commercial mixes are made with water instead of milk) and room temperature. It’s amazing how a batter can go from paste-like to nearly liquid with a 5-8-degree change in room temperature. I remember one hot, humid Kentucky night when may batter was so thin I couldn’t make a doughnut taller than 3/4 of an inch. I walk out of the shop into the parking lot, flopped down in the gravel and cried.

      I would say shoot for a temperature of 72 degrees. See how the dough behaves, and if it’s not the right consistency, adjust as needed, either by chilling the dough in fridge for a bit, or adding a splash of milk if it’s too thick. Keep tinkering until you get what you’re after. I remember going to a professional baking seminar where the instructor asked loudly: “What do we do when the batter is too thick to fall through the extruder?” The class shouted back: “More water!” It was like being on an Emeril episode. Bam!

      Anyway, fiddle, fiddle, fiddle is all I can say. And most of all remember you’re not alone in your aggravation. Legions of cake doughnut makers have suffered before you.

      Cheers and beset of luck!

      – Joe

  4. Hi there.

    My dough was so thick (had been sitting out in the room after making with all room temp ingredients) for at least 20-30 minutes. It wouldn’t come out of the depositor it was so stiff. I tried adding more milk, but never had any luck. Should this batter be pourable in any way to get in and out of the depositor?

    1. Hi Rachel!

      Yes. Just add liquid if that’s the case. And of course check the recipe to make sure you’re using the right fat, used the right number of eggs, etc. Most cake doughnut recipes you find online are for a doughnut dough, not a batter, so they’ll be very stiff just by nature, designed to be rolled and cut, not extruded. Do you think you got hold of one of those by mistake?


      – Joe

    1. In that case you probably need more sugar and fat (and perhaps eggs) in the recipe, Sandra. Those are the things that really separate a cake from a bread. What recipe are you using?

      – Joe

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