February 23, 2012

Donuts! The search for the perfect baked treat...

Baked donuts, Take 3: Recreating Erin McKenna's gluten-free, vegan cake donuts
So I finally gave into temptation this month and purchased two pans for baking donuts.  I've been thinking about it for a while and seeing Facebook posts about donuts from local allergy-friendly bakeries such as Miglet's Bakery and Zest Bakery piqued my interest even more.  Half-price heart-shaped donut pans at Jo-Ann's Crafts finally broke my resolve not to indulge in this treat.  Readers, remember my New Year's resolution to cut back on the sweets?  With all these desserts and this February sunshine, those new year promises seem a million years ago...

I have never made donuts and had never tasted a baked one for that matter.  So this was brand new territory for me and I didn't know what to expect.  I tried four recipes in my search for something that was not only tasty but reminiscent of the taste of a true donut without the milk, eggs, and loads of extra oil and fat.  Then I made a fifth batch of donuts that was a hybrid of the others.  Somehow I am able to still fit into my pants...

The Lindsay Nixon's recipe appealed to me because there was chocolate involved.  Plus, it called for whole wheat flour (which I had) and proclaimed itself low fat.  As my husband would tell you, it definitely had that "healthy" taste to it.  It was dense but not very chocolaty or rich.  These were our least favorites.

The second recipe from Ryan's Baking Blog substituted ground flaxseed and water for egg.  I liked the hint of nutmeg and was a big fan of the refreshing tang of the lemon icing.  Instead of using all-purpose flour I used a mix of all-purpose flour and white whole wheat flour.  The texture wasn't quite for me (might have been the white whole wheat flour) as it was a little too dense. 

The third recipe, featured on Bon Appetit's blog in April 2011, was for plain cake donuts.  The recipe comes from Erin McKenna, who founded the trailblazing gluten-free, wheat-free, vegan bakery Babycakes NYC. The cake donut is one of many in her cookbook Babycakes Covers the Classics.  With Babycakes good name and the gluten-free/wheat-free option, I was excited to try the recipe.  But I was skeptical as to whether there was a misprint in the ingredients list.  "1/4 cup of vanilla extract."  Holy cow.  I've never used that much vanilla extract in one sitting!  The whole time I was making and baking these, I kept second-guessing myself about adding so much vanilla.

GAW friends, I'm happy to report that the donuts came out delicious!  Having so much vanilla actually helped the donuts come out a little crispy on the outside while the inside was nice and fluffy.  These donuts tasted even better after spending some time in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day I let the container of donuts come to room temperature before serving.  The only change I will make for next time is to shorten the overall baking time, fill my pans a little more, and try adding 1/4 teaspoon each of little nutmeg and cinnamon in the batter.  I think the nutmeg taste, in particular, definitely conjures up real fried donuts.

I was pretty happy with the Babycakes donut recipe but decided to press on and try another.  I utilized Cybele Pascal's recipe for gluten-free vegan baked donuts for my fourth and fifth test batches of donuts.  Cybele Pascal is a beacon of light in the food allergy world.  She bakes up recipes that are free of the top 8 food allergens.  I have been told by two moms of kids with multiple food allergies that Pascal's The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook is a must-have.

Pascal's GF vegan donuts in the making
My fourth batch strictly followed Pascal's recipe.  In my fifth batch I substituted coconut oil for the shortening and reduced the sugar by about 25 percent. Both batches tasted great and the fourth try was my husband's favorites.  To be fair, he has been traveling for work and only sampled a 3-day-old donut from the Babycakes trial and hasn't yet tried the fifth batch.  My brother-in-law did happen to visit the day after the Babycakes batch and loved them.  And my kids?  They also enjoyed the gluten-free donuts better than the wheaty ones.
Pascal's GF vegan donuts -- this batch with coconut oil in place of shortening.

Below are the recipes for my favorite combination -- Erin McKenna's donuts and Ryan's lemony icing.  I was able to get by with only a half-batch of the icing so you may want to start with that amount.  Please remember to check if your sugars are vegan if you want a truly animal-free donut.  In also included pictures from all the donut trials.  Icing and decorating the donuts are fun steps to get your little bakers involved.  I've hyperlinked the recipes I tried out.  Let me know which one was your family's favorite!

Plain Cake Donut
Makes 1 dozen donuts
Adapted from Babycakes founder Erin McKenna's recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit's April 2011 edition and in her cookbook Babycakes Covers the Classics.

1 cup vegan sugar
3/4 cup white or brown rice flour
1/3 cup garbanzo and fava bean flour, or more brown rice flour (I opted for more brown rice flour)
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup arrowroot
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup melted refined coconut oil or canola oil, plus extra for greasing the baking pans
6 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot water
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Brush 2 six-mold donut trays with oil and set aside.
  2. Mix together dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.
  3. Create a well in the dry mixture and add in oil, applesauce, vanilla, and hot water.  Mix dry and wet ingredients together until just combined.  Be careful not to overmix or it will toughen the batter.
  4. Add batter to donut pans so that each cavity is 3/4 full.
  5. Bake for 6 minutes.  Then rotate and bake an additional 6 minutes or until donuts have begun to turn golden brown.
  6. Cool in pans for a couple minutes.  Then transfer to wire rack for complete cooling.  Finish with icing and sprinkles or another preferred topping such as cinnamon sugar.

Lemony Icing
From Ryan's Baking Blog's donut recipe
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 generous cup of powdered sugar
  1. In a small bowl, mix together lemon juice and sugar until sugar has completely dissolved and icing appears smooth.  Add more powdered sugar if the icing is too runny.  Add more lemon juice to thin out the mix.
  2. Dip one side of the donut into icing.  Hold donut, face-down, over the icing bowl to allow excess icing to drip off the donut.
  3. Turn donut over and sprinkle rainbow jimmies, colored sugar crystals, nonpareils, or other safe candy decorations onto the icing.  Then carefully place finished donut onto large plate to allow icing to set.  
  4. Store cooled leftover donuts in refrigerator.  Before serving, let them warm back up to room temperature.

Donuts made from the recipe at Ryan's Baking Blog
We loved the simple lemony icing.
Low fat chocolate donuts was our first test.  It wouldn't be our last!
Icing was everyone's favorite part of the donut-making process.


  1. I tasted the final product myself, and they are AMAZING!!! I would recommend this recipe to anyone - allergy or no allergy. Thanks for sharing your labor of love for all of us to benefit!

    1. Thanks, Teresa! You had a sample of batch #4, Cybele Pascal's GF vegan donuts (using shortening). Glad you liked it!

  2. I need to go buy ingredients. Do they sell vanilla extract at costco? Can't wait to try!

    1. Yes, Costco does sell whopping bottles of vanilla (gluten-free, too). If I can help it, I only buy vanilla from Costco because it's so economical and because I seem to have a vanilla extract addiction...

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