Vanilla Bean Sugar Doughnuts (Fluffy Brioche – Tangzhong)
These vanilla bean sugar-dipped doughnuts are made from brioche – a soft enriched dough, full of butter and eggs. They are sweetly fragrant, wonderfully rich and exceptionally airy and soft.
This recipe uses tangzhong – a secret, magical ingredient often used in Asian breads for softness and fluffiness. Brioche is already soft and fluffy. So why add tangzhong? Tangzhong boosts the airiness of the brioche, making it even more pillowy. It also prolongs shelf life, so your Vanilla Bean Sugar Doughnuts will stay soft and moist for days.
For some helpful tips before you begin, click here. (Recommended)
Makes 12 brioche doughnuts.
Vanilla Bean Sugar:
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 6 tablespoons (90 ml) water
- 2 tablespoons (16 g) bread flour
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) water
- 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar, divided
- 1/2 tablespoon (5 g) active dry yeast
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups (167 g) bread flour
- 1/4 cup (31 g) powdered milk
- 1 teaspoon (6 g) fine salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick or 112 g) unsalted butter, softened
- vegetable oil, for frying
- doughnut cutter (See TIPS)
- parchment paper cut into 15 4-inch (13 cm) squares.
- candy thermometer
- spider skimmer or slotted spatula
- cooling rack
FOR THE VANILLA BEAN SUGAR:
1. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar.
– Pour the sugar into the work bowl of a food processor (or other large bowl, if you don’t have one).
– On a cutting board, split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp-tipped knife. Scrape out the seeds inside with the dull side of the blade and add to the sugar.
2. Process the vanilla bean seeds and sugar together.
– Pulse the vanilla bean seeds and sugar 10 to 15 times, or until the seeds are well-dispersed throughout. (If you don’t have a food processor, just use a whisk or a fork.)
– Place the sugar, along with the scraped out vanilla pod, into an air-tight canister, jar or container. Set aside. The sugar will be infused with the vanilla as it sits.
FOR THE DOUGHNUTS:
1. Make the tangzhong.
– In a small pan, over medium-high heat, combine water and bread flour for the tangzhong.
– Whisk constantly until thick and smooth like pudding, maybe 3 or 4 minutes.
– Pour into a small bowl and refrigerate to cool while gathering the remaining ingredients.
2. Activate the yeast.
– Warm the water to about 110°F (49°C). (Slightly warm to touch.)
– In a small bowl, stir together the warm water, 1 tablespoon (12.5 g) of the sugar and the yeast.
– Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until foamy.
3. Combine the ingredients.
– In the bowl of a stand mixer, briefly whisk together the all-purpose flour, bread flour, the remaining sugar, powdered milk and salt.
– Add the foamy yeast mixture, the cooled tangzhong and the eggs to the flour mixture.
– Stir with a wooden spoon until the flour has been absorbed and a shaggy dough forms.
4. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
– Using a stand mixer, knead the dough with the paddle attachment on low speed (setting #2) for about 30 seconds to a minute to bring the ingredients together.
– Increase to medium-high speed (setting #4) and knead until the dough transforms into a smooth, glossy, batter-like dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl in sticky strands, about 10 minutes.
– Test the dough:
- Pull on a bit of the dough. The dough will be very soft and sticky. (That’s how it should be.) But when stretched thin, it should also be smooth, springy and elastic. (See TIPS.)
5. Gradually add the butter.
– Switch to the dough hook attachment. On low speed (setting #2), begin adding the butter a few tablespoons at a time, waiting for each addition to be incorporated before adding the next.
– Stop and scrape down the sides of the mixer as needed until all the butter is added and absorbed.
– Once all the butter is added, increase speed to medium-high (setting #4) and knead the dough for 5 more minutes until the dough is silky smooth and trying to pull away from the sides of the bowl and cling to the hook.
– The dough will be very soft, smooth and a little bit jiggly.
6. Let the dough rise until about double in volume. (First rise)
– Scrape the dough into a large, lightly greased bowl.
– Smooth the top as much as you can.
- With such sticky dough, here’s one way to do this: With greased hands, slide fingers under the dough from each side and lift. Allow the weight of the overhanging dough to stretch and smooth the surface. Set the dough back down. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat until the top is nice and smooth.
– Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 to 2 hours (depending on how warm your kitchen is) or until double in size.
7. Punch down the dough, reshape and refrigerate overnight. (second rise)
– Once the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down (with lightly greased hands) to release all the built up gases.
– Reshape the dough so that the top is smooth.
– Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator.
– Let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight, or for up to 2 days. (Any longer than 2 days and the dough may begin to smell “yeasty”.)
Punch down the dough as needed.
– You may need to punch down the dough once or twice as it continues to expand in the bowl.
– After punching the dough down, reshape, cover with the plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator.
- As the dough becomes more stiff, reshape the dough by pulling up the sides and folding them into the center, gathering the dough into a ball. Flip the dough ball so that the top is smooth.
8. Cut out the doughnuts. (See TIPS)
– When ready to make the doughnuts, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a generously floured surface.
– Roll the dough out with a floured rolling pin into a rectangle approximately 15×12-inches (38×30 cm).
- Lift and turn the dough occasionally to make sure the dough is not sticking. Dust with flour as needed.
- Roll gently with a light touch. This will also help with any stickiness.
– Cut out 12 doughnuts using the doughnut cutter. Place each doughnut on a parchment paper square. Place the doughnut holes on a parchment paper square, too, 4 per square.
9. Let the doughnuts proof. (Third rise) (See Tips)
– Cover the brioche doughnuts loosely with the floured plastic wrap and place somewhere draft-free.
- Flour the plastic wrap by just taking a sheet and laying it down on your floured surface. Press and “iron” the plastic wrap with your hands so it will pick up excess flour.
– Let rise (proof) about 45 minutes, until puffy. (If you lightly poke a doughnut, the indentation left by your finger slowly bounces back half-way.) Do not over-proof.
10. Preheat the oil BEFORE the doughnuts are done proofing. Prepare your station.
– Fill a pot, preferably heavy-bottomed (like a Dutch oven), with about 2 to 3 inches of oil.
– Just before the doughnuts are done rising, start preheating the oil to 375°F (190°C). Use a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature.
– Have a paper towel-lined plate nearby, along with extra paper towels.
– Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet.
– Pour the vanilla bean sugar in a bowl wide enough to accommodate a doughnut. Keep nearby.
11. Fry the doughnuts until golden brown. (See TIPS)
– When the doughnuts are proofed and the oil is at 375°F (190°C), fry the doughnuts by carefully lowering them into the oil, paper and all. (Do not overcrowd the pot.) Pull the paper out with the tongs and discard.
– When the bottom of the doughnuts have become golden, after about 60 to 90 seconds, flip them. Fry until both sides are deep golden brown. (If you have an instant-read thermometer, the doughnuts will have an internal temperature of 190°F (88°C) when they are done.)
– Remove the doughnuts from the oil with the spider skimmer or the slotted spatula. Let drain over the pot before placing onto the paper towel-lined plate. Once the paper towel has soaked up some of the oil from the doughnuts, move them to the cooling rack.
- Maintain the temperature of the oil by adjusting the temperature controls as needed.
12. Dip the doughnuts in the sugar while still warm.
– While the doughnuts are still warm, toss them in the bowl of vanilla bean sugar, making sure to coat the entire doughnut. (Use a spoon, too, if needed.)
– Place back on the cooling rack until completely cool.
Doughnuts are always best eaten FRESH!
– Store at room temperature in a sealed container for 3 or 4 days, then refrigerate.
– Or freeze doughnuts by wrapping individually in plastic wrap and placing them in Ziploc-type freezer bags for up to 3 months.
- If you know you will not be eating the doughnuts right away, it is best to freeze them undipped in sugar or glaze.
– Reheat room temperature or refrigerated doughnuts in the microwave on HIGH for about 20 to 25 seconds or in the oven at 350°F (176°C) for about 5 minutes.
– Reheat frozen doughnuts in a 350°F (176°C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes, until heated through. Dip in sugar or glaze while still warm.
About this recipe
Vanilla bean sugar is simple to make but luxurious to have around. Make it before starting your dough so that it will have as much time as possible for the fragrance of the vanilla seeds to permeate the sugar fully.
Brioche takes a little more time and effort than regular sweet dough. The dough is full of eggs and butter, so it’s softer and stickier. It also requires 3 rises, including an overnight rise. But the results are sugar doughnuts with rich flavor and superior texture.
These brioche doughnuts will need to be made over two days, including an overnight rest. Expect to take 2 to 3 hours the first day for prepping, kneading and resting and about 1 1/2 to 2 hours the next day for rolling and cutting out doughnuts, proofing and frying. (Except for the overnight rest, brioche doughnuts don’t take much more time than ordinary doughnuts to make!)
This recipe also uses tangzhong (a cooked slurry of flour and water often used in soft Asian breads, like Japanese Milk Bread). Tangzhong helps dough retain moisture which not only makes these doughnuts even more soft and fluffy, but also promotes a longer shelf life.
- Make these other great recipes using brioche (with tangzhong): Brioche Wool Roll Bread filled with Praline Gianduja and Light & Crispy Liège Waffles.
Here are 8 helpful tips:
Note: Some of the pictures below show a double batch. I like to keep some in the freezer for doughnut “emergencies”!
1) Making vanilla bean sugar:
- Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp-tipped knife.
- Scrape out the vanilla seeds from the pod.
- Pulse the vanilla seeds and sugar 10 to 15 times in a food processor.
- Pour into a jar or other air-tight container along with the empty vanilla pod.
- Set aside to infuse until ready to use.
2) Making the dough:
Use a scale for consistent baking.
– While I sometimes find using volume measures more convenient, weight measures will give more accurate and consistent results. So if you bake regularly, you really should get a scale. (Preferably one that reads ounces and grams.)
Make sure the tangzhong is cooled.
– It is important the tangzhong is cooled before adding it to your dough mixture. If your tangzhong is too hot, it may damage the yeast.
Make sure your butter is softened.
– Butter will incorporate into the dough best when softened. Allow cold butter to sit out for at least 30 minutes to soften, or until you can press it with your finger and it will give beneath light pressure.
– To soften butter quickly: I usually cut my cold butter into thin pats or small cubes. Then after a few minutes, I mash the butter with the flat side of a knife or the back of a spoon until it becomes smooth and spreadable.
Be sure your yeast is active.
– Yeast must be active for dough to rise. You know your yeast is alive and active if it becomes foamy when dissolved in warm water between 100°F (38°C) and 110°F (49°C) with a little sugar stirred in.
- If the yeast doesn’t become foamy within 10 minutes, throw it out and try again.
- After your yeast has been activated, don’t let it sit too long or else the yeast will be less effective.
3) Kneading the dough:
– Proper kneading is necessary for the dough to fry into the lightest, fluffiest, well-shaped doughnuts. Even though brioche dough is very soft, it should still be smooth and elastic enough to be stretched until light can shine through without tearing (the windowpane test).
- This brioche dough is not like typical dough. It may seem more batter-like rather than doughy. But when kneaded enough, it can still be stretched into a thin, translucent sheet.
If your dough didn’t pass the windowpane test:
– If you have kneaded for the allotted time but your dough is not passing the windowpane test (not stretchy or elastic), don’t stress.
- Rest your dough for 10 minutes (and up to 30 minutes) then test again. (It’s amazing what a little rest can do for dough’s smoothness and elasticity.)
- If the dough is still not stretchy or elastic, knead for 3 minutes and then re-test.
- Repeat, if needed, until the dough passes the windowpane test.
Do not over-knead:
- If you start to feel the dough becoming firm and less stretchy, stop kneading or else you risk over-kneading your dough. Over-kneaded dough will become dry and dense with a hard crust.
Do not add flour:
- Brioche dough is very soft and sticky. That’s how it should be. Don’t add any extra flour. That will just weigh down your brioche. The dough will be firmer and much easier to work with after a night in the refrigerator. (It will also taste better, so don’t skip the overnight rest.)
4) Cutting out the doughnuts:
If you don’t have a doughnut cutter….
– If you don’t have a doughnut cutter (like me), use a biscuit cutter or even a drinking glass. For the hole, I am just using a cough medicine measuring cup here.
– And don’t throw away the scraps! They may not be round, but they’re still tasty.
5) Proofing the doughnuts.
Properly proof for the fluffiest sugar doughnuts.
– Let the doughnuts proof about 45 minutes or until puffed. When you poke the doughnut, the indentation from your finger should slowly bounce back about halfway.
– If you under-proof, your doughnuts may shrink after cooling. If you over-proof, your doughnuts may collapse.
- Over-proofed doughnuts collapse and never fry up to their fluffiest.
6) Frying the doughnuts:
Set up your station for ease.
– Before starting to fry, it’s good to have your station set up so things go smoothly.
- When working with hot oil, it’s important to work cleanly and efficiently to avoid mishaps and messes.
Use the parchment paper to safely lower the doughnuts into the oil.
– Because brioche dough is so soft, it’s easiest to lower the doughnuts into the hot oil with the parchment paper.
- Slide the parchment paper square with the doughnut onto the slotted spoon and lower into the hot oil. Then use tongs to remove the paper and discard it.
Fry until deep golden brown.
– Fry at 375°F (190°C) until deep golden brown on both sides. This could take about 60 to 90 seconds per side.
– Instant-read thermometers are the most reliable way to check for doneness. The doughnuts are done when the internal temperature reaches 190°F (88°C).
- Do your best to keep the oil between 360°F (182°C) and 380°F (193°C). Above 380°F (193°C), the doughnuts will burn before they are cooked inside. Below 360°F (182°C) and the doughnuts will take too long to cook and will absorb too much oil.
- If you don’t have a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature of the oil, adjust the temperature of the oil to where the doughnuts take about 60 to 90 seconds per side to become deep golden brown.
Drip and drain the oil away.
– Minimize the amount of oil on your doughnuts: 1) Let the oil drip off the doughnuts back into the pot when removing them; 2) Set the doughnuts on paper towels to let them wick away the oil: 3) Lastly, put them on a cooling rack to drip away any oil remaining.
7) Finishing the doughnuts:
– Dip the doughnuts in the vanilla bean sugar while still warm. The sugar will stick better to warm doughnuts.
- This recipe is for vanilla bean sugar doughnuts. But these brioche doughnuts would be delicious with what ever glazes and sugars you like. Go for it!
8) Storing & freezing the doughnuts:
– Store at room temperature for up to 3 or 4 days in a sealed container. Then refrigerate.
- Sugars and glazes tend to soften and melt over time. If you know you won’t be eating the doughnuts right away, freeze them before dipping them in any sugars or glazes. Dip them after reheating.
– Freeze well-wrapped doughnuts for up to 3 months.
- Wrap the doughnuts individually, not only to protect them better from freezer burn, but also for convenience.
Vanilla Bean Sugar Doughnuts