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A Pastry Chef’s Secret Weapon

Though her son prefers mass-market treats, one recipe wins him over every time.

Sibling Snack

I make sweets and treats for a living, and yet have somehow managed to raise two boys who much prefer store-bought goodies to homemade. Despite the fact that there is often a freshly baked pie on my kitchen counter and a cream-filled one in the fridge; that the cookie jar is always full of butterscotch potato chip balls (from my new book, The Vintage Baker) or thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies, my children will always choose the Paul Newman’s Mint Oreo or the bowl of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia over anything I make from scratch.

Except, however, when I make my cinnamon sugar donut holes—my homemade version of “munchkins.” These puppies are game changers, at least for my younger son.

Jack, my 13-year-old, thinks Dunkin’ Donuts are “too sweet.” Truthfully, this is his frequent refrain when it comes to dessert (which honestly makes me question if he is truly mine). When we stop by the franchise near our house (yes, full disclosure: I, too, dig a store-bought treat now and again) he gets a plain bagel and cream cheese.

My 15-year-old, Oliver, and I, on the other hand, stuff our faces with the pink strawberry frosting and the ”Boston cream pie,” and grab a to-go cup of munchkins, to boot. Everything in moderation, right?

But Jack just isn’t on board. To him, the ideal donut is baked by me in a mini muffin pan. It is sweet, but not too sweet,  and a little spicy from some nutmeg in the dough and the cinnamon in the coating. The fact that you roll the baked donuts/muffins in melted butter before generously sprinkling them with cinnamon-sugar doesn’t hurt either.

And because the donut holes are baked in the oven, there’s no hot oil for parents to fuss with, which also makes them an easy (and safe) project to do with kids.  Jack is certainly on board with baked donut hole prep, and Oliver even gets involved on occasion. Yes, I yearn for the day when they ask for a slice of my blackberry-lime pie,  but for now I’ll take the exuberant response to my “munchkins,” and consider this a full-on mom-win.

Jessie Sheehan is a cookbook author, food writer, recipe developer, and baker. She is the author of The Vintage Baker and the co-author of Icebox Cakes (both published by Chronicle Books). She has developed recipes for many cookbooks, besides her own, and has contributed recipes/and or written for Epicurious, Food52, Fine Cooking, TASTE, and Main Street Magazine, among others. 

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Baked Cinnamon-Sugar Donut Holes

If you love homemade donuts but aren’t sure you want small kids around hot oil, these donut holes are ideal. Essentially mini nutmeg-infused muffins, these sweet little snacks are rolled in melted butter and then tossed in cinnamon-sugar. The dough comes together in a snap and bakes off so quickly (one batch is ready in about 8 minutes) that you can be sharing donut holes with your family and friends within an hour, start to finish.

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  • Yield: 56 donut holes

Ingredients:

For the donuts
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 whole nutmegs, ground with a Microplane
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup dark-brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
For the Cinnamon-Sugar Coating
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 ½ tablespoons cinnamon

Steps:

  1. Step 1

    Make the donuts: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a mini muffin pan with cooking spray or softened butter.

  2. Step 2

    Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg into a medium bowl and whisk until fully incorporated. Set aside.

  3. Step 3

    In a large bowl, combine the oil and sugar, then whisk to combine.

  4. Step 4

    Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Add the vanilla and the buttermilk and whisk again.

  5. Step 5

    Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Stop folding when there are still visible streaks of flour.

  6. Step 6

    Scoop dough by the tablespoonful into the mini muffin pan and place the pan in the middle rack of the oven.

  7. Step 7

    Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway point. The muffins are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean. Repeat with the remaining dough.

  8. Step 8

    Make the Cinnamon-Sugar Coating: While the donuts bake, add the melted butter in a small bowl. Whisk the sugar and cinnamon together in another small bowl.

  9. Step 9

    Assemble donuts: As soon as the baked holes have cooled enough to handle, begin dipping them one at a time in the bowl of butter and then rolling them in the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Transfer the coated holes to a wire rack. Let cool briefly and serve. Donut holes will keep on the counter for up to 3 days, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.