Donuts are a fun challenge for at-home bakers looking to try something new. They can be made with a variety of flavors and toppings so that there is a donut for everyone.
Making donuts is different from most other desserts because they are usually fried, not baked. Frying dough comes with its own set of challenges and mistakes that many first-time and experienced donut makers have to face.
One of the most common problems is donuts that are too oily. Sometimes, oil gets trapped in the dough and creates treats that are soggy and taste like frying oil, instead of light, airy pockets of dough and flavor.
Oily donuts are annoying, but luckily this is a problem that is easy enough to avoid for future batches. Here are a few reasons why your donuts may be coming out oily as well as a few tricks you can try to prevent this problem in the future.
Oil Temperature Is Too Low
One of the most common culprits for oily donuts is oil temperature. When the oil or shortening that you are frying donuts in is too cool, the oil is more likely to get absorbed into the dough.
The reason why oil temperature is so crucial is that when food fries, it creates something called a Maillard reaction. This reaction allows food to form a golden-brown crust shortly after it hits the hot oil, which prevents further absorption of oil into the interior while allowing the heat to cook it through.
However, when oil is too cool, donuts do not form this additional crust.
Then, instead of draining as it should, excess oil sticks to the donuts and makes them taste oily and heavy. It’s always better to put donuts in oil that is slightly too hot than oil that is slightly too cool as that will avoid this drainage problem.
Even if you think your oil is hot enough when you start frying, that could change quickly once you get to work. You should monitor your oil carefully throughout the frying process as it decreases in temperature once you add dough to it.
As you’re frying, be ready to adjust oil temperature by raising or lowering the heat if necessary. Constant monitoring is the way to go when it comes to frying donuts.
What’s the Right Oil Temperature?
For frying donuts, your oil should be heated to a temperature between 370 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, or 188 to 191 degrees Celsius.
The best way to tell your oil temperature accurately is to get a thermometer. Special deep fry thermometers are safe to use in hot oil and work for projects that require precision, such as frying donuts.
Once you reach the right oil temperature, you want to maintain it while the donuts are frying. This is easier if you work with more oil, so deep-frying your donuts is better than shallow frying.
You can tell if the oil is hot enough without a thermometer if you don’t happen to have one. A common method is to dip the handle of a wooden spoon or a skewer in the oil. If the oil bubbles around the spoon, then it is ready for frying.
While this method has served donut makers and fryers for centuries, using an oil thermometer is far more accurate and will save you many headaches, particularly if you are a newcomer to the world of donut-making.
Working in Batches
Even if your oil is hot enough when you start frying, the temperature could decrease as you work. This happens when there is less oil, or there are too many donuts in your fryer at once.
When you add room temperature food to a fryer, that drops the overall oil temperature. Thus, every time you add donuts to your fryer, the oil gets cooler and if you add too many at once, it becomes too cool to fry the donuts properly.
The best solution to this problem is to fry your donuts in smaller batches instead of all at once. This may make the process of making them longer than it normally would, but it’s worth the wait to get good donuts.
Frying donuts in smaller batches also gives them more room to fry properly. Donuts are supposed to be half-submerged as they fry, and if they are too clustered together that does not give them enough space to get an even color.
If you proof your donuts for too long, that is another reason why they could be turning out oily. When the dough is proofed for too long, it does not hold its rise and collapses into a flat circle, which concentrates the frying oil.
Most donut recipes call for two proofs. The first rise is usually overnight, and then the second one occurs at room temperature after the donuts have been cut.
The second proof usually lasts for about an hour, and you should not go for much longer than that. You should also proof your donuts at room temperature, not in a warmer proofing drawer.
To test if your donuts are proofed enough, make an indentation with your finger. The dent should stay in place. If it deflates, that means the dough has been overproofed.
If you notice that your dough has overproofed before you start frying it, you can still salvage it. Just reroll the dough and chill it in the fridge for about an hour, then repeat the cutting and proofing process.
Shortening Versus Oil
Some bakers recommend using solid shortening instead of oil for frying. Most professional donut shops use shortening as a frying agent instead of oil.
Shortening and other solid fats are more durable, which means that they are less likely to break down over time. This makes it particularly valuable to professionals who would need a long supply of frying liquids, but not as important for someone such as a home baker who only needs a little bit of oil.
Shortening does leave less oily residue than liquid oil. The reason why is that it does not liquefy at room temperature like oil does, so it does not leave a greasy residue on food, napkins, or tongues.
If you are concerned about greasy residue on your donuts, you can switch to frying in shortening instead of oil. However, it tends to have more trans fats than oil, which many people avoid for health reasons. There are also ways to prevent excess grease even if you decide to stick to liquid oil.
Drain Your Donuts
You are not finished working with your donuts once they are fried. For perfect, non-greasy donuts, you need to drain the excess oil before serving.
First, drain the donuts immediately once you remove them from the oil. Most people use a slotted spoon or strainer to remove donuts, which allows residue oil to drain out immediately.
Once you take the donuts out of the heat, dry them on a stack of paper towels, which absorb oil that has been transported in the dough. The donuts should finish cooling on a rack so that they do not reabsorb the oil from the paper towels.
Draining the oil before serving should clear out the last of the excess grease on your donuts and leave you with a pillowy, light dessert.
Tips for Perfect Donuts
If you’re going to the trouble of making donuts at home, you want to be sure that they are as tasty as can be. Here are a few tips that can help you make excellent donuts every time.
While some donut recipes call for proofing only a few hours in the first round, the dough reaches the perfect texture when it is allowed to rise overnight. The extra time is worth it for better results.
Although some people say that you can reuse frying oil two or three times, it is best to use fresh oil for your doughnuts. Depending on what you made beforehand, the oil could be contaminated and pass on undesired flavors to your sweets.
Finally, donuts are best enjoyed the same day that they are fried as they tend to get a little stale in storage. If you do have to store them, seal them in an airtight container to keep them as fresh as possible, and use your leftover donuts to make other desserts such as bread pudding.
No More Oily Donuts
Oily, greasy donuts are the bane of many baker’s existences. Just one small mistake can turn a tasty treat into a heavy, sludgy ball of dough and slime.
Luckily, it is relatively easy to prevent donuts from retaining excess oil. The number one culprit is usually oil that is too cool, so monitoring your oil temperature using a thermometer and frying donuts in smaller batches will help.
Other reasons why your donuts are too greasy could be that the dough is underproofed or you did not drain them properly after frying them.
Try amending your frying routine with these tips. You should have light, fluffy donuts without a hint of excess oil.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.