Making freshly baked salted caramel apple donuts at home is easy! Cinnamon spiced donuts with tart green apples are dipped in luscious caramel and topped with crunchy peanuts.
Do you love caramel apples but find that they can be a challenge to eat? I remember almost losing a few braces when I tried taking my first bite of the hard waxy apple with the sticky-like glue caramel coating. It was an awkward mess, but I determined to finish it. If I only knew how to make these baked salted caramel apple donuts back then!
Each bite is packed with tart green apples in a tender cinnamon donut cake (drooling). A good donut needs a naughty dip in a creamy glaze. This homemade salted gooey caramel sauce is going to make your toes curl in delight.
Donuts are controversial. Yeast-risen recipe or cakey and fried? The great debate is if it can be called a donut if it hasn’t had a dip in hot sizzling oil. I’m not going to lie if you got the time donuts taste incredible fried. However, if you’re looking to get your sweet tooth fix asap, thankfully there’s a quicker yet still tasty alternative. If you can be open-minded, you are going to love these baked goodies.
Just like making a cake, you combine wet ingredients together with the dry and congrats you’ve got yourself some donut batter. A special donut pan gives you the characteristic shape. I’ve seen big, mini and donut hole pans, I’m so excited to play around!
Simply transfer the batter to a plastic bag, cut off the tip, pipe, fill, and bake, done and done! This batter is thick and chunky from the freshly shredded apples. The tops will have more bumpy texture, and the bottoms will be smooth.
Well hello, you cute little cake rings! Tender cinnamon apple spice bombs coming your way. The first thing you experience is the enticing aromas. Hansel and Gretel didn’t have it this good. The first bite is reminiscent of eating the corner piece of birthday cake that you can eat without a fork, and it’s fantastic.
Click here if you want to see the reaction on my 15-month-old’s face when I took these out of the oven. When James saw the endless rows of donuts, he had the expression of pure amazement and curiosity. I call it his “cheerio” face and I can’t get enough.
Yes, buddy, I would be pointing and clapping too if my mom made me fresh donuts at 2 in the afternoon, haha. Of course, I let him have a bite or two of the uncoated rings, and he had a field day. James learned some baby sign language and can now communicate “more.” He wasn’t shy about asking for seconds. Poor kid inherited my genetic disposition for sweets for sure!
Caramel sauce is so damn sexy. It’s easy to make it from scratch as long as you don’t ignore it, so no Facebooking okay? What you’ve got is granulated sugar dissolved in water, brought to a boil until the sugar creates a golden amber color and you can start to smell the caramel aroma.
Once this happens, you must turn off the heat and add the heavy whipping cream. Whisk like it’s your job. This creates a delicious pourable sauce, but it gets even better when you add luscious pieces of butter. The finishing touch is a generous sprinkling of salt. It brings out the flavor of the caramel, and the sweetness lingers on your tongue just a few moments longer. Make sure to cool the caramel before dipping so that it gets thick like glue.
Now for the fun part! I dipped the smooth side in the salted caramel sauce because it gave a more pretty surface, but it’s totally up to you! I plunged each donut about halfway so that it wasn’t too messy and sticky. Warning!
You will lick your fingers clean from the caramel, and you will enjoy every single second. Good news, a leftover sauce is inevitable. Dip sliced apples, top on ice cream, drizzle over some waffles for breakfast, or just eat a big sinful spoonful because you want to. No excuses needed.
Crunch, crunch, crunch is the sound of each fragrant and savory morsel of this baked caramel apple donut disappearing. The roasted salted peanuts add the extra oomph to each bite. Contrasting textures and flavors of soft to hard, salty to sweet. It’s all good.
The caramel sauce drips and stays sticky, and I like it. It’s like the Carl’s Jr. slogan, “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face”. I couldn’t agree more in this case.
Who says you have to make traditional cupcakes or pie for your next holiday party? Surprise your guests and make some warm, finger licking delicious salted caramel apple donuts. If you need to make more for a larger crowd, mini donuts are the way to go, you can get 48 out of one recipe!
I’ve got directions in the recipe below. I made a batch of unglazed mini donuts for James, then popped them in the freezer for a fast snack. Simple, quick and divine. Ready to make some freshly baked donuts at home? I can’t wait to hear what you think about this recipe!
How does sugar change to caramel?
Caramel is a beautiful creation that is food science happening before your eyes. It’s a process called caramelization. When chemical reactions take place while sugar is heated to a temperature that causes the molecules to break apart into hundreds of new flavor, color and aroma compounds. This happens at above 338°F, where if you watch carefully, you can see the clear sugar syrup turn to a golden amber color. At that point, the caramel is ready for use. Caramel can burn and become bitter so keep a close watch! (Source: The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated Cookbooks)
Freshly Baked Salted Caramel Apple Donuts
Salted Caramel Topping-
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup peanuts, salted and roasted, chopped
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon, ground
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 3/4 cup green apple, peeled and grated (about 2 medium)
Salted Caramel Sauce-
- Heat sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat, until the sugar, is dissolved. If needed, use a wet pastry brush to wash down any sugar crystals on the side of the pan.
- Increase the heat and bring to a boil, without stirring, about 5 to 6 minutes, until the syrup is a dark amber color.
- Remove the sugar from the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream, small amounts at a time. The mixture will bubble; stir to dissolve any clumped caramel.
- Stir in the unsalted butter and add ½ teaspoon of salt to start, adding more to desired salt level.
- Cool caramel to room temperature, or chill in the refrigerator or freezer for quicker cooling, the sauce will thicken slightly when cooled. Make sure the caramel does not stiffen if chilled, it should still have a pourable consistency for dipping.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
- In another bowl, stir together melted butter, eggs, sugar, buttermilk and applesauce, stir in fresh apple.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Stir with a spoon, add another ½ of the flour mixture and stir.
- Add remaining flour and stir until just combined.
- Spoon batter into a large resealable plastic bag, seal and snip the corner off one end.
- Squeeze mixture into the cavities of a large donut pan lightly sprayed with non-stick baking spray. Fill each cavity ¾ way full.
- Use a small offset spatula or knife to distribute evenly the dough and level the surface.
- Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until tops of the donuts spring back slightly when touched, and bottoms of donuts are a light golden brown.
- Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan. If baking mini donuts, bake for 7 to 8 minutes, and continue as directed for large donuts.
- Dip each cooled donut into the caramel sauce, about halfway, shaking off any excess caramel.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and top with peanuts; repeat with remaining donuts.