While a donut with white frosting and a generous topping of rainbow sprinkles was never turned down, sugar donuts were always my favorite when I was a kid. I liked the subtle crunch of all that extra sugar on top of a light, fluffy donut. They’re still a top choice for me now, although I think they’ve lost their top ranking to plain, old-fashioned cake donuts. These sugar-topped donut muffins combine the best features of these two types of donut in a package that is easy to make and far lower in fat than a deep-fried pastry because it is baked in the oven.
The muffins in question here are fairly plain, with just a hint of nutmeg and splash of vanilla. Once baked, they are rolled in sugar and left to set a bit before being served. The result is a muffin with a fairly crisp outer layer that is very similar to the coating on a sugar donut. Sugar donuts typically use a yeasted dough. These use a fairly typical muffin batter to produce what would be a cakey donut. I used oil in the batter to help keep the muffins moist inside, imitating their deep-fried namesakes.
The oil has a second function here, too. It keeps the sides and base of the muffin soft – softer than using butter, since butter will caramelize with the muffin’s sugar while in the oven and eventually firm up the sides that are in contact with the muffin pan. This softness is important because it provides a good surface for sugar to stick to when you’re roling the muffins in sugar. Many donut muffin recipes that I’ve seen in the past call for a muffin to be dunked in butter before being rolled in sugar. This is effective, but not entirely necessary (especially since it adds quite a bit of fat to the recipe). Plenty of sugar will stick to a hot-from-the-oven muffin without applying any butter to its sides and base. I prefer to brush the top of the muffin with just a little bit of butter, then roll the whole thing in sugar. Be careful with your fingers when you handle the hot muffins, and place them on a wire cooling rack after dipping them to let the sugar fully adhere.
Sugar Donut Muffins
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk (low fat is fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar, for rolling
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a muffin tin with cooking spray or vegetable oil.
In a large bowl, beat together sugar and egg until light in color.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Pour into egg mixture and stir to combine. Pour in vegetable oil, milk and vanilla extract.
Divide batter evenly into 10 muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
While muffins are baking, melt butter and pour remaining sugar into a small bowl.
When muffins are done, lightly brush the top of each with some melted butter, remove from the pan and roll in sugar. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 10 muffins.