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.