Crème Brûlée Doughnuts – Fluffy brioche doughnuts are filled with a vanilla bean custard, dipped in icing and then topped with a hard caramelized sugar brûlée
Today’s recipe is a recreation of my favorite doughnut of all time. I discovered it during my pregnancy last year when I was obsessed with doughnuts. We started getting fancy doughnuts from a local shop, including huge apple fritters, birthday cake doughnuts, and their namesake, the Dollie.
The Dollie is their original doughnut made with a brioche doughnut, stuffed with a vanilla bean custard, and topped with a hardened caramelized sugar. It’s incredible. Every bite reminds you of crème brulee, especially its custard filling. It’s truly heavenly.
After a year of religiously purchasing this doughnut, I thought I’d take a stab at making the doughnut myself. To my surprise, I found a similar recipe for this doughnut on a blog, Sugar Hero. She was recreating the doughnut she had at a doughnut shop in NYC. I was so happy to see the recipe so I had to try it for myself.
Before we get into the recipe, let’s take a look at some more photos of these babies!
This recipe differs from my classic recipes for yeast doughnuts and pastry cream, but I decided to jump right in and try something new.
And I am so glad I did! The brioche was so fluffy and tender and totally worth the effort. And I love the use of vanilla bean paste in the pastry cream. I had never used vanilla bean paste before but I definitely will start to! It gives all those beautiful vanilla bean flecks but none of the effort of having to extract them from the bean pod.
Making the brioche
Brioche dough differs from regular yeast dough in that it has more eggs and more butter. Because of this, the dough is extra tender and flavorful. But also because of this, the dough is delicate and requires refrigeration before it’s rolled out and cut into doughnuts.
After the dough is chilled, it’s rolled out and the circles are cut out and placed on a baking sheet to rise before they get fried.
Making the pastry cream
The filling of these doughnuts is a vanilla bean pastry cream. You may think of this as a custard. However, a custard is typically baked, whereas a pastry cream is made on a stove top.
The pastry cream starts with heating milk with sugar and a pinch of salt. It then gets slowly whisked into egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch and then placed back on the stove to thicken up. Butter is added at the end to give it a beautiful sheen. The vanilla bean paste is also added at the end to preserve the flavor and ensure it doesn’t get too concentrated during the cooking process.
The pastry cream then gets covered and refrigerated to chill it completely before adding to the doughnuts.
Assembling the doughnuts
After the doughnuts have risen, it’s time to fry them. Brioche dough turns super dark when frying but don’t worry – they aren’t burning. The extra butter and eggs just make them turn more brown than a typical yeast doughnut.
Once they are done frying, the doughnuts are filled with the homemade pastry cream by using a pastry bag. This ensures the doughnuts are filled with as little mess as possible.
Finally, the doughnuts are dipped in a icing and then topped with granulated sugar that gets caramelized with a blow torch.
Tips & Tricks
- Unlike other yeast doughs, brioche is chilled overnight. Therefore, you need to make the dough the night before you plan to eat the doughnuts.
- The brioche is a little more labor-intensive than a regular dough. It requires a lot of kneading in the stand-mixer so you’re going to want to use your mixer for this recipe. Also, there is a lot of butter in the dough so you don’t want to use your hands to handle the dough since the heat from your hands could melt the butter in the dough. Hence, another reason why a stand mixer is needed for this recipe.
- Do not skimp on rising time! In order for these doughnuts to get nice and fluffy, they need time to rise. So don’t go cutting corners and thinking you use the dough after it’s only half-risen. Trust me.
- Invest in a candy thermometer to monitor the hot oil. Oil temperature is super important when frying – too cold and the food will get greasy and fail to get browned and too hot and the food will brown on the outside but not cook all the way in the center.
- Speaking of oil temperature, crowding the pan can dramatically reduce the temperature of the oil. Therefore, you should only fry about 4 doughnuts at a time to keep the temperature steady.
- To fill the doughnuts, I used a piping bag. However, if that step seems intimidating, there is no shame in slicing the doughnuts down the middle and stuffing them with the jelly instead. Eating them will just get a little messy.
- If you don’t have a blow torch, you can use your broiler in your oven. However, if you have to do this, don’t fill the doughnuts yet. Ice the doughnuts, caramelize the tops, let them cool, and THEN fill with the custard. This ensures the custard doesn’t flow out of the doughnuts as they broil.
Crème Brûlée Doughnuts
For the brioche dough:
- ⅔ cup milk scalded
- 1 packet instant yeast
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3 large eggs
- canola oil for frying
For the vanilla bean custard:
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups milk
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- 2 tablespoons butter
For the doughnut assembly:
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- ⅓ cup milk
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
For the brioche dough:
- In a bowl fitted for a stand-mixer, add warmed milk, flour, yeast, salt, sugar, water, and eggs. Attach dough hook and mix ingredients on low for 2 minutes until all the ingredients are combined, scrapping down the sides, as needed, to incorporate all the ingredients. Once incorporated, continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes until the dough smooths out.
- Cut butter into 7 pieces. Add one piece of butter to dough and mix on low until completely incorporated into dough. Repeat with remaining pieces of butter, 1 piece at a time. Once all butter is added, continue to mix on low for another 5 minutes. It is important for all the butter to be thoroughly mixed into the dough. If the mixture is too loose, add more flour a couple tablespoons at a time until it slightly separates from the bowl.
- Put the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the dough to prevent it from drying out. Let the dough proof in the refrigerator overnight (16 hours max).
- The next morning, prepare a baking sheet by dusting with flour. Set aside. Unwrap the dough and place onto floured surface. Roll out the dough until it's about 1/2 inch thick. Cut out doughnuts with a round cookie cutter about 3 inches in diameter and place onto floured baking sheet. Combine scraps and rolls it out again and cut out more doughnuts until all the dough is used.
- Cover doughnuts with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free place to proof for 1.5 hours.
- When there's 15 minutes left of proofing time, add oil to a dutch oven and heat over medium heat until the temp reaches 360 degrees. use a candy thermometer to monitor the temp because it's super important.
- Once the oil is hot, add 3-4 doughnuts to the oven and cook for 2 minutes, flip and cook for 2 more minutes. The outside will get super brown but I promise they are not burning. Remove doughnuts and place on paper towels to drain off the extra oil. You can double-check if they're done cooking by using a thermometer. Make sure the center has reached 190 degrees. If not, place back in oil to cook a little more. Repeat with the rest of the doughnuts.
For the vanilla bean custard:
- Whisk egg yolks, egg, cornstarch, and ¼ cup granulated sugar to a medium bowl and whisk together until combined. Set aside.
- In a medium/large sauce pan, add milk, salt, and remaining ¼ cup sugar. Mix together and place over medium heat until milk is scalding. Turn off heat. Gently pour 1/4 cup of hot milk into egg mixture as you whisk the egg mixture. Slowly pour the rest of the milk into the egg mixture and whisk together. Pour back into the saucepan and place back over medium heat. Whisk continuously until the mixture starts to thicken. Once it starts to thicken, turn off heat and whisk vigorously to help the steam escape from the custard.
- Add vanilla bean paste and butter to the custard and whisk together until both are combined. Push through mesh sieve into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the custard. Chill until cold, about 2 hours.
For the assembly:
- Cut a slit into the side of each doughnut. Place custard into a piping bag with a medium round tip. Insert the piping back into the cut slit of each doughnut and squeeze about a tablespoon of custard into each doughnut.
- Once all the doughnuts are all filled, it's time to dip into icing. Whisk 2 cups powdered sugar and 1/3 cup of milk in a small bowl. Dip both sides of all the doughnuts into the icing, being careful not to let the custard filling drip out. Place iced doughnuts onto a cooling rack to drain off excess icing.
- Finally, it's time to brulee the tops of the doughnuts. Tap a thin layer of granulated sugar onto the tops of all the doughnuts. Using a blow torch, caramelize the sugar on all the doughnut tops until no grains of sugar remain. Let them cool for 5 minutes and then serve!