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Deep in a hole - doughnut problems - need help!

freerby's picture

Deep in a hole - doughnut problems - need help!

I've been making doughnuts now for about 6 months, working on a recipe that works for me. It was all working out great until about 4 weeks ago when all of a sudden my doughnuts were coming out very oily. I'm baffled by the sudden failure, and the doughtnuts are now not of a quality to be sold/shared. 

Since then I've done about 9 recipe variations to try and solve the problem, I'm closer, but really need help here - I thought I could solve it myself but I'm having to light up the bat signal on this one. 

here is the current 1/2 batch recipe I've be using the debug my dough.

  • 385gm Flour
  • 150ml Milk
  • 1 egg + 1 yolk
  • 25 gm butter
  • 2 tsp of yeast (8gm)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/3 tsp diastatic malt
  • 50gm sugar
  • pinch of nutmeg

process -
day 1
mixed in machine, pounded butter added after mix has hydrated (5mins) mixed till it clears the bowl and passes the window pane test.
stretch n fold into an oiled bowl then bulk rise overnight in the refrigerator.
day 2
de-gas dough and roll out cold  to 15mm on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a sharp, floured doughnut cutter (ring and berliner) and final rise on lightly floured parchment paper. Air dried for 15mins.
Fried at 185c for ~1min per side (+/- 10sec depending on doughnut type)

So firstly, the ways I've adjusted the recipe so far (without any change to the oily problem)

  • Hydration at 55%, 60%, 65%
  • under mixing and complete mixing
  • reduced yeast to 1tsp, increase to 3tsp
  • no butter
  • skim milk powder instead of milk
  • mixed at ~20-22c, mixed at ~26-27c
  • oiled parchment paper instead of floured
  • fried at 175c, 185c and 190c
  • changed oil - canola oil to sunflower oil
  • changed flour brand

The image attached is from today's test batch...
so to run through it...

the top image shows the difference in the top and bottom colouration and texture of the doughnuts - both sides got equal fry time. The darker side is the air-dried top, with the lighter being the side touching the parchment while rising.
The dried surface is (obviously, but the camera has exaggerated it) darker with a blistered, coarse surface. Conversely the parchment side, is smooth and an agreeable colour. Notably, the dry side has absorbed slightly less oil that the parchment side.

The middle images show a close up of the cut berliner (and the oil I could squeeze out of it ). The berliners were the worst with a bad rise and the worst oil absorption. 

The bottom row of images show the difference between a boulé formed doughnut versus a cut doughnut (a ring in this case) the rightmost image highlights how far the oil has penetrated the doughnut - maybe a good 1cm :(

The real surprise, and probably the only hint to what is going on here is that the boulé has not absorbed any oil, and is pretty close to correct, while the cut doughnuts are absorbing the oil aggressively. The boulé is how the doughnuts used to turn out a month ago. 

the mystery
how to fix this problem?
From what I can see nothing has changed in my recipe or ingredients to cause the issue, The only ingredient that I haven't changed has been the yeast type. The process hasn't changed much other than I have recently been mixing more completely - with attaining a very smooth elastic dough - but I have done tests undermixing to see if this was a problem, and it doesn't seem to be.
The other change I can see if that the weather has become much warmer recently.

How do I stop the oil absorbtion?
The surface is coarse and odd except for the boule test - does this mean its a surface tension problem? if so how to achieve the surface tension in a bench cut doughnut? Do I need an additive to compensate? 
Lower hydration (55%) reduced absorption slightly, but not significantly enough to justify the adverse effect on the doughnut texture.

What is happening here? I am at a total loss, anyone have any ideas? I'd be very grateful of any thoughts.



Rob H's picture
Rob H

The oil issue with doughnuts is down to temperature of the oil

It's getting cooler and your oil may need a little more heating.


I think 180c is the generally accepted temperature to not burn the outside or underbake inside(if oil is too hot) and not too cold to allow the dough to absorb oil.



Just my 2 cents though, good luck

freerby's picture

I'm thinking I'm cooking a bit too hot actually, and yes I think I'll go down to 180c.
It's summer over here, so the problem is that everything/s much warmer!

arlo's picture

Also, adding a splash of neutral grain based alcohol to the dough helps prevent the oil absorption to a degree.

freerby's picture

Thanks for your reply, I might just try that.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

or fat.   All the details ....and have you changed it or brands?

found this:   (and a useful tip to test the temp)

freerby's picture


have been switching between canola and sunflower over the months - found little difference in oil absorption - sunflower tasted more neural than canola and left a crisper outer.
I had changed to a new brand of canola around the time the problems began, but last week I switched back to the sunflower oil brand I've been using all along, but still the same problem.

I'm wondering whether the change in season (its summer now over here in New Zealand) has upset the proving, and I'm over-proving the dough? 

clazar123's picture

I believe the problems you are experiencing is more about the temp of the oil than the recipe. You included great info but there is more info needed to problem solve.

I believe RobH briefly but correctly stated it was related to the temp of your oil.

A pic is worth a thousand words and your picture of the oil-absorbed donut is a great illustration. Somehow the donut is not developing a crust and cooking fast enough to develop an outflow of steam to prevent the oil from traveling under the crust. Basic frying science is that  the way to prevent greasiness/oil absorption is to have oil that is hot enough to instantly cook the outer layer to a crust and heat the underside of the crust and inside of the product to produce steam that has an outflow pressure and prevents the oil from being absorbed into the cooked crumb like a sponge. Again, your picture is a great illustration. So for whatever reason, your oil is too cool.

Since this started happening rather suddenly, I would raise the question of equipment failure. Is your fryer maintaining an even temp? Is it accurate? Does it swing? (All heating equipment has a swing range). What is the swing range and is it appropriate for this equipment? There are adjustments that can be made. Time to get out the equipment manual, talk to service or hit the internet.

The temp of the oil is important to maintain. Have you tried an individual stovetop experiment to fry a few donuts at a time? That might be easier to control and give you more info.

As for why the cut donuts are worse, I think the explanation is still about the oil temp. With the cutout donuts there is now an opening in the crust that is moister, cooking slower and a bigger point of entry for the oil into the interior.

The recipe changes you made are not that drastic (IMO) as to affect great changes in the product.

So my .02 is that your oil temp is not correct for frying no matter what the thermometer says. Have the equipment evaluated. Weather affects everything. Adjustments are usually needed when it changes.

Keep posting! Great writeup of the problem.


suminandi's picture

But also suggest chilling the dough a bit (maybe proof in fridge). If the fat in the dough is tending to ooze out, it may compromise the integrity of the dough skin. If you try this, remember to decrease the number of donuts per oil volume slightly- putting cold dough in oil drops the oil temp for a little while. Best of luck getting back to winter donut goodness. 

freerby's picture

Thanks everyone for your great suggestions.

Based on them I did a another test batch focusing on proofing times and oil temperature.
I did take some pics to go along with this post but I think I can explain well enough.
I made rings with the standard recipe and process described earlier.
I proofed the 6 doughnuts 10mins apart starting at 1 hour 10mins (proofed at room temperature ~24c). This gave me a good range to see the results.

I also checked my fryer's thermostat using a digital thermometer and LO! the first surprise - the fryer when set to 185c was actually reaching above 200c when heating (217c at one point) ! This explains the dark doughnuts of the past and some way towards the unusual surface texture. With this in mind I tried to time the fryer heating with each proofed doughnut times- aiming for between 180c-190c (quite hard to do, thus the variation)

Doughnut 1 - 1hr 10mins @ ~190c 
Doughnut 2 - 1hr 20mins @ ~180c 
Doughnut 3 - 1hr 30mins @ ~185
Doughnut 4 - 1hr 40mins @ ~190c 
Doughnut 5 - 1hr 50mins @ ~190c 
Doughnut 6 - 2hr  @ 190c+

So the results
D1 - had the best ovenspring and a smooth oil-less surface (HURRAY), a looker!
D2 - 4 - progressively worse ovenspring, probably a combination of lower fry temp and starting to overproof, also progressively coarser surface and oil absorbtion (though not terrible).
D5 - correct fry temp meant good spring, but surface course
D6 - represents the standard of how I was proofing and frying, this was dark, coarse surfaced and full of oil.

So there we go - a combination of overheated oil and over-proofing was creating the problem. I am going to do another batch tomorrow based on these results to see if I can get a consistent result.

freerby's picture

The doughnuts

freerby's picture


clazar123's picture

Now to find the best method for dealing with it all. Good job!

Bronze's picture

This was really interesting. Thanks for the pictures and thorough description of your problem, as well as tenacity to experiment. Thanks to everyone's suggestions. Now the next person whose doughnuts absorb oil like a sponge will be able to find this thread and avoid a lot of headache!

My problem has been that my recipe (old-school recipe straight from Germany) involves adding the jam to the Berliners (or call them Kreppel if your German friends insist) before frying, so mine were 1) absorbing the jam and therefore coming out as raw dough on the inside, and 2) splitting themselves in two, opening up in the oil to become an open clam shape rather than, well, a closed-clam shape. Maybe my oil needs to be hotter to prevent the splitting. Maybe if my dough was wetter they would fuse at the seam rather than split. Or if I try to proof them a little less maybe it will give the jam less time to soak into the dough.