Sweet and tart all at once, these fluffy lemon filled donuts are amazing from the texture to the flavour. The lemon sugar coating makes them unmistakeably lemony and a true treat for lemon lovers. So here’s why you’ll really love these baked donuts.
- They have that perfect donut flavour
- The chewy yet soft and tender texture we crave
- No heating loads of oil, no mess from oil splatters
- They’re lighter and not greasy
- They’re quicker since they can all go in and bake at once – no batches.
I use my favourite homemade lemon curd that beats any store-bought curd I’ve ever tried, hands down. Make it for yourself and I promise it will become your favourite too. The lemon curd only takes 15 minutes to make and it’s perfect in cakes and in, well, lemon donuts. Or for eating by the spoonful.
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Ingredients you’ll need
The ingredients list for these lemon filled donuts is relatively short. It starts with a very simple and basic enriched dough – enriched meaning it has butter and egg yolks added, the fat adding richness. The filling, if you choose to make it from scratch, has just a handful of simple ingredients.
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
- Milk: Start with full fat milk / whole milk. You could replace this with a lighter milk but you will lose some of the richness, or a plant-based milk.
- Yeast: Instant yeast or instant dried yeast is your best bet here. That’s what I use. You can also use active-dry yeast which needs to be activated but I’ve written the recipe in such a way that you will be activating the yeast first up anyway.
- Sugar: You can use regular white granulated sugar for the dough but you’ll need caster sugar (superfine sugar) for the coating. You can make caster sugar from white granulated sugar simply by processing in a food processor until the granules are much finer.
- Bread flour: I use bread flour for its higher protein which results in a chewier texture which is great for bread and donuts. You can swap it for plain flour (all-purpose flour) but the texture will differ.
- Egg yolks: Egg yolks are used for richness in this dough. I use large eggs.
- Butter: Just a little unsalted butter goes into the dough as well, again for richness. It’s also brushed onto the baked doughnuts so the sugar coating has something to stick to. Since we’re not frying them, the outside is dry when they come out of the oven.
- Lemon zest: Grab a lemon and a microplane or very fine grater and grate the lemon zest. This gets massaged into sugar for the coating.
- Lemon curd: Of course you can use shop-bought if you like but I promise you’ll get the best flavour making your lemon curd from scratch and it’s very easy. It’s made with fresh lemons (zest & juice), sugar, butter and eggs.
These are a classic yeasted doughnut similar to making bread, as opposed to cake donuts made in a donut pan that have baking powder or soda in place of the yeast and are made like a cake batter by mixing dry ingredients into wet ingredients. I have cake donut recipes if you want to try those.
How to make lemon donuts (step-by-step)
While making dough, does take time, it’s very much worth it for these baked lemon doughnuts.
I chose to bake these because;
- I’ve already created a fried donuts recipe so that’s covered
- and most importantly, a tiny bit of my soul dies every time I have to deep fry something – all the oil, all the splatters, trying to get it to stay at the right temperature plus it adds a lot more fat to whatever you’re cooking.
Baking these doughnuts gives you a lighter end result in both colour and calories but still with all the flavour you need, plus it’s quicker and cleaner. You can certainly fry them if you prefer them that way.
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
To make the doughnuts
- Activate the yeast: While you technically don’t need to activate instant yeast, I do it so that I can make sure the yeast froths up meaning that it’s alive and good to use. Doing that before adding the rest of the ingredients could save you from wasting a load of ingredients if you find the dough doesn’t rise because your yeast is no good. The other reason is that if you’re using active dry yeast, you do need to activate it first, so by doing that step first, it covers off all our bases. Just mix the yeast with the sugar and warm milk and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it gets frothy. If it doesn’t, start again with new yeast.
- Combine all the ingredients: Add the rest of the dough ingredients to the yeast mixture and give it a rough mix before kneading to a soft, elastic dough. In a stand mixer this will take 7 or so minutes while it can take 10-15 or more by hand.
- First rise: Place the dough into an oiled bowl and rub a little oil over the top. Sit it in a warm spot and let it rise until doubled in size.
- Shape the doughnuts: Roll the doughnut dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1.5cm (just over ½ an inch). Take a 7cm / 2 ½ to 3 inch cookie cutter and cut out rounds of dough – try to get as many as possible from the first roll.
- Second rise: Place your rounds of dough onto a large baking sheet lined with baking paper. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise again in a warm spot until they’re almost double in size and looking puffy.
- Bake: Simply slide the baking sheet into a preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes turning at the halfway point.
The lemon filling and coating
- The lemon sugar: The lemon sugar coating for these baked lemon donuts is a simple mixture of caster sugar (superfine sugar) and lemon zest. Massage them together to release the oils from the lemon zest and intensify the lemon flavour.
- Butter the donuts: Brush the donuts with melted butter to give the sugar something to stick to, then roll the donuts in the lemon sugar.
- For the lemon filling, I use straight up homemade lemon curd. It’s very quick and easy and you should make it during the first rise (or 2-3 days in advance) so that it cools in time to fill the warm donuts. Spoon it into a piping bag, make little holes in the top or side of your doughnuts, then pipe the lemon curd inside.
Tips and tricks
- Activating yeast: Keep in mind that yeast needs warmth to grow so you need to add it to a warm liquid. If it’s a cold day, you may find it doesn’t froth up as much as it might on a warm day too but as long as you see it even starting to get puffy, it’s good to use.
- Kneading the dough: I use a stand mixer with a dough hook to make my dough but you can certainly do it by hand, it will just be a bit sticky for a while – try not to add too much flour if you knead it by hand.
- No cookie cutter? No worries. You can just roll small balls of dough then flatten them out slightly.
- Re-rolling the dough: You can re-roll the dough but try to keep that to just once. When you re-roll it, you’ll need to let the dough rest for about 15-20 minutes to relax again otherwise it will be too springy for you to cut your doughnut rounds.
- Piping nozzle: I like use a piping nozzle with an opening of about 6-7mm (¼ inch) – it’s pointy enough to get right inside without being so big that it makes a mess of the donut.
- Add some cream: If you want to lighten the flavour of the lemon curd, you can fold just a little whipped cream through it.
Once you’ve mastered this lemon donut recipe, you can make a few little changes to create your own flavours. Here’s some more donut filling ideas for you.
- Lemon and blueberry: Keep the lemon sugar coating but fill the inside with thick blueberry compote or blueberry jam.
- Classic jam donut: Coat the doughnuts with the sugar minus the lemon zest, then fill with strawberry jam.
- Cinnamon and caramel: Coat the donuts in cinnamon sugar (leave out the lemon zest and add ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon instead) then fill with dulce de leche or caramel filling. I love Bonne Maman caramel.
- Try other curds: Keep it citrusy with my lime curd or orange curd and use the matching zest in the sugar coating.
- Icing sugar: Try a dusting of icing sugar (powdered sugar) instead of the lemon sugar.
- Whipped cream: Let them cool and you can fill the doughnuts with whipped cream like this Chantilly cream or try spiking plain whipped cream with freeze dried strawberry powder to make a strawberry cream filling.
- Pastry cream: Like a Bavarian donut, try filling them with vanilla pastry cream or maybe this chocolate pastry cream.
- Glaze: You could swap the sugar coating for a lemon glaze made with fresh lemon juice and icing sugar (powdered sugar).
- Chocolate donuts: Leave out the lemon, and fill them with this luscious chocolate cremeux.
The list goes on. I’d love to hear what combinations you try or want to try.
Yield and storage
This recipe makes 10-12 donuts depending on the exact size of your cutter.
Just like fried donuts, these baked lemon donuts are best eaten fresh. If eating them after a day or 2, give them a quick zap in the microwave for about 8 seconds. It’s not enough to heat them but will just soften and fluff them up again.
Did you try this lemon donut recipe?
Leaving a rating and comment below the recipe is so helpful!
FOR THE DOUGHNUTS
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 50 g white sugar (¼ cup / 1.8oz)
- 2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast (or active dry)
- 325 g bread flour (2 ½ cups / 11.5oz)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 egg yolks from large eggs, room temperature
- 42 g unsalted butter, melted (3 tablespoons / 1 ½ oz)
COATING AND FILLING
- ½ cup caster sugar (superfine sugar) (100g/3.5oz)
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (28g/1oz)
- ¾ cup lemon curd (180ml)
For best results, always weigh ingredients where a weight is provided
- MAKE THE DOUGH: Warm the milk for 25-30 seconds in the microwave (if cold, or 15 seconds if room temp). You don’t want it to be hot, just slightly warmer to the touch.
- 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 (this is so you know the yeast is active and not expired).
- Add the flour, salt, egg yolks and melted butter and use the dough hook to give it a stir together.
- Attach the dough hook and knead on the low setting for about 7-10 minutes until it looks elastic and quite smooth. You can also knead by hand for 12-15 minutes but try not to add too much flour or you’ll end up with dry donuts.
- Grease a large bowl with a little oil. Place the doughnut dough into the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm (not hot) spot for 1 – 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.
- SHAPE THE DOUGHNUTS:Line a large baking sheet with baking paper.
- On a lightly floured surface, gently roll out the dough to about 1.5cm thick (just over ½ inch). Dip a 7.5cm (3 inch) round cookie cutter into flour then cut rounds from the dough – try to get as many from the first roll as possible. Lay each one onto the baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and put in a warm spot to rise until puffy and nearly doubled in size (45-60 minutes).
- You can re-knead any remaining dough to a small, smooth ball and let it rest for 15 minutes before rolling and cutting more doughnuts. Place them with the others to rise.
- COOKING THE DOUGHNUTS: Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan forced) / 350F. See notes for deep frying.
- Bake donuts right on the baking sheet they proved on for 10 minutes. They will just be starting to turn golden. You can test they’re done but inserting a thermometer – it should read 88C / 190F for a properly cooked donut.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and cool slightly before filling. If they’re too hot, the filling may become runny.
- FOR THE LEMON SUGAR: Place the sugar and lemon zest into a medium bowl and use your fingers to press it together to release the oil from the lemon zest and evenly distribute it.
- Brush the donuts liberally with the melted butter, using your hand to help coat them all over.
- Use your dry hand to roll and dust the donuts, one at a time, through the sugar, tossing and rolling it around to coat well.
- Press the handle end of a teaspoon into the side or top of your donuts and wiggle it around a little to create some space for the lemon curd.
- FILLING THE DONUTS: Transfer the lemon curd to a piping bag with a 6-7mm (¼ inch) round or long piping nozzle.
- Push the nozzle into the hole made in the donut and gently squeeze to fill with lemon curd. Let the resistance from the lemon curd tell you when to remove it.
- Best eaten while fresh.
- Please take a moment to leave a comment & rating. It's appreciated and so helpful.
- For best results, you should always weigh ingredients like flour and sugar. Kitchen scales are relatively cheap but if you can’t weigh the ingredients, use the spoon and level method (don’t scoop).
- You’ll get 10-12 donuts from this batch depending on the exact size of your cookie cutter.
- If you prefer to deep fry your donuts, heat 2 litres (quarts) oil in a large saucepan to between 170C-180C (340F-350F). Try to keep it at that temperature the entire time. Place 2-3 donuts into the hot oil using a slotted spoon. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook for 1 ½ – 2 minutes each side. Transfer to a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with paper towel to drain for a few minutes. You can test the temperature after removing them from the oil – it should reach 88C / 190F for a properly cooked donut. Proceed with the coating and filling from there.
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