The Best Caramel Donuts

These caramel donuts are fried, pillowy perfection, stuffed with whipped caramel sauce. This delicious treat takes a bit of time to make, but it’s worth it!

caramel donuts.

I love homemade donuts so much. I’ve got a few variations on the blog, like lemon curd donuts, blueberry brioche donuts, and buttermilk fried donuts. These caramel donuts have quickly reached the top of my top favorites!

The dough is lightly enriched with milk, egg, and butter and is soft and lovely to work with. They’re cut bomboloni style, like big round circles. This way, they can be stuffed with the caramel filling once they’re fried.

For the filling, I used whipped caramel, which is literally just caramel sauce whipped up until it’s thick and airy! It makes great stuffing for donuts. 

birds eye of donuts.

Ingredients

Here’s what you need for the homemade doughnuts. Find the ingredient quantities written in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post. 

  • All-purpose flour. One with a protein level of around 11%. This protein content is enough to develop the gluten but not too much that the donuts are chewy.
  • Instant yeast or active dry yeast. The yeast used in this donut recipe is instant yeast. It is fast-acting and usually pretty foolproof when it comes to viability. If you want to use active dried yeast, test and proof the yeast first by warming the buttermilk (to around 95-104°F / 35-40°C) and mixing in the yeast along with the sugar. 
  • Granulated white sugar. Adds a little sweetness to the dough.
  • Whole milk
  • Large egg
  • Softened butter
  • Vanilla extract or paste
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil. A neutral type like canola oil or sunflower oil, with a high smoke point, for frying
  • Whipped caramel sauce

Equipment

  • Stand mixer – The dough takes around 10 minutes of mixing to develop the gluten. This is easily done in a stand mixer, however, it can be done by hand too, you just need a bit of elbow grease!
  • A round cookie cutter or jar lid to cut the donuts, around 3.5 inches/9 cm in diameter.
  • Parchment paper – The donuts can be fried on parchment paper, which makes transferring them easier. If you don’t have parchment paper, you can transfer the donuts without it but it can be a little trickier as the dough is quite soft.
  • A deep fryer or large pot and candy thermometer – If you’re not using a deep fryer (which usually comes with a thermometer) you’ll need a candy thermometer for this. One that can handle reading at a high temperature.
  • Electric hand beater – For whipping the caramel sauce.

Method

Caramel sauce

Begin by measuring your butter, cutting it into cubes, and setting it aside. Melt the granulated sugar in a deep, medium saucepan over low-medium heat. Stir gently with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula while it melts. The sugar will initially clump together.

dry caramel being made.

It will gradually melt into an amber-colored liquid.

Do not rush this process; avoid turning up the heat or letting the sugar darken excessively, as this could result in a burnt and bitter flavor.

butter cube in a hot caramel sauce.

Once the sugar has completely melted, switch to a whisk and add the butter cubes, two or three at a time.

Begin whisking immediately as you add the butter, and continue until all the butter has melted.

With the butter fully incorporated into the melted sugar, it’s time to pour in the cream, continuing to whisk as you do so.

Be careful here as the cream will cause the caramel to bubble and rise even more.

whisking brown caramel in a saucepan.

Keep cooking and whisking continuously until you cohesive sauce.

Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the salt and vanilla. For salted caramel sauce, add extra sea salt.

Leave the caramel sauce to cool for 5-10 minutes, then pour it into a clean jar or bowl. Let it cool in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours until it’s thick and scoopable.

Donut dough

Add the warm milk and stir in the yeast and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. If using active dry yeast, let this sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.

mixing dough.

To the milk mixture, add the egg, flour, and salt. Turn the mixer on low speed or use your hands to combine until it forms a sticky, thick dough.

Mix this dough for around 2 minutes to begin developing the gluten. 

butter cube added to dough.

Add in the room temperature butter. Turn the mixer on medium speed until the sticky dough strengthens and comes together.

In the mixer, it should pull away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.

glossy donut dough.

Mix the dough for at least 10 minutes for the best gluten development. The dough should feel smooth, soft, and strong.

Shape the dough into a ball and place it into a lightly greased large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof in a warm spot until doubled in size. You can also proof the dough in the refrigerator overnight for extra flavor.

Shaping

Punch down the dough and pull it from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. If it was refrigerated, it will be stiff. Form it into a mound, then roll it into a ½ inch/ 1.3cm thick rectangle.

cutting dough pieces.

Use a cookie cutter or jar lid to cut out round donuts about 3.5 inches/9 cm in diameter.

donut dough pieces.

Place each cut donut onto some parchment paper.

Any dough scraps can be kneaded back into a ball and rolled out again. Leave the dough ball rest for a few minutes before rolling out again. This allows the gluten to rest again so the dough doesn’t spring back when rolled.

Let the donuts rest for 30-60 minutes until they are puffy. Use kitchen scissors to cut around each donut on the parchment paper so each donut is sitting on an individual piece of parchment.

Frying

When nearly ready to fry, pour the frying oil into a deep fryer or a deep pot and heat it to around 340°F / 171°C – 347°F / 175°C. 

Carefully drop 2-3 donuts into the oil and remove the parchment paper with tongs. Fry the donuts for 2 minutes until a deep golden brown, flip them, and fry for 2 minutes on the other side. Ensure the oil in the pot stays hot, but don’t let it surpass 350°F / 177°C, or the donuts will burn before they can cook in the middle.

fried doughnuts.
sugar coated donut.

Remove the fried donuts with a slotted spoon and let them drain for 20-30 seconds before placing them in a bowl of granulated sugar and tossing it coat.

Place them on a wire rack to cool and continue frying the rest of the donuts.

Filling

Scoop the cold caramel into a mixing bowl and whip it with an electric mixer for around 3-4 minutes until it lightens in color and it’s thick and airy.

caramel piped into donut.

Spoon the whipped caramel into a piping bag fitted with a round tip. Insert the tip of a small knife into the sides of the cooled donuts to make a hole for the filling.

Pipe the caramel through the hole into each donut.

Storing

Store your caramel doughnuts in an airtight container to keep them fresh for the next day. You can also keep them on a cooling rack with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

caramel stuffed doughnuts.

Variations

  • Cinnamon Caramel Donuts: Toss the fried donuts in a granulated sugar and cinnamon mixture.
  • Mini Donuts: Create mini donuts using a smaller cookie cutter. The frying time will be less.
  • Instead of caramel, you could also stuff the donuts with pastry cream, ganache, blueberry fillinglemon curd or strawberry filling.
caramel donut halved.
donut close up.

Fluffy Caramel Donuts

Yield: 16
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Cooling Time: 5 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 5 minutes

These caramel donuts are fried, pillowy perfection, stuffed with whipped caramel sauce. This delicious treat takes a bit of time to make, but it's worth it!

Ingredients

Caramel Sauce

  • 200g (1 cup) granulated white sugar
  • 42g (3 Tablespoons) butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
  • 165g (½ cup + 3 Tablespoons) heavy cream at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Donut Dough

  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast or active dried yeast
  • 25g (2 Tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 240g (1 cup) luke-warm milk
  • 405g (3 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 42g (3 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

Frying

  • 1-2 quarts neutral oil - enough to fill the pot around 3" deep.

Coating

  • 1/2-1 cup granulated sugar

Instructions

Caramel sauce

  1. Begin by measuring your butter, cutting it into cubes, and setting it aside. Melt the granulated sugar in a deep, medium saucepan over low-medium heat. Stir gently with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula while it melts. The sugar will initially clump together.
  2. It will gradually melt into an amber-colored liquid. Do not rush this process; avoid turning up the heat or letting the sugar darken excessively, as this could result in a burnt and bitter flavor.
  3. Once the sugar has completely melted, switch to a whisk and add the butter cubes.
  4. Begin whisking immediately as you add the butter, and continue until all the butter has melted.
  5. With the butter fully incorporated into the melted sugar, it's time to pour in the heavy cream and continue to whisk as you do. Be careful here, as the cream will cause the caramel to bubble and rise even more.
  6. Keep cooking and whisking continuously until you achieve a cohesive sauce.
  7. Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the salt and vanilla. Leave the caramel sauce to cool for 5-10 minutes, then pour it into a clean jar or bowl.
  8. Let it cool in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours until it's thick and scoopable.

Donut dough

  1. Add the warm milk and stir in the yeast and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. If using active dry yeast, let this sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy.
  2. Add the egg, flour, vanilla, and salt to the milk mixture. Turn the mixer on low speed or use your hands to combine until it forms a sticky, thick dough. Mix this dough for around 2 minutes to begin developing the gluten. 
  3. Add the room-temperature butter. Turn the mixer on medium speed until the sticky dough strengthens and comes together. In the mixer, it should pull away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. Mix the dough for at least 10 minutes for the best gluten development. The dough should feel smooth, soft, and strong.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball and place it into a lightly greased large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof in a warm spot until doubled in size. You can also proof the dough in the refrigerator overnight for extra flavor.

Shaping

  1. Punch down the dough and pull it from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. If it is refrigerated, it will be stiff. Form it into a mound and lightly flour the top. Then roll it into a ½ inch/ 1.3cm thick rectangle.
  2. Use a cookie cutter or jar lid to cut out round donuts about 3.5 inches/9 cm in diameter. Place each cut donut onto some parchment paper.
  3. Any dough scraps can be kneaded back into a ball and rolled out again. Leave the dough scraps to rest for a few minutes before rolling out again. This allows the gluten to rest again so the dough doesn't spring back when rolled.
  4. Let the donuts rest for 30-60 minutes until they are puffy. If drying out, lightly brush the tops with a little water. Use kitchen scissors to cut around each donut on the parchment paper so each donut is sitting on an individual piece of parchment.

Frying

  1. When nearly ready to fry, pour the frying oil into a deep fryer or a deep pot and heat it to around 340°F / 171°C - 347°F / 175°C. Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar.
  2. Carefully drop 1-2 donuts into the oil and remove the parchment paper with tongs. Fry the donuts for 2 minutes on one side, flip them, and fry for 2 minutes on the other side.
  3. Ensure the oil in the pot stays hot, but don't let it surpass 350°F / 177°C, or the donuts will burn before they can cook in the middle.
  4. Remove the fried donuts with a slotted spoon and let them drain for 20-30 seconds before placing them in the bowl of granulated sugar and tossing it coat.
  5. Place them on a wire rack to cool and continue frying the rest of the donuts.

Filling

  1. Scoop the cold caramel into a mixing bowl and whip it with an electric mixer for around 3-4 minutes until it lightens in color and it's thick and airy.
  2. Spoon the whipped caramel into a piping bag with a round tip. Insert the tip of a small knife into the sides of the cooled donuts to make a hole for the filling.
  3. Pipe the caramel through the hole into each donut.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 266Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 36mgSodium: 164mgCarbohydrates: 35gFiber: 1gSugar: 16gProtein: 4g

This is an informational estimate only. I am not a certified Dietitian or Nutritionist

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2 Comments

  1. For the dough, vanilla extract is listed as an ingredient but it’s never mentioned when to add?

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