Baked Lemon Buttermilk Doughnuts and a Boatload of Donut Memories

by Wendy Copley on May 14, 2013

Lemon Buttermilk Donuts

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My first real job (ie: not babysitting) was working as a cashier at Donutland. I got up early every Saturday and Sunday morning my junior year of high school, drove my parents’ Chevette to work and spent the mornings selling donuts to sleepy families, a few cops and the old guys who sat at the counter drinking free refills of coffee and smoking Swisher Sweets cigars.

Weekend mornings at Donutland were staffed entirely by teenage girls. We were all friendly with each other and very good at our jobs and we would weave around each other behind the counter as we pulled styrofoam cups of coffee and stuffed glazed, cherry, blueberry and double chocolate donuts into boxes. People who ordered to-go almost always got dozens and people who sat down at a table usually chose “fancies”: cinnamon rolls, tiger tails, or cherry croissants. The weirdest donut we sold was a “chop suey” — a large, grey blob that consisted of all the scraps of dough from all the other donuts mixed together. As far as I know, it was exclusive to the Donutland chain because I’ve never seen it anywhere else.  Cream-filled long johns with sprinkles were the bane of my existence because every single kid ordered one and then proceeded to spread the cream filling all over the table and sprinkles all over the floor and our store didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. Have you ever tried to clean sprinkles off a carpet without a vacuum cleaner??

Most of the baking was done in the middle of the night and the bakers, two stoners in their mid-20’s, were long gone by the time I got to work. Even though our shifts didn’t overlap much, the cashiers were all friends with the bakers so we would occasionally stop by the store late at night to hang out and hit them up for hot donuts and free soda. My favorite times were when they would let us help them make the donuts. They wouldn’t let us near the fryers, (wise, since we had often had a few wine coolers) but we could help ice and decorate the donuts which was the fun part anyway. They would spill the baskets of hot donuts onto a rack and I would grab them and throw them into shallow pans of icing as fast as I could to keep my fingers from getting too badly burned. When pain got too bad, the bakers would always tell me to rub my fingers on the cool metal racks, not on my apron. I don’t know why that worked better, but it did. When we pulled the donuts out of the icing pans, we would toss them icing side down into the topping pans. We had to work fast so that the icing was still wet when finally put them on the racks to dry. I loved how the sprinkles moved as the icing dripped down the sides of the donuts. They would spread out quickly and almost looked like a flower blooming.

Lemon Buttermilk Donuts

We got to have as many donuts as we wanted and could also take home a free dozen every week, so I quickly got sick of them and couldn’t stand to eat donuts. (Except for hot double chocolate donuts — I always loved those.) In fact, I didn’t eat a donut for more than 10 years after I left Donutland. In the last decade or so, I’ve slowly rekindled my love for donuts though. A lot of it is nostalgia for my Donutland days, but now I also appreciate how awesome a fluffy chocolate glazed donut can be.

The last few weeks, I’ve been inundated with donut imagery. First, my friend Jen started posting donut pictures to her Instagram feed and that planted a little seed in my brain. Then I received a review copy of Jennifer Perillo‘s new book Homemade with Love. If you haven’t seen this beautiful book yet, its cover features a photo of a plate stacked with baked lemon buttermilk donuts. Every time I walked by the book a little voice would chant, “Donut! Donut! Donut!” in my head. Finally I could take it no more and had to make a batch. These donuts are actually not too bad for you. They’re made with whole wheat flour and have just a little sugar. Of course, I had to add a lemon glaze and a few sprinkles. Just for old times’ sake…

Lemon Buttermilk Doughnuts
recipe reprinted with permission from Homemade with Love by Jennifer Perillo


  • 1 scant cup (130 grams) whole wheat pastry flour — I found Bob’s Red Mill brand at my grocery store.
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly squeezed juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Scant 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Lemon glaze (see below)


  1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Grease a 6-doughnut baking pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest.
  3. In a measuring cup, use a fork to beat the lemon juice, buttermilk, egg and melted butter until well blended. Pour over the flour mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir together until just combined. Evenly spoon into the prepared doughnut pan and bake for 8 to 9 minutes, until doughnuts are golden and spring back when touched.
  4. Let doughnuts cool in the pan for 2 minutes. Unmold the doughnuts and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  5. To glaze: Place the lemon glaze in a bowl just a little wider than the doughnuts (a cereal bowl works well). Dip the pretty side of the doughnuts in the glaze, then immediately add sprinkles to the top. Adding the sprinkles while the glaze is wet will “glue” them onto the doughnut. Place each doughnut back on the wire rack to cool completely.

For the glaze:
Mix together equal parts freshly squeezed lemon juice and powdered (confectioner’s) sugar and stir until well combined. I used 2 tablespoons of each, but I would have liked just a little more glaze, so maybe bump that up to 3 tablespoons or 1/4 cup of each.

Lemon Buttermilk Donuts

Do you have nostalgic donut memories like I do?

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