It’s no secret that I adore cute food, and cute food that’s been miniaturized is automatically cuter than the original. So when I saw these cute-tastic Japanese animal donuts, I immediately tried to think of ways to make them myself, only extra-adorable. That’s where my mini-donut maker came in.
Another one of my kitchen unitaskers, the mini-donut maker churns out ridiculously precious little donuts, 6 at a time, without all that frying. No, the donuts don’t have the classic texture of a fried donut– firm to the initial bite, then giving way to pillowy softness– but they’re perfectly respectable baked donuts, and did I mention they’re cute?
I’ve made these with regular boxed cake mix before, but the soft fluffiness of the cake made the donuts one-dimensional and boring– plus, the relative thinness of the cake batter made the little donut wells more difficult to fill properly. I’ve learned that boxed pound cake mix actually works best for mini donuts– it’s thick enough that it can be easily piped into the donut wells, it rises to just the right height to make a nice rounded donut, and the pound cake flavor is pretty close to a classic old-fashioned donut, which is my favorite. Sure, I could make my own pound cake mix from scratch and use that, but these are so small and will be coated with so much sugary icing that no one is going to notice the flavor of the cake– at least not the difference between homemade and box mix.
Anyway, so I mixed up the cake mix per the box directions, piped it into the heated donut maker, cooked for 3 minutes (2:30 if you want them extra-soft), and pretty soon I had a big batch (about 6 dozen) of tiny donuts. On to the decorating!
The original full-sized donuts mostly have tiny cute little ears on them, and those ears are made of unblanched almonds that have been pushed into the donut so only the ends stick out. While I like almonds, they’re far too large for these mini donuts so I had to go looking for something smaller but edible to use instead. Then I saw the perfect items– pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds). They were rounded one one end and slightly pointy on the other, just like almonds, but much smaller. I figured they’d work perfectly. I took a paring knife and cut tiny slits in the tops of the donuts to fit the pepitas in. To make sure they stayed in place I used a little melted white candy coating as glue. Also, because I later realized that the icing was sliding off the pepitas too easily, I covered them in more melted white candy.
I decided to make 3 different types of animal donuts– cats (of course), bears, and pandas. The cats would be white and brown, the bears would be brown, and the pandas white with black accents. (I originally planned on making pigs as well, but didn’t feel like mixing up a separate batch of pink icing)
The first thing to do was to pipe out the little muzzles I’d be using, to give them a little dimension on the finished donut. I used some white candy melts and tried to pipe out some little circles onto parchment. Annoyingly, they didn’t flatten out the way I’d expected– they looked more like chocolate chips– so I just dipped my finger in some water and tapped them down flat. It worked perfectly, and the water evaporated out with no problem as they hardened.
Then I took about a 1/4 cup of chocolate chips, melted them, and put them into a piping bag fitted with a very fine (I think it’s a size 1) tip, and used that to pipe the details on the flat side (the one that was against the parchment paper) of the white muzzles. (ignore the little dotted ones, those were intended for the pigs).
Once those were done I made up a big batch of icing to use as the base for my decorating. You take 1 tablespoon of butter, melt it, then stir in a tablespoon of milk and 2 cups of powdered sugar. Add more milk as necessary to get a nice dipping consistency, then cover with a damp paper towel until you’re ready to use. I also added about a dozen drops of white gel food coloring to make it a nice bright white. Without the food coloring, the icing is too transparent to cover the donut properly. You really need to experiment with this, because there’s a fine line between “too transparent” and “too thick to dip.” It took a lot of adjustment with more milk and more sugar to get it right.
Anyway, I dipped a bunch of my eared donuts into the white icing, then let excess icing drip off into the bowl (assisting with a fingertip where necessary) before putting them onto a rack. After they’d dried for a few minutes I stuck some muzzles on the front for my pandas. Then I dipped some more to make cats, but this time instead of sticking muzzles on right away, I added 1/2 teaspooon of cocoa to the remaining icing, along with a dab of orange food coloring to make an orange-y brown color. I dipped one corner of the cat donuts into the brown icing (for some I just spooned a bit over one side) and let it drip off.
Finally, I dipped the last set of donuts directly into the orange-y brown icing to make bears, sticking the muzzles on the front directly. Annoyingly, the icing was thin enough that the white candy coating on the ears kind of showed through… Oh well. Sorry for the lack of pictures, my hands were extremely sticky from handling the icing-covered donuts, and I didn’t get the chance to grab my camera.
Once the icing had dried on all of the donuts, I used the fine-tipped piping bag with chocolate to pipe large brown circles and ear tips for the pandas, facial features and whiskers for the cats, and eyes for the bears.
I admit that these were a real pain to make, but they did turn out very cute. If I were to do them again I might use melted canned frosting for the white glaze, since I think it would end up more opaque than my version. Or perhaps add melted white chocolate to the glaze for added opacity. But generally speaking I’m happy with them.
- I can’t help wondering whether the full-sized versions of these would be easier to make, not only because of the ease of piping larger things, but also because the original unblanched almonds would have rougher surfaces, which might adhere to icing better.
- Melted chocolate is actually pretty annoying for piping– it never runs down smoothly, but forms a point when you lift your piping tip. Next time I might consider adding a touch of shortening to make the chocolate run more smoothly, or just using melted chocolate frosting.
- Looking at the original versions of these donuts I see that I messed up a bit in my piping– the faces should’ve been more linear, in that the noses should’ve been almost in a straight line with the eyes, rather than set slightly below. I think they’d have been cuter that way. Ditto with the ears– they should’ve been more widely spaced than I had them.
- If you have extra-dark cocoa like I do, be very careful with the amount you use to make light brown icing. And be prepared to add yellow or orange food coloring– the extra-dark cocoa makes a kind of brownish-gray tint, rather than a warm brown. If you have regular cocoa it won’t be as obvious and you might be able to leave out the food coloring.
- If you don’t have white chocolate candy melts or a squeeze bottle for the muzzles, you could probably lay out some white chocolate chips on a plate and gently microwave them until they softened, then tap them down flat with a wet finger. White chocolate melts faster than other chocolate, so be careful!