Right now there are a lot of things I have absolutely no control over, and it sucks. The way I’d like to deal with most of these problems is by shoving a dozen doughnuts in my mouth, but all the doughnut shops are closed. I could make myself a dozen doughnuts, but I have a small house in which four other people live, and as we’re stuck in here for the foreseeable future, no one is keen on the place reeking of frying oil every time I need to self-medicate with doughnuts.
As regular Takeout readers already know, I am not one to resign myself to disappointment when faced with a challenge such as this. Regular readers might also know that I have recently come into the possession of an air fryer that I’ve become incredibly enamored with. I’ve seen plenty of air-fried doughnut recipes around the internet, and while the ones I’ve tried were completely acceptable for general eating purposes, they were not acceptable for doughnut-therapy purposes. This is understandable, since air fryers are actually high-powered convection ovens that bake, not fry, so the puffy, fritter-style doughnuts that come from loose, well-hydrated batters are entirely out of the question. Old fashioned cake doughnuts (my favorite) work in an air fryer, but without the instantaneous transfer of excruciatingly high heat—something oil does incredibly well—there is no violent expansion of gases, no cloud-like crumb, no crispy exterior. It’s a mere shadow of what a doughnut should be, and mere shadows make me sad. I do not want an almost-doughnut. If anything, an almost-doughnut is just going to depress me further.
I found the solution to my doughnut problem by thinking back to the first kitchen job I’d ever had, and the first thing I’d ever made in a commercial deep fryer: bomboloni. These are small, hole-less doughnuts that are yeast risen, and in the air fryer, they bake up nicely like a dinner roll. While stuffing bread in your mouth is certainly a good way to deal with your feelings, it is still not as effective as a doughnut, and I was not willing to settle.
To make the crumb tender and light, I swapped out most of the milk traditionally used in bomboloni for sour cream. Its acidity, lactose, and high fat content act as dough tenderizers, and since sour cream is far more viscous than liquid, I was able to make a dough that was sturdy enough to maintain its shape while air frying instead of deflating into a gooey, gummy mess. And it almost tasted like a doughnut! While the inside was spot on, the outside—even with a light brushing of butter before cooking—still reminded me of plain ol’ bread. Fortunately, this was a problem that didn’t need any crazy tricks or kitchen chemistry to solve: After portioning the dough, I rolled them in sugar before I let them rise, and then gently gave them another coating before I popped them in the air fryer. Convection heat melts the sugar together to create a paper-thin crust that completes the air-fried illusion, and, as a bonus, you end up with a sugar-coated doughnut that doesn’t make a total mess of your clothes when you eat it. As my self care routine involves eating doughnuts without changing out of the pajamas I’ve been wearing for four straight days, this is ideal.
Traditionally bomboloni are injected with filling, but I decided not to fill mine, because I didn’t want to tear my kitchen apart looking for the right tool for the job. Instead, I brought my precious little doughnuts to the table with a bunch of different spreads—jams, lemon curd, Nutella—and gave each bite a little schmear as my mood instructed. This is far more enjoyable than having your doughnut flavors predetermined for you, so I encourage you to do this as well. If you’re stuck in your house eating doughnuts in your pajamas, you don’t need to be impressing anyone with piping skills. You should have only one priority, and that is eating piping hot doughnuts as quickly as you possibly can, because despite what wellness blogs and my doctor might say, it really will make you feel much better.
- 1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/4 cup sugar, plus additional 1 cup for coating
- 2 3/4 cups flour, plus additional for dusting the counter
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
In a measuring cup, stir together the milk, sugar, and yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes so the yeast can get good and foamy.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the yeast mixture together with the flour, sour cream, vanilla, and eggs for about 2 minutes until a cohesive dough forms. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and add while the mixer is running, then beat for another 2-3 minutes until the dough becomes taut and glossy. Remove from the bowl and use your hands to shape into a ball. Lightly grease the mixer bowl with a bit of oil or butter, then plop the dough back in and cover with plastic wrap. Put into a cold oven with the light turned on and allow to proof for 90 minutes.
When the dough has risen, lightly dust your hands and a large wooden cutting board with flour. Roll out the dough into a log and cut in half, then roll out each half into a log and cut each of those in half again. Take the four dough logs you have, roll them out until they’re about 12" long, then cut each into six pieces. Roll all 24 pieces into taut balls, then roll these balls in the additional 1 cup sugar until fully coated. Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic, and allow to rise for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees. Being gentle so as not to deflate the bomboloni, roll them once again in sugar*, then air fry for 5 minutes, working in batches if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature with any assortment of spreads you prefer.
*If you like, you can jazz up your sugar on the second roll by adding a teaspoon or so of spices, like cinnamon or Dutch process cocoa powder.