Rich and comforting, these fluffy caramel doughnuts are totally satisfying. Topped with a simple caramel icing and filled with a luscious custard, they’re caramel through and through and this tutorial will teach you exactly how to make them.

Looking for some simple baked donuts, then try these orange donuts with pomegranate icing and these cinnamon baked cake donuts with caramel brown butter icing.

Top down view of caramel doughnuts on a marble benchtop.

Why you’ll love these caramel doughnuts

  • An easy homemade dough.
  • A soft fluffy interior and chewy exterior
  • They’re a fun weekend project
  • Taste just like a bakery donut
  • Not too much hands on time (mostly waiting for dough to rise)
  • Soft but a  little chewy with a creamy centre

These traditional donuts start with a yeasted dough, similar to a bread dough but enriched with eggs, butter and a little sugar. I like to rest the dough overnight as I feel it yields an even better flavour but you can make these caramel doughnuts easily in one afternoon.

Is it doughnut or donut?

This is totally your call. The UK English version of the word is doughnut (makes sense because they’re made using dough) and the US English version is donut. Easier to spell but whichever you choose, you’re correct and they’re exactly the same thing.

Ingredients you’ll need

These caramel doughnuts use about 10 ingredients but you probably have most of them. Maybe all of them if you do some regular baking.

Ingredients for caramel doughnuts on a marble benchtop.
  • Yeast: You can use instant yeast or active-dry yeast here, in the same quantities.
  • Milk: Use whole milk for added richness.
  • Eggs: Used in the dough for structure and richness, and in the custard for thickness.
  • Sugar: Both white and brown are used in this recipe.
  • Flour: Just regular plain / all-purpose flour is perfect for this recipe.
  • Butter: This enriches the dough and make sure to use unsalted.
  • Vanilla: Ignore my terrible spelling in the image above, but a good vanilla extra will add flavour to the custard filling.
  • Icing sugar: Aka powdered sugar and this is used for the icing on top.

Making Doughnuts at home

Making doughnuts from scratch may seem intimidating but they really aren’t that tricky. While they require a little time, most of that time is waiting for the dough to rise / proof. Within a few hours you can have homemade doughnuts from scratch.

A collage of 4 images showing how to make doughnut dough.
  1. Make the dough: Start by activating the yeast (photo 1) then mix the dough ingredients, adding the butter a little at a time (photo 2).
  2. Let the dough rise: Once you have a smooth dough, let it rest (photo 3) until doubled in size (photo 4).
A collage of 4 images showing how to make and fry doughnuts.
  1. Make the doughnuts: Roll out the dough and cut circles (photo 5) then place them on a tray to rise again (photo 6) until they look puffy and doubled again (photo 7).
  2. Cook the doughnuts: Fry the doughnuts (photo 8) for 1 ½ – 2 minutes on each side until deep golden.
A collage of 4 images showing how to make brown sugar custard.
  1. Make the filling: Heat milk and sugar and add it to beaten eggs and cornflour (photo 9). Return it to a saucepan and cook until thick (photo 10)  then pipe it into the cooled doughnuts (photo 11).
  2. Ice the doughnuts: A very simple icing is then poured over the top (photo 12).

How to fry doughnuts

These caramel doughnuts are of the good old fried variety and even if you don’t like deep frying, I promise this is simple.

Grab yourself a candy thermometer and stick it on the side of a large saucepan, then fill the saucepan with about 2 inches of vegetable oil. Use a neutral flavoured oil and not olive oil which doesn’t tend to have a high smoke point.

Once the oil comes to temperature, you gently lower in 3-4 doughnuts – the quantity will depend on the size of your saucepan as you don’t want to overcrowd it. Let them cook for 90 seconds or so then flip and cook the other side. Drain them on paper towel.

Make sure to keep the oil temperature as regulated as possible by adjusting the heat up or down as the thermometer changes.

A doughnut torn in half showing the texture and custard inside.

The brown sugar custard and caramel icing

That thick, luscious, creamy custard filling is actually a brown sugar version of a regular crème patissiere / pastry cream. It’s very quick and simple to make.

The caramel icing is a version of the one I use on these cinnamon donuts. All the ‘caramel’ flavour comes from the brown sugar.

How to store fried doughnuts

Doughnuts are best eaten fresh on the same day but these ones do keep quite well until the next day. Keep them stored in an airtight container.

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A pile of doughnuts topped with caramel icing on a sheet of baking paper.

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Top down view of a batch of caramel doughnuts on a sheet of baking paper.

Caramel Doughnuts with Brown Sugar Custard

4.7 from 13 votes
These soft, fluffy caramel doughnuts are filled with a creamy brown sugar custard and topped with caramel icing. The yeasted dough is simple to make and creates a super fluffy donut.

Ingredients

For the Doughnuts

  • ¾ cup milk
  • 50 g white sugar (¼ cup)
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast (or active dry) (7g or 1 sachet)
  • 450 g plain (all-purpose) flour (3 ½ cups / 1lb)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk, from a large egg
  • 113 g unsalted butter, softened (1 stick / ½ cup)
  • 2 litre vegetable (canola / sunflower / rice bran) oil

For the Custard

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk (375ml)
  • 66 g brown sugar (⅓ cup / 2.3oz)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 35 g cornflour (¼ cup)
  • 2 egg yolks, from large eggs

For the Caramel Icing

  • 28 g butter, chopped (2 tablespoons)
  • 50 g brown sugar (1/4 cup packed / 1.8oz)
  • 1 tablespoon milk (notes 1)
  • cup icing sugar

Instructions
 

FOR THE DOUGHNUTS

  • Warm the milk for about 15 seconds in the microwave. You don’t want it to be hot, just slightly warmer than room temp. Pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer with the sugar then sprinkle the yeast on top and stir it around. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes until frothy.
  • Add the flour, salt, eggs and egg yolk. Beat with a dough hook on low speed for a couple of minutes until the dough comes together. With the mixer on medium add the butter a spoonful at a time until it is all fully incorporated.
  • Grease a large bowl with a tiny bit of oil or oil spray. Place the doughnut dough into the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit for 1 – 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.

FOR THE CUSTARD

  • Pour 1 ¼ cups of milk into a heavy based saucepan, and add sugar and vanilla, then heat on low-medium heat until steaming, stirring regularly to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup milk, egg yolks and cornflour until smooth and fully combined.
  • While whisking, very slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture in a slow but steady stream. Don’t pour it too quickly or the heat will scramble the eggs.
  • Once everything is combined, return the mix to the saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring with a whisk constantly, until it gets very thick and no longer settles into itself when you move it around. This will happen quite quickly after about 5 minutes so it’s important to keep gently whisking increasing intensity as it gets very thick. You will end up with lumpy custard if you don’t.
  • swap to a silicone spatula and pass the custard through a strainer into a clean bowl, then press plastic wrap to the surface and allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until required.

TO COOK THE DOUGHNUTS

  • Line a baking sheet with baking paper. On a lightly floured surface, gently roll out the dough to about 1cm thick (just under 1/2 inch) and make it about 28cm square (11 inch square). Use a 7.5cm (3 inch) round cookie cutter to cut out 11 rounds from the dough and lay them on your baking paper.
  • Put them aside in a warm place for about an hour until they are nearly doubled in size and puffy looking. You can re-knead any remaining dough to a small, smooth ball and let it rest for 1/2 an hour before rolling and cutting more doughnuts.
  • Lay out a couple of layers of paper towel on a plate or tray. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of a deep pan and pour in the oil. Heat the oil to 180C / 350F.
  • Gently place the doughnuts one at a time into the hot oil, in batches of 3-4 only (don't overcrowd the pan). Deep fry for 1-2 minutes, then flip over and fry the other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove them from the oil using a slotted scoop allowing the oil to drip off and transfer them to the paper towel until slightly cooled, then transfer to a cooling rack.
  • Repeat with the remaining doughnuts making sure the oil is at the right temperature before starting.
  • Once the doughnuts are cool, give the custard a good mix up to get it smooth, then transfer to a piping bag.
  • Cut a small slit in the side and place the tip of your piping back into the slit and gently squeeze in your filling until you feel the piping bag being pushed back. Gently pull out the piping nozzle but filling the doughnut right to the outside.

FOR THE CARAMEL ICING

  • Add the butter, sugar and milk to a small saucepan, stirring over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved, bring to the boil for 20 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for 10 minutes. Add the icing sugar and whisk in until fully incorporated.
  • Place your doughnuts on a cooling rack, set over the top of a baking tray to catch any drips. Pour the icing over the top of the doughnuts while it is still a bit warm.

Notes

  1. I use a Australian standard 20ml Tablespoon
  2. At step 3 you can place the dough in the fridge overnight. Take it out at least 2 hours before you want to roll it out.
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