Doughnuts with Burnt Caramel and Sea Salt

I have a bit of an obsession lately. Actually, most of this whole year it is a topic frequently brought up between Diane and me. The culinary practice of charring. Pushing the cooking of something to it’s limit.

Go just a little too far, and the dish is ruined.  Game over. Hit the restart button and begin from scratch.

But when pushed to that limit, it develops an extra level of flavor and texture that only the daring can achieve. We find ourselves drawn to and falling in love with the places and cooks who are willing to take these risks.

One of our local wood burning pizza places always exemplifies that differentiation. It is owned by an elder Italian. When he is manning the oven, he pushes the char just enough. The pizzas are amazing. Yet on the nights when he isn’t sliding and turning the pizzas, the other guys don’t have that same boldness. The pizzas are still good, but not on the level of flavor and texture which the signore achieves.

One of our favorite bakeries of all time, Tartine, pushes these limits. It almost seems to the point of reckless, or maybe fearless is a better word. And everything we’ve ordered from them is so good it makes us want to cry.

We will often remind ourselves of this. Emboldening ourselves to cook on the edge. Willing to push the chance of ruin in order to create something exceptional. Knowing… No. Feeling just when the right moment is to pull what we are cooking away from the heat.

The brown butter apple galette we recently posted was an example of that. Pushing the butter. Then when baking, pushing the crust to a deep golden, not fearing a slight singeing on the edges. Temperatures a little hotter than normal. Risking for the chance of exceptional.

So here’s another recipe to play with cooking on the edge. Donuts with Burnt Caramel and Sea Salt. Can I have an amen?! These are delicious to the verge of swooning. We doubled up the danger on the caramel glaze. First browning the butter going into the caramel. Next pushing the sugar as we melt and caramelize it. Cooking and toasting to where it starts to smoke. A little too far and it will be a carbon overload. But just enough… Ahhhh.

Finish it off with a really good sea salt flake. Use just a tiny pinch, and it is magical.


5 from 1 vote
Donuts with Burnt Caramel and Sea Salt Recipe
Cook Time
5 mins

This recipe has an 8 hour (or overnight) rest/cold proof time in the refrigerator. It quick and easy to make the dough the night before, then roll out, rise, and fry the donuts the next day. You can short cut it proofing the dough in one or two hours in a warm spot instead of overnight in the fridge, but the dough won't handle as easily and the donuts won't have as good of a final rise. Donut dough recipe based on Pioneer Woman. There are a couple ways to successfully make caramel. We prefer the swirl method. Never stirring the sugar as it cooks, instead just swirling the pan frequently (no spoons used at all) to help the sugar cook evenly. As always, be very careful making caramel. There are very few burns worse than caramel burns. Incredibly hot, and it will just stick to your skin, searing badly.

Servings: 18 Servings
Donut Dough
  • 1 1/8 cups (270ml) Milk
  • 1/4 cup (50g) Sugar
  • 1 pkg (2 1/4 teaspoons or 8g) Active Dry Yeast
  • 2/3 cup (140g) unsalted Butter
  • 2 lrg Eggs , beaten
  • 4 cups (500g) All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon (2g) Sea Salt
  • Grape seed , Peanut, or Canola Oil for deep frying
Burnt Caramel and Sea Salt Glaze
  • 6 Tablespoon (85g) unsalted Butter
  • 1 cup (200g) Sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) Heavy Cream
  • Sea Salt Flakes or Kosher Salt (Maldon's Sea Salt is excellent for this use)
Make the Dough
  1. In a small saucepan or microwave, gently warm milk to @ 115° F (bath water temp.). Add sugar and yeast and stir to dissolve. Set aside.
  2. Gently melt butter until it is almost all melted. Take off of heat. Stir to finish melting butter. Add beaten eggs and whisk to combine (make sure butter isn't too warm or it will cook the eggs).
  3. Put butter mix into an electric mixer bowl fit with a dough hook.  Turn mixer on low speed (or stir setting) and add yeast mixture to the butter. Increase speed to 3 or medium-low speed. Mix for a couple minutes or until thoroughly combined.
  4. Combine flour and salt. Add the flour to the dough mix in 1/2 cup increments, mixing for a minute or so in between measurements, until flour is fully incorporated. Scrape the bowl then mix again on medium-low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape again, then mix for another 30 seconds.
  5. Transfer dough to a large well-oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator. Refrigerate dough for at least 8 hours, or overnight (*for shortcut see head note).
Roll and Cut
  1. On a well floured surface, roll doughnuts out to 1/3"-1/2" thick. If the dough feels springy, let rest for a couple minutes.
  2. Using a 3" cutter, cut as many rounds out of the dough as you can. Pull away the excess dough and set aside to roll again. Gently pick up the rounds and place on a well floured sheet pan.
  3. Using a 1" or 1 1/8" cutter, cut out the center hole. Either place holes on baking sheet to fry as doughnut holes or add hole dough back into excess dough.
  4. Roll remaining dough out again to 1/3"-1/2" thick. Let rest for 5 minutes. Repeat cutting and rolling until dough is used up.
  5. Cover doughnuts with a large tea towel and place in a warm place. Allow doughnuts to rise for at least an hour or until visibly puffier and airy.
Make Burnt Caramel Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Butter will foam, then settle down. Continue to cook and the now separated solids will begin to brown and develop a toasty, nut aroma. Remove from heat.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat sugar over medium high heat. As sugar begins to melt, swirl the pan side to side frequently to help the sugar melt evenly. Continue to cook and swirl until the caramel begins to smoke slightly and is a deep amber color.
  3. Cook for just a touch more, allowing the flavor to develop a bit more. Remove from heat then pour in the browned butter. Pour in the heavy cream. (It will bubble up quite a bit.) Whisk to incorporate.
  4. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Fry the Doughnuts
  1. In a large pot, pour enough oil to be at least 1" deep.  Heat to 375°F. (If possible, use a thermometer and do not let oil get hotter than 380° F.)
  2. Gently pick up and ease donuts into oil. (Do not put more than a single layer of donuts into the oil) Cook each side until light golden brown (they cook quick, usually less than 1 minute per side).
  3. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon. Drain on several layers of paper towels, carefully turning over every 5 seconds a few times to try and blot as much oil out as possible without squishing the donuts (they will be extra soft while still warm). Repeat with remaining donuts.
  4. (optional) If cooking donut holes, they won't want to flip very easily. To cook evenly, continually turn and spin holes with a slotted spoon until evenly browned.  They will cook even faster than the donuts.
Glaze the Donuts
  1. Spoon a line of caramel sauce over the donuts, it will run down the sides. Very lightly sprinkle with sea salt.  Donuts are best while still warm.
{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Cherry

    Hi, this looks amazing! I’m mostly interested in the glaze. What’s the texture like? Does it harden (kind of) like a glaze at room temp, or does it stay sticky/soft? Trying to find a good donut glaze that doesn’t require powdered sugar or cornstarch, but stands up enough for a couple hours after glazing.


    1. Todd & Diane

      Hi Cherry,
      This glaze stays fairly soft, although the more you cook the sugar the firmer it gets when cool.
      T & D

  2. Basmaty

    I agree with FS. It is amazing but need more sugar. It tastes really good. Everyone should try it.

  3. FS

    I made the donuts. The dough is nice, but the donuts weren’t sweet. I think I will add more sugar to the dough, like maybe one cup and see how that tastes.

  4. Ellen

    Hi – just making these right now, we are having a National Donut Day celebration tomorrow (any excuse to make tasty food), how sticky should the dough be when you put it in the fridge??

  5. Detektei

    These donuts look wonderful!!!

  6. Nicomao

    Hey there! I’m looking to make these doughnuts for my husband on his birthday, but have one question before I jump into it… I’d like to prepare the dough the night before so that they can be fried and still warm for birthday breakfast. However, in comparing the recipes on your site and that of Pioneer woman, you call for overnight refrigeration and no ‘rise time’ while she recommends only an hour to hour and 15 minutes of rising time in a warm, draft free place with no overnight chilling. These two seem to contradict a bit, and since I’m new at this, I was hoping you could provide some clarification.

    Can I make the dough in the late afternoon and fry them the following morning, or is this too much elapsed time? Also, at what point do I let them rise… an hour before they’re cooked in the morning?

    Thanks so much for this fantastic recipe!

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Hi Nicomao,
      I think you missed reading on both of the recipes. Step 10 on Making the Dough of Ree’s recipe she says to refrigerate the dough overnight. Then later after cutting out the dough you let it rise in for an hour and 15 before frying. Our is basically the same. Step 5 on Making the dough you refrigerate overnight, and Step 5 of Roll and Cut you let it rise for at least an hour or until visibly puffier.
      Make the dough the afternoon before, chill it overnight. Cut it out and let rise for at least an hour, then fry.

      Good luck.

      1. Nicomao

        Ah! You’re right, I did miss that and sincerely apologize. Thanks very much for the clarification, I really appreciate it!


  7. Leah Bauer

    These look so good and I can’t wait to try and make them (donuts and I don’t seem to ever get along…). Just one thing though, number 1 in the instructions for the donuts was missing, I don’t know if it was just my computer, but I’m assuming that is where the instructions for the milk was because I couldn’t find the use for it anywhere else.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Sorry about that. You are correct. Step one was to warm the milk then add the yeast and sugar. We recently changed the print box formatting and missed piece of code. Thanks for letting us know. All fixed now.

  8. Tom Eex

    Sweet MERCY, I’ve put on a stone just looking at them. Want, want, want, want….

  9. Jocelyn Jiang

    a little bit salt over sweetness tastes so good! it enhances both flavors. this donut is so refreshing.

  10. Smith And Ratliff

    Oh my gosh, I’ve never tried making doughnuts before, but I think that’s about to change.

  11. The Americaine

    These look sinfully delicious.

  12. boogie

    my goooooodnesssssss!!!!

  13. sarah

    These look amazing.
    And I loved this post. So well-written, and thought provoking. Sometimes I am too safe in the kitchen.

  14. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence

    I need to make some donuts. I just back from SF where I enjoyed a delicious selection of gourmet donuts and now seeing these, I feel inspired 🙂

  15. Deb

    Oh, I’m going to have to make some! This sounds great! But you simply must try some Himalayan pink salt. I get mine from Sustainable Sourcing The flavor is so much better than regular salt! Thanks for sharing this recipe—I can’t wait to try it!

  16. Jon @ vodkitchen

    Um, wow. How can I NOT try these… this looks amazing. Beautiful photos as always.

    1. Jon @ vodkitchen

      Made these tonight… they came out exactly as advertised.

  17. zenchef

    I knew I shouldn’t click on your site. Now I’m CRAVING!!!

    So good..


  18. MikeVFMK

    I think cooking is all about pushing yourself. And pushing your techniques and the flavour possibilities. These donuts look ridonkulous. Really beautiful stuff, you two!

  19. farmerpam

    Yes, yes, yes! I’ve found this out quite by accident. I’ve been experimenting alot with maple syrup, (we are what are called “sugarmakers” in these parts, so I have gallons of maple syrup at my disposal) I’ve been trying to concoct a good caramel type maple glaze. I found it tastes MUCH better if almost burnt. Nectar. So amazing. Yet, I find if it’s not overcooked it tastes too sweet. And here I thought I was the only one to figure this out. Sheesh, I need to get out more. I have so little time to be on-line indulging in cooking blogs, I stopped by here via Jen, URB hoping to get a recipe for your spring rolls. Although she’s mentioned you often I’ve never stopped by your site, now I can’t wait to peruse your recipes. Oh, and the next rainy day I’m stayin’ inside and making those donuts! Yum.

  20. Kevin (Closet Cooking)

    Those doughnuts look so good all covered in caramel!

  21. Quay Po Cooks

    I only like sugar glazed donuts but I think I will like this! They look so enticing and I am drinking my tea now wishing I have one now.

  22. Carrie Oliver

    Having never tried before, making the doughnuts will likely be my biggest risk. Todd (or Diane), since I don’t have a stand mixer, any special instructions for a hand mixer? Thanks!

  23. pure2rawtwins

    YUM! Love all the pictures too!
    Caramel is a love of mine though it has been awhile since I have had any, that needs to change! and I would love it over some doughnuts!


    such. a. tease! and its a bit unfair how perfect and clean you make they look. well done!! xo

  25. Kimberly

    O.k. So I came back just to drool over the photos again. I’ve had such a sweet tooth lately, and these look absolutely delicious!

  26. Jennie

    This is just one more reason we’re friends. I made a similar doughnut for Hanukkah last year. I thought for sure the kids wouldn’t like the burnt caramel sauce, leaving more for me—I was so very wrong. —Hugs from The Perillo Girls.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      How can they not have a sophisticated palate w/ a mom who cooks so well. We’ve been talking about making these for a while, but it was your brown butter apple pie that finally pushed me into having to make these doughnuts. I became overly obsessed with browning butter and pushing the edge after making the galette w/ your pie filling. You know your trouble. xo

  27. TripleScoop

    You got an Amen out of me!

  28. Barbara

    Now if I could get over my fear of deep frying I could make these.

  29. norma

    Oh boy…I am salivating…

  30. tea_austen

    AMEN! These look amazing. Wickedly amazing.

  31. Christyna

    Definitely want to try the caramel recipe. Question: do we truly melt the sugar with no water?

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Correct. Sometimes people will add the water to make it easier to melt the sugar without burning it or getting lumps, then basically boil out the water, and then caramelizing it. Without water, it will caramelize quicker since you are skipping the part where you boil out the water. If you raise the pan and swirl it often, then lower it back onto the heat, it is easy and quick to caramelize the sugar without lumps and have it cook evenly without using water. The butter and the cream will be the final liquid which will allow the caramel texture to be fluid, rather than glassy.
      Hope that helps explain.

      1. Christyna

        Awesome 🙂 thanks for the reply and the great tips!

  32. Deeba Rajpal (@vindee)

    I love how you folk are pushing the limits constantly… pure joy of culinary adventure. My tiresome teen loves ‘charring’ stuff ALL THE TIME, and deep frying is quite part of the Indian culture. No fear there, so am totally loving these donuts! Just made a salted butter caramel sauce this morning; now wishing I had burnt the silly sugar! How hard I treid not to let it ‘brown’ too much! LOL!!

  33. The Wimpy Vegetarian

    These look amazing – I want to reach into my computer screen to grab one (or all of them). And I completely agree with pushing things to the edge. The risk is worth the huge gift that can happen. And big yes on being careful of caramel burns, as I look at a big blister on my hand from a weekend project 🙂

  34. Gilda Claudine

    Stunning photos! Will just have to give this a try. I see no other option!

  35. Ted

    My wife just confronted here 35+year fear of making donuts after a childhood donut mishap. You can read about her story and see the sucres story donuts on our blog,

  36. Rodney Bedsole

    I’ll give you an amen to that! Living on the edge through burnt salted caramel. I love to push the char too. The photos, as always, are amazing!

  37. SoupAddict

    Oh, I so agree with pushing the char! Even with simple things: warmed butter vs. browned butter = extra layer of wonderful flavor.

  38. LiztheChef

    Love your “cooking on the edge” philosophy…

  39. Maria

    Love everything about these donuts!

  40. Kathryn

    Most donuts are pretty good in my book but these just look so good. To be honest, I’m impressed that you managed to save enough to photograph because I don’t think I would have been able to!

  41. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga

    Omg. These look. So.Good.

    I just bought a donut pan this week. But it seems I don’t need one. I need frying grease. And that glaze. Could I just drink that from a shotglass, pretty please? 🙂

  42. charlotte au chocolat

    These look absolutely gorgeous and delicious!

  43. Natashia@foodonpaper

    These look amazing! I’ve never made doughnuts, I think it’s my fear of deep frying… a fear, as you wrote, I should probably overcome!

Leave a Reply