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There's something magical about the doughnut. You don't have to be Homer Simpson to swoon when you're greeted with all those bright colors and sparkly decorations in a doughnut shop display case. But no matter how wonderful they may appear, it's hard to find a store-bought doughnut that compares with homemade.

And believe it or not, they're really not hard to make. You can whip up a batch of cake doughnuts in about an hour. Put together a batch of yeast raised the night before, and all you have to do is fry them the next morning.

>Basic varieties

A classic buttermilk cake doughnut is a great place to begin. The method is similar to a classic cake recipe but with a slightly thicker dough. I add an extra egg yolk for a little more richness, and mix in a cup of buttermilk for both texture and a hint of tang.

Leavened with baking powder and a little baking soda, these doughnuts don't need time to rise. Simply roll them out and cut them up.

Then fry. Use a neutral, refined oil, such as canola or vegetable oil -- they have a higher smoking point and a more neutral flavor.

And always use a thermometer -- a candy or digital probe works well -- to keep the temperature consistent. Proper temperature is key: too high and the doughnut's crust will scorch before it is done in the center; too low and the doughnut won't cook in the oil, it will soak it up like a sponge.

For yeast-raised doughnuts, the key is a very moist dough.

Yeast-Raised Doughnuts

1 cup lukewarm milk (no warmer than 110 degrees)

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active-dry yeast

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 3/4 cups (16 ounces) flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) softened butter, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

Canola oil for frying

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl, drizzle the yeast over the warm milk and stir to combine. Set the mixture aside for a few minutes to moisten the yeast.

Add the eggs and egg yolks to the milk mixture and gently beat to combine using the paddle attachment or a sturdy hand mixer. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until incorporated.

With the mixer running, add the flour, a spoonful at a time to incorporate, until three-fourths of the flour is added (if using a hand mixer, you may need to finish by hand as the dough may be too tough for the beaters). Add the salt and butter to the dough, mixing thoroughly to incorporate.

Add the remaining flour to the dough, gently but thoroughly beating to combine. The dough will be very soft and sticky, almost like a batter.

Grease a large bowl and place the dough inside. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and gently roll to a thickness of one-half inch. Using a doughnut cutter or 2 biscuit cutters (a larger one measuring 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter, and a smaller one measuring about 1 inch in diameter), cut the dough into doughnuts, spacing the doughnuts as close as possible. Collect the scraps, quickly knead to combine and roll the dough as before, cutting additional doughnuts.

Place the doughnuts on a floured sheet of parchment paper set on a baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between each doughnut. Sprinkle a little flour over the tops of the doughnuts, then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and set the doughnuts aside for about an hour to warm slightly. Meanwhile, fill a deep fryer with oil, or fill a large pot to a depth of at least 3 inches, and heat to a temperature of 375 degrees.

Gently place the doughnuts in the fryer, being careful not to crowd. Fry the doughnuts on each side until puffed and golden, about 1 minute on each side.

Drain the doughnuts on a rack and cool slightly, then frost and decorate as desired. Servings: Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 dozen doughnuts.

Yeast-raised doughnuts take a little more time to prepare. You need to mix the dough and give it time to rise before rolling out and cutting. But a little investment in advance preparation yields a nice payoff, as most of the work can be done the day before you fry.

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Buttermilk Doughnuts

4 1/4 cups (18 ounces) flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, grated nutmeg and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the eggs and egg yolk with the sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

In a large measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk and butter.

Alternately beat the dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture into the egg mixture, one-third at a time, until all of the ingredients are combined and a dough is formed. It will be soft and sticky.

With floured hands, remove the dough to a floured board and gently roll out until the dough is one-half inch thick. Using a doughnut cutter, or 2 biscuit cutters (a larger one measuring 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter, and a smaller one measuring about 1 inch in diameter), cut the dough into doughnuts, spacing the doughnuts as close as possible. Collect the scraps and roll out to form another batch of doughnuts (note that this batch may be a little tougher than the first as the dough has been worked).

Meanwhile, fill a deep fryer with oil, or a large pot to a depth of at least 3 inches, with oil, and heat to a temperature of 350 degrees.

Gently place the doughnuts in the oil, being careful not to crowd. Fry the doughnuts on each side until puffed and golden, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side.

Drain the doughnuts on a rack and cool slightly, then frost and decorate as desired.