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Creative Ways to Use Leftover Donuts

There is truly something joyous about a donut. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a mid-morning coffee or to be enjoyed simply as-is. Not to mention, the combination of a fluffy, cakey center and a slightly crisp sugar glaze, or an inviting coating of colorful frosting, makes donuts one of the most hard-to-resist baked treats around. However, donuts are typically sold in batches, often by the dozen. Though we may think that it is perfectly easy to get through a box of donuts in no time, it is oftentimes harder to finish an entire batch than our cravings may have us believe. And more often than not, we end up with excess.

Whilst there are ways to keep your donuts fresh so they can be enjoyed for longer, sometimes the notion of eating upwards of 10 donuts for the remainder of the week can seem a little uninspiring. In actuality, donuts are far more versatile than you may have originally thought. They can be reshaped and revitalized in a variety of ways to create everything from decadent breakfasts to impressive takes on traditional desserts.

So, if you’ve got leftovers from a party, are dealing with the aftermath of an overzealous bargain buy, or you have simply found yourself with more donuts than you know what to do with, here are 12 creative and delicious ways to use them up.

1. Make leftover donuts into cake pops

Brightly colored cake pops

Crumbly, sweet, and easy to make, cake pops have established themselves as a go-to snack for using up leftover cake. These bite-sized treats are incredibly easy to make, formed by combining cake crumbs with frosting. The mixture is then divided up and rolled into balls, coated with candy melts, and left to chill after being pierced with a lollipop stick. It’s because of this ease and versatility that cake pops have remained a popular dessert choice, especially if you are looking to use up extra baking essentials. But it’s not just cake crumbs that can be formed into hand-held versions of their larger counterpart. You may even find that donuts provide an even tastier, moreish result when substituted for conventional cake mix.

Indeed, the sticky, chewy texture of donuts makes them ideal for tearing up and reforming into ball. You will likely find that you won’t need to use much frosting to hold them together, or perhaps even none at all, with their signature sugary glaze acting as a binding agent. Simply rip up your remaining donuts and mold the chunks into balls, before sliding a stick in.

You can then customize your pops however you like, depending on the type of donuts you are using up. Match your frosting to your donut flavor, and then choose between chocolate or candy melts for the coating. This creative and delicious repurposing requires very little effort but produces an eye-catching result.

2. Pan-fry them for indulgent French toast

French toast with banana

You may find that extra donuts will begin to turn slightly stale after a few days, but this doesn’t mean they can’t still be revitalized and turned into a new, deliciously moist dish. Designed to bring life back into dry bread, the method for creating French toast works perfectly for reviving other ingredients. Such is the case with dry donuts, by turning them into a soft and indulgent take on a brunch icon.

To freshen them up in this way, simply slice your donuts in half and dredge them in a mixture of egg, vanilla, milk, and cinnamon for approximately 30 seconds. Next, pan-fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until crisp and golden brown. Any leftover donuts will work, but traditional glazed donuts will react especially well to pan-frying, forming a slightly crunchy and caramelized coating on the outside that perfectly complements a chewy, custardy center.

To serve, you can get creative with toppings. Anything from a drizzle of maple syrup with a splash of bourbon to fruit, nuts, or a more complex sweet or savory spice like cardamom will only enhance the buttery, crispy goodness of a French toast-donut hybrid. So feel free to stack them up for a truly moreish breakfast.

3. Turn them into a donut bread pudding

Bread pudding with blueberries

Another dessert that came about as a means of limiting food waste by refreshing stale loaves, bread pudding is an ideal recipe for substituting donuts into — particularly if you have a lot of excess donuts to use up. This no-fuss bake is highly customizable and can be easily altered to accommodate any quantity of leftovers; all that matters is that you have a big enough casserole dish.

While there are variations on the original dish, donut bread pudding can be made by tearing up extra donuts into chunks and arranging them in a casserole dish or deep baking tray. A custard made from eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla is then poured over the broken-up donuts, and they are left to soak for at least 20 minutes. As the donuts sit in the mix, they absorb all the creamy goodness, becoming plumper, softer, and full of flavor. These marinated donut chunks are then gently baked for around 40 minutes until they are golden brown and puffy.

The result is a tasty and comforting dessert casserole, made even tastier by a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you have other ingredients on hand, you can also incorporate these into your pudding, ensuring that this dessert truly is a no-waste dish.

4. Make a cheesecake crust

Cheesecake slice with strawberries

Vladislav Noseek/Shutterstock

There are arguably few desserts that match up to the decadence of cheesecake. A thick, creamy filling set on top of a crunchy, buttery base, the combination is truly a match made in heaven. Cheesecake recipes typically call for cookies or graham crackers to be used for the base after being blended with sugar and butter. However, using donuts in their place not only works but may, in fact, take the dessert to new heights.

Blended donut crumbs have a sticky, slightly stodgy texture that works well when contrasted against the freshness and fluffiness of cream cheese — making for an even more indulgent bite. This sticky texture also means you won’t need to use as much butter for binding the base; the sweetness of the donuts also reduces the amount of sugar needed. So while an equal weight of donuts blitzed in a food processor can be used in place of those cookie or graham cracker crumbs, you will want to exercise caution with butter and sugar, adding a little at a time until the base mixture comes together. The base can then be left to chill in a refrigerator as normal.

If you still have extra donuts after you’ve made the base, tear up wedges to arrange in the batter or on top of the finished cake for an entirely donut-themed cheesecake that is sure to impress.

5. Turn extra donuts into chips

Hands holding sweet chips

If you’re after something sweet but don’t have the appetite for a whole donut, a great way to turn them into more manageable serving sizes is to chop them up into chips and fry them for a crispy and satisfying snack. A sweeter alternative to bagel chips, donut chips are perfect for satisfying sugar cravings — they’re particularly ideal as a swap for popcorn on movie night. Donut holes can also be turned into chips, working especially well as an even more bite-sized treat. So there truly is no need to throw away leftover donuts of any size or shape.

To make donut chips, simply cut donuts into halves — or smaller portions, if you’re aiming for finger food — and press down in a panini press for around 30 seconds to a minute. The thinner your portions are, the less time they will need, so keep an eye on the chips as they cook to ensure they don’t burn. If you do not have a panini press, you can also shallow fry the donuts in a frying pan, using the base of a saucepan or heavy pot to flatten the donuts. Set them aside and allow them to crisp up, using a paper towel to soak up any excess oil or grease.

A light dusting of cinnamon or sugar makes the perfect topping to these little morsels of sweet, crunchy goodness. Or, opt for a sprinkle of sea salt for a savory twist.

6. Use them in a tiramisu

Tiramisu slice

A classic tiramisu recipe uses ladyfinger biscuits as its main structural component. The biscuits are soaked in espresso until just slightly softened and are then stacked between layers of mascarpone cream. The completed tower, dusted with cacao or cocoa powder, is then left to chill for around 6 hours. Torn-up donuts lend themselves as a perfect swap when making tiramisu, as their texture ensures they can soak up the moisture and flavor of the espresso without becoming too soggy or compromising the integrity of the tiramisu.

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There is no real specific quantity of lady finger biscuits required for tiramisu. Rather, you simply need to make sure you have enough to completely fill the surface area of your dish so that the cream is adequately supported, in addition to ensuring you have enough for a second row should you want to create a multi-layered tiramisu. The same principle applies when using sections of donuts: Check that you have enough to fill the bottom of your dish without leaving any gaps and hold back enough if you plan on multiple layers.

The combination of donuts and coffee is always a popular choice, so it’s unsurprising that these flavors work incredibly well together in this dessert, coming together to create an upgraded version of your usual afternoon pick-me-up. So, if you’re thinking of making do with a slightly stale donut and a cup of coffee for a sweet snack, save your espresso and donuts to make this tasty take on an Italian classic.

7. Make a crumbly topping for desserts

Blueberry muffins with crumb topping

A great way to finish off cakes, pies, and cupcakes, a sweet and crumbly topping not only looks great but also adds an extra dimension of flavor and texture to a wide range of desserts. Such toppings, which are a fundamental element of fruit crumbles, are typically made by combining flour, sugar, and butter. But leftover donuts provide an all-in-one solution that means they can be added to any bake with ease.

Whizz up the donuts in a food processor to form crumbs, before toasting these crumbs in the oven until dry and slightly crispy. Regardless of the flavor or type of donut you are using, these crumbs will be ready to use straight away. Even a simple glazed donut will lend an extra level of sweetness to pies and crumbles. However, for a more tailored approach — or for use in desserts with a specific flavor or theme — you can adjust what you combine your crumbs with before toasting. For anything made with chocolate, mix your blended crumbs with cocoa powder before baking them. Meanwhile, a blend of oats, cinnamon, and the blitzed donuts will provide the ideal sweet and warming topping for an apple pie.

Your prepared topping can then be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer after baking. It will be ready to use whenever you want to add a little more flair to your baked goods.

8. Elevate a trifle with extra donuts

Mixed berry trifle serving

Though they certainly have a look of decadence about them, this long-standing staple British dessert — the trifle — was originally created as a means of finishing off leftover cake by layering alcohol-soaked slices between splashes of custard. The addition of jelly (or Jell-O) and fruit came a bit later. And modern trifles allow for a fair amount of freedom in their assembly based on preference, including the type and amount of cake used. As such, you can certainly use torn-up donuts in the place of cake slices for slightly chewier, moreish layers that come to replicate the texture and taste of both jelly and custard donuts. 

Making a trifle with your extra donuts doesn’t have to be time-consuming either, as store-bought pudding mix is a perfectly acceptable substitution for homemade custard. You can also use any fruit and, likewise, any flavor of Jell-O that you have to create your layers. Just tear up your donuts and sandwich them between the sheets of pudding, fruit, and Jell-O for a simple and speedy but nonetheless attractive dessert.

9. Turn leftover donuts into waffles

Glazed waffles on cooling rack

Your waffle iron need not be reserved purely for waffle mix; it can also bring a new lease of life into leftover donuts for a truly tasty breakfast. Indeed, whilst a waffle iron does little to change the actual composition of a donut, the warmth that comes from pressing them for just 2 minutes counteracts any hints of emerging staleness and makes the perfect sweet base for loading up with butter, syrup, and whipped cream. Ideal as a luxury breakfast or an easy dessert, this simple method is a genius way to reconfigure your donut-eating experience.

Using jelly donuts sets you up well for making peanut butter and jelly waffles, though you may need to be careful when pressing down so as to not cause any spillage. Meanwhile, a standard glazed donut will give you a delicious, sweet topping that means your waffles are ready to go straight off the iron should you not have other toppings on hand.

10. Blitz them into milkshakes

Milkshakes with various toppings

For something entirely different, a donut milkshake combines two of the most delicious, sweet treats to create an incredibly indulgent dessert without any risk of stodginess. Indeed, if you’re looking to make something wholly new with your cakey, leftover donuts but don’t feel like eating a heavy dessert, blending them up with milk, ice cream, and any other toppings that you see fit is a great way to completely revamp them.

We recommend taking 2 cups of vanilla ice cream, 1 cup of milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla and blending these ingredients with one donut. This will give you a slightly thick and creamy shake that is enough for two people — should you want to share, that is. For a thinner shake, simply increase the amount of milk and blend it until your desired consistency. If plain vanilla isn’t your thing, mix it up with other flavor combinations that complement your extra donuts. Nutella, Biscoff, and coffee will all blend well with donuts, milk, and ice cream. And if you happen to have a remaining donut left to top off your creation, that’s even better.

11. Use donuts for ice cream sandwiches

Donut hole ice cream sandwiches

Smooth and silky ice cream wedged between two crispy cookies has long been the conventional composition of the summertime favorite, the ice cream sandwich. However, the pillowy soft texture of a donut arguably makes it more suited to the role than its crunchy counterpart. In fact, some ice cream parlors and dessert shops are swapping out more conventional options like chocolate chip cookies in favor of spongy donuts to sandwich their frozen goods, and it’s easy to understand why.

The cushiony texture of a donut makes the overall experience of eating an ice cream sandwich a lot less messy, as the ice cream seeps into the donut as opposed to falling out. It’s also made all the more luxurious, with the flavors from the donut merging with the ice cream in a moist, cakey mouthful. Cut your extra donuts in half to sandwich your ice cream of choice or, for a heartier treat, use a whole donut on each side and dig in. The refreshing coolness of the ice cream will help cut through any grease, and the donuts should feel less heavy.

12. Add a sweet twist to your sandwiches

Breakfast sandwich with donut buns

It’s no secret that many types of meat and savory sandwich fillings pair perfectly with sweeter components. Pork and apple, peanut butter and jelly, and maple bacon — a flavor combination that actually secured Union Square Donuts, one of the best donut shops in Boston, the award for the best unique donut in the USA in 2022 — are just a few examples of the glorious ways in which salty ingredients harmonize well with sweet accompaniments. As such, leftover sugary donuts are a great way to add a new dimension to meaty burgers and sandwiches, from tender pulled pork buns and fried chicken to crispy bacon burgers.

Notably, donuts provide a touch of indulgence at breakfast time when used in place of bread for a breakfast sandwich. This brings together peppery sausage, punchy cheese, and gooey egg yolks with an undertone of sweetness and a delectable chewiness. For most sandwiches, you won’t even need to prep the donuts, as their round shape and sturdy texture make them an exemplary substitute for burger buns or bagels. So, if you’re thinking about what to make for lunch, don’t neglect your extra donuts, as there’s no need to set them aside solely for dessert.

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