What is the difference between yeast donuts and cake donuts?
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Cake donuts and yeast donuts—which one makes your world go round?

There will be times in your life when you’re forced to pick a side. Important debates so monumental in scope and significance that your stance becomes a part of your identity defines you at your very core.

The Hole StoryWhere Did the Doughnut Actually Originate?Coke vs. Pepsi. New York-style vs. Chicago-style pizza. Milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate. Shake Shack vs. In-N-Out. Fresh-cut vs. frozen fries.

Now, I’ve been at this game for a while, and I truly thought I had all my teams chosen. (Coke, New York-style, dark, Shake Shack, frozen, in case you were wondering). But it turns out the roster of my ‘Great Food Rivals Fantasy League’ wasn’t complete; I’d overlooked a major contentious pair: Yeast vs. Cake-style doughnuts. (And no, we don’t have time to get into the “donuts” vs. “doughnuts” question.)

So, let’s see how the two stack up against each before making a judgement call.

The Obvious Difference

First, how about we address the obvious, the-answer-is-in-the-question items? Yeast doughnuts, as the name clearly spells out, are made from dough leavened with yeast (think brioche), whereas cake doughnuts are traditionally made from a kind of cake batter that uses a chemical leavener (i.e. baking powder or baking soda).

What That Means for Texture

The difference in leavening agent dramatically impacts texture and flavor. Yeast doughnuts are lighter: Once cooked, a cross-section reveals a mosaic of air pockets, giving the style a puffy, malleable quality, and a slightly chewy texture. Cake doughnuts, on the other hand, have a dense, more compact crumb (hands up if you like it when wads of cake stick to the roof of your mouth!), and a sturdy, crisp exterior shell.

What About Flavor?

Of course, there’s also the matter of flavor to consider. At their most plain and basic, cake doughnuts are more rich and buttery (that’s because there’s usually a good amount of butter in the batter), while yeast doughnuts are, well, a little yeasty. You know, they have that subtle fermented tang kind of thing going on. If you’re not a fan of that, you may want to consider joining Team Cake Doughnuts, as the batter for that style is much easier to dress up in a wide variety of flavorings. Not to mention they can handle a thicker coating of icing better suited to secure all your favorite fixin’s: sprinkles, nuts, bacon, you name it. Yeast doughnuts are much more conservatively flavored, traditionally with a thin glaze, or a light icing. They might almost pass as the more modest choice if it weren’t for the fact that the style is used to make filled doughnuts: those little rolls that are gloriously, gluttonously ballooned up with jelly or cream or whatever else your heart desires.

jelly donut recipe

Chowhound’s Jelly Donuts

Which One Has Historical Cred?

Still can’t decide? Here are a couple more points of distinction to consider. Proponents of the style are likely to point out that yeast doughnuts are the OGs. They predate cake doughnuts by quite some time, likely first introduced to the States by Dutch immigrants. Cake doughnuts, meanwhile, didn’t start popping up in cookbooks here until the 1830sa wondrous byproduct of the avant garde technology that was chemical leavener at the time.

Which One Is Easier?

Which brings us to another point: If you’re more of a time-is-of-the-essence cook, yeast doughnuts probably aren’t for you since the dough requires several hours of proofing. The batter for cake doughnuts comes together quickly, plus, if we’re splitting hairs here, they’re also the better choice for dunking in your morning coffee.

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I know my vote. But in case you need more time to weigh the options, check out these recipes and test the options for yourself.

1. Basic Yeast Donuts

Chowhound

While they may be simple, there’s nothing basic about these yeast donuts: The subtle yeast-imparted sourness of the dough, the chewy elasticity, the pillow-light texture that makes eating three in a row a piece of cake (pun intended). Enjoy these plain, sprinkled in sugar, dipped in glaze, filled with jelly, or however your imagination dictates. Get our Basic Yeast Donuts recipe.

2. Boston Cream Donuts

Chowhound

When it comes to something that represents their city, Bostonians aren’t shy about showing their pride. Their opponents in sports may take issue, but certainly no one is going to fault them for bragging about having Boston’s name attached to these delicious, iconic pastries. Bursting at the seams with thick, luscious vanilla-flavored custard and capped with chocolate glaze, there’s nothing to improve on here, folks. Get our Boston Cream Donuts recipe.

3. Blackberry Jam & Custard Donuts


Where I come from in Texas they call a donut like this a ‘twofer’: That’s a two-for-one special. All the joy and deliciousness of jam and custard packaged under one sugar-dusted, fried dough roof. And as far as hybrids go, I’d definitely take this over the car. Get the Blackberry Jam & Custard Donuts recipe.

4. Apple Fritters

Chowhound

Proving that jelly filling isn’t the only way to get fruit in your donut, these colossal fritters feature cinnamon-butter-basted apples mixed into the dough. The apples may be fresh but the donuts are finished in a maple syrup glaze, so don’t even think about counting it as part of your recommended daily dose. Get our Apple Fritters recipe.

5. Nutella Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts


I’m sorry, I feel like there’s really nothing to explain here. Smooth, hazelnut-chocolatey, the-stuff-dreams-are-made-of, Nutella. Inside a fried ball of dough. Covered in cinnamon sugar. What more do you need to know? Get the Nutella Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts recipe.

6. Old Fashioned Cake Donuts


While they may not be the “original” donut, the cake-style version, with its rich texture and crisp outer shell, is definitely not wanting for fans. Lovely as they are simply tossed in sugar or glazed, one of the biggest appeals of this style is its versatility, easily able to take on nearly any flavor styling you can dream up. Get the Old Fashioned Cake Donuts recipe.

7. Old Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts


Kick it old-school with this subcategory of the cake donut (recognizable by its flower-like tapered edge) that adds in a touch of sour cream to the mix. Get the Old Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts recipe.

8. Baked Salted Caramel Apple Cider Donuts


I appreciate simplicity, a reverence for the unfettered classics, I do. But if you’re going to improve upon the understated perfection of apple cider donuts, this is how you do it: Add gooey chocolate chips to the batter, cover the finished baked rings in sticky cider caramel glaze, and finish with a sprinkle of sea salt flakes. Stick that in your pipe, as they say. Get the Baked Salted Caramel Apple Cider Donuts recipe.

9. Funfetti Cake Donuts


In case the donuts themselves weren’t enough of a childhood throwback, you can really get into the spirit by referencing everyone’s favorite birthday cake flavor. Get the Funfetti Cake Donuts recipe.

10. Baked Maple Bacon Donuts


I am always so happy when salty and sweet say “I do,” because the union never disappoints. For example: Crispy, salty, fatty pieces of bacon and sugary-sweet maple glaze. Don’t worry, the cake donut was happy to play designated driver, I checked. Get the Baked Maple Bacon Donuts recipe.

Header image by Chowhound, using photos from Pixabay and Chowhound

Maryse Chevriere is a certified sommelier, James Beard Award winner for @freshcutgardenhose, and author of "Grasping the Grape," a no-nonsense but really fun guide to wine.
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