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Protein Donut Holes in the Air Fryer (No Yeast Required)

Are donuts one of the best foods on the planet? Yes. Are donuts also one of the hardest things to get right? Also yes.

Between messing with yeast, using a donut cutter, and deep-frying, there are just too many steps to making the perfect donut.

But these healthy air fryer donut holes are going to change everything.

Air fryer donut holes

 

If you’re not familiar with donut holes, they are exactly what they sound like! When a doughnut is cut, it leaves behind a tiny little circle, which is then turned into a “donut hole.”

We’re going to make that process even easier. We’ll just mix up some dough, break off small pieces, and air fry them for 4 minutes.

Yes, you heard that right: these air fryer donut holes take only 4 minutes to bake thanks to our trusty air fryer.

These little donut bites have a crispy exterior with a soft, cakey interior. Plus, the nutrition is not too shabby, either.

Donut hole nutrition comparison

With nearly half the calories of a Dunkin’ Munchkin and more than double the protein, these are a snack you can feel great about enjoying!

Update: The friend Brad Bromlow gave this recipe a live review & taste-test in a YouTube video, so check that one out below:

YouTube video

 

How do you make air fryer donut holes?

These air fryer donut holes are so easy because they require absolutely no yeast, which means no waiting for them to rise.

We’re still making them from scratch, though. Unlike my bonuts (biscuit donut) recipe that utilizes canned biscuit dough as a shortcut to make donut bites (side note: biscuit dough makes for AMAZING donuts), we’re going to whip up a very simple dough on our own.

All we have to do is mix up all of our ingredients, then break off small pieces to be our donut holes. Since these puff up while baking, we do not need to make them very large, either.

I don’t bother weighing them out to make them the same size, so I just eyeball the sizes. Sure, some of the donut holes will vary in size a little bit, but that rustic, imperfect look is even more appealing to me!

All in all, you should be able to get about 25 donut holes total out of this recipe. Depending on the air fryer you use, you’ll likely need to do these in two batches.

You must leave space between the donut holes so that they can fully heat all the way around. If you stuff too many in there (or stack them) they will fry up very unevenly.

These air fryer donut holes only require 4 minutes in the air fryer.

We let them cook for 2 minutes, carefully flip them over to brown on all sides, then let them finish for the final 2 minutes.

After just 4 minutes, look how beautifully browned they are! If you want to eat them just like this, you absolutely can. These donut holes will have a great crisp on the outside and be incredibly soft and moist on the inside.

However, these are more delicious with some kind of coating. You can do a simple glaze, cover the donut holes in powdered sugar, or use sprinkles.

I’ve always been a fan of powdered Munchkins from Dunkin‘, and these taste like a spot-on recreation of those.

Needless to say, the entire batch did not last very long.

These donut holes are also great with a cinnamon-sugar coating, which is what I did for my Pumpkin Spice Donut Holes. If you want to use a cinnamon-sugar mixture for these, you may need to use a little bit of cooking spray to help the cinnamon sugar stick (see my Churro Donuts for reference).

 

Why is the dough so sticky?

As people have re-created this recipe, a major criticism I’ve heard is that the dough is too sticky.

I didn’t experience that issue personally, but since it has come up a few times, it’s worth addressing.

I created a chocolate version of these donut holes, and in it, I tried out some different solutions. Check out the Chocolate Donut Holes recipe for more notes (and photos) on fixing the sticky dough, but here are some suggestions for ya:

  1. Be sure to use a protein powder that is a blend of whey & casein. Whey alone is going to be much stickier.
  2. Add your protein powder as the LAST ingredient. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it does make a big difference.
  3. When you form the donut holes, put a little bit of flour in your hands to make rolling them much easier.
  4. If all else fails, throw the dough into the fridge for 30-60 minutes. When the dough is cold, it becomes much less sticky.

 

How to make a low-calorie glaze

If you want to add a glaze to your donut holes, all you need to do is combine some powdered sugar and milk in a bowl, then toss the donut holes right in it!

To keep these sugar-free, I opted for a powdered sugar substitute. You can use erythritol, allulose, or any other zero-calorie sugar substitute you prefer.

You can even add your own granulated sugar substitute to a blender or spice grinder to easily create your own powdered version.

I added 75g of the powdered sugar substitute to a bowl with about 2 tbsp of milk. Whisk it up and viola, you have a glaze! My glaze made enough to coat roughly half the recipe, so you may want to make a bit more depending on your preferences.

Depending on the type of milk you use, the thickness of your glaze will vary, so you may need to give your donut holes a double-coating.

This is what my glazed donut holes looked like after a single coating of the glaze because I added a bit too much milk to mine. But, it’s an easy fix!

After just a couple of minutes, the glaze will solidify enough for you to add the donut holes back to the bowl for a second coating of the glaze.

Much better.

The glaze will solidify enough to enjoy after about 5-10 minutes, but you can also speed the process up by adding these to the fridge for a few minutes.

If you prefer a chocolate glaze, you can check out the glaze/icing I made for my Chocolate Pumpkin Donuts.

 

Can you bake these donut holes in the oven?

As the name “Air Fryer Donut Holes” implies, these work best as an air fryer recipe. But, I know that not everybody has an air fryer. If you don’t, you can still make great homemade donuts in the oven.

My Protein Cider Donuts are baked donuts, and they come out great that way. For those, I baked them at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes, and you should be able to get away with roughly the same amount of time here.

Put your donut holes on a baking sheet and just keep a close eye on them.

Once they’re golden brown, they’ll be ready to go! I didn’t try it for myself so I can’t say for sure, but they’ll take anywhere from 5-10 minutes in the oven, so just keep watch.

Air fryer donut holes

If you try these air fryer donut holes for yourself and love them as much as I did, please leave a review below or come share your recreation with me on Instagram!

 

Can these donut holes be made as regular donuts?

I was curious to see how this recipe would work as full donuts instead of donut holes. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but to my surprise, they came out great!

I followed this recipe the same way, but rather than roll each into a ball, I formed larger donuts. The cooking temperature and time remained exactly the same.

Full air fryer donut

I did find that these donuts were a little denser than the donut holes, so I prefer going the donut hole route.

If you prefer full-size donuts, check out my Air Fryer Protein Donut recipe, which takes this recipe and tweaks it a bit to make some improvements to the overall texture.

 

Healthier Air Fryer Donut Holes Recipe

Air Fryer Protein Donut Holes

Yield: 25 Donut Holes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 minutes
Total Time: 14 minutes

Incredibly easy, low-calorie, & low-carb donut holes that take only 4 minutes to bake! Coat in a glaze, toss in powdered sugar, or use any other toppings you'd like. If you prefer chocolate, you can find the chocolate version here.

Ingredients

Optional Glaze

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the wet ingredients (applesauce, vanilla extract, and butter).
  2. Add the sugar substitute and flour, then mix everything until it forms a thick paste.
  3. Add the protein powder as the very last ingredient, then mix everything until dough forms. If you find that your dough is overly sticky, sprinkle a little bit of extra flour into the bowl.
  4. Preheat your air fryer to 370 degrees F for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add your dough to a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle the top with a small amount of flour, then flip it over and repeat for the other side. This little bit of flour will make the dough much easier to work with.
  6. Break off a small piece of dough, roll it in your palms, and then place it in the air fryer basket.
  7. Continue forming the donut holes and placing them in the air fryer, leaving enough space in between for them to heat evenly. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to do two batches.
  8. Air fry the donut holes for 4 minutes total. After 2 minutes, use tongs to carefully flip each donut hole, then return to the air fryer for the remaining 2 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove from the air fryer and top/coat the donut holes however you'd like before serving.

For glaze coating: If you'd like to glaze the donut holes, add your powdered sugar to a large bowl and slowly stir in 1-2 tbsp of milk until it resembles a glaze. Add your donut holes to the bowl, then carefully remove the donut holes, allowing the excess glaze to run off. Place on a cooling rack to set.

For powdered sugar coating: Add powdered sugar to a large bowl and drop the donut holes right in when they come out (I didn't weigh out how much sugar I used). Since they are hot, the powdered sugar will stick with no problem. Give them a toss until fully coated, then place on a cooling rack.

Cinnamon Sugar or Sprinkles: These toppings will not stick on their own, so you'll want to spray your donut holes with cooking spray before rolling them in your topping.

Notes

  • I tested this recipe with 100% whey protein as well as a whey/casein blend, and I found the blend to work the best, but both work.
  • The "buttery spread" I use is Country Crock. Any butter spread, margarine, coconut oil, or regular butter will work great.
  • If you made your glaze too thin, you can let the glazed donut holes set for a few minutes, then dip them back into the glaze.
  • These donut holes are best served fresh but will be great as leftover donuts for a few days. Store these in an airtight container at room temperature and enjoy them throughout the week! Depending on how you coat these, they can also be reheated quickly in the microwave (although the glaze would melt, so be careful with that).

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Nutrition Information
Yield 25 Serving Size 1 Donut Hole
Amount Per Serving Calories 35Total Fat 1gCarbohydrates 4gProtein 2.5g

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Share The Love

Hector

Wednesday 27th of December 2023

Hey, Matt! Quick Q. For the chocolate recipe, the protein powder (assuming it’s a whey/casein blend) gets mixed in with all the dry at once instead of as a last ingredient. Could I do the same for this recipe too, or should I keep adding it in last? I’m using PEScience Vanilla Gourmet. Thanks in advance!

Matt Rosenman

Wednesday 27th of December 2023

You can do the same in either case and the recipe will turn out! Adding it last limits the stickiness and makes it a little bit easier to work with which is why I prefer that, but it won't be detrimental. If you find the dough to be too sticky, you can always refrigerate the dough before forming the donuts- usually 10-15 minutes is enough to firm things up.

Penny

Saturday 27th of May 2023

Hello,

I have all the ingredients except the applesauce. Can I substitute it with yogurt (which I have)?

Matt

Monday 29th of May 2023

The only downside to doing that is that they will end up denser/breadier. Generally speaking, yogurt will lead to a bread-like texture, and applesauce will lead to a lighter more cake-like texture. It will still work, but just know what to expect!

Diane

Saturday 4th of February 2023

Hey Matt,

I made these using whey liquid from the yogurt, since it often times can be used for buttermilk substitute (and also I didn’t have apple sauce lol)… 1/4 tsp of glucommanan as binder, I prefer it over xanthan gum as baked good with xanthan often tastes gummy. Only 9 grams of Nutiva butter flavor coconut oil and the result was so nice! Light and fluffy with almost a crackling exterior (maybe it’s the Pam?)

Just thought I’d share!

Matt

Friday 24th of February 2023

That's awesome, thank you for sharing!

Gabby

Thursday 14th of July 2022

Just as good as the real thing, and they're still great as leftovers. So easy and quick to make. I have trouble not snacking on them throughout the day :) 10/10

Annie S.

Saturday 2nd of July 2022

Hello! I'm Annie from Desserts For The Better, a healthier dessert and food blog! I just wanted to let you know that these donuts are so amazing and I have decided to feature them in a post in my blog. Check it out here:https://desserts4thebetter.wordpress.com/2022/06/29/healthier-air-fryer-donut-holes-from-cheat-day-design-recipe-reviews/

Matt

Tuesday 5th of July 2022

Thanks, Annie! This is awesome. I loooove when recipes are kid-approved!

About Matt Rosenman

With over 15 years of experience in health and fitness, Matt Rosenman is the expert voice behind Cheatdaydesign.com. Matt’s philosophy is simple: no foods are off-limits, and a healthy lifestyle shouldn't be complicated or restrictive. As a former certified personal trainer with a bachelor’s degree in Health Behavioral Sciences, Matt brings well-rounded expertise to his blog. From revamping classic recipes with a nutritious twist to breaking down fast food menus, his goal is make healthy living less confusing for everyone. Featured in major publications and with a strong following on social media, Matt is committed to making “healthy” uncomplicated—no matter where you are in your health journey. Join Matt on his mission to simplify health without sacrificing flavor. Learn More

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