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The Big Doughnut Debate: Cake vs. Yeasted

Is the ideal doughnut dense and crumbly or light and airy? 
By Published Sept. 16, 2022

I’m a New England boy, so I grew up on none other than Dunkin’ Donuts. Over the years, I watched plenty of older customers perform the titular dunkin’ of plain doughnuts into black coffee—but my choice was always the mouthfilling, slightly crumbly cake doughnuts dusted in cinnamon or confectioners’ sugar. 

But I have a confession to make, and it might just get me banished from Boston. I didn’t truly fall head over heels for doughnuts until I walked into…a Krispy Kreme. 

The first time I bit into a delicate, yeasted Krispy Kreme doughnut, it was an epiphany—vanilla-scented air wrapped in swaths of delicate-chewy dough enrobed in wisps of glaze. 

What I didn’t know at the time was that I had just learned the distinction between cake doughnuts and yeasted doughnuts.

Are you team cake or team yeasted? And what makes these two styles of doughnut distinct anyway? Read on—and watch the latest episode of What’s Eating Dan?—to find out. 

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Gluten Gives Doughnuts Their Puff

A lot of this difference between these doughnut styles actually comes down to gluten. Believe it or not, gluten doesn’t actually exist in flour. Wheat flour (and a couple other grain flours) contains two proteins that, when wetted, join to form the elastic protein called gluten. 

Through resting and/or kneading, gluten can form a pretty incredible, rubber-like network that can trap air. And a strong gluten network that can trap loads of expanding gas leads to baked and fried doughs that puff dramatically.  

How Gluten Makes Cake Doughnuts and Yeasted Doughnuts Different

Cake doughnuts are mixed like quick breads, just until the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. The goal is to hydrate the flour, but limit any significant gluten development to keep the crumb tender. When the chemical leaveners baking powder and baking soda produce carbon dioxide, the batter is only able to trap some of the gas, which it does in small bubbles throughout the doughnut. 

All of this makes cake doughnuts denser than yeasted doughnuts. That means there will be more doughnut in every bite of a cake doughnut than a yeasted doughnut. Cake doughnuts take over in your mouth, absorb moisture, and practically beg for a sip of something to chase them down. 

Yeasted doughnuts, on the other hand, are an enriched bread dough. That means they are leavened with yeast and kneaded to develop gluten. They puff dramatically in the hot oil because they’ve got the structure to support it. Gluten makes yeasted doughnuts feel light and airy. It’s also responsible for their satisfying delicate chew. 

If cake doughnuts take over your mouth, yeasted doughnuts go straight for your brain, hitting every pleasure center along the way. 

Ready to make this glutenous magic happen in your own kitchen? Check out our recipes for cake doughnuts and yeasted doughnuts—and watch the latest episode of What’s Eating Dan? to learn everything you need to know about making doughnuts at home.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.