Making doughnuts at home can be a recipe for heartbreak: Fussy yeasted batter too often yields heavy, grease-sodden results, a bitter waste of oil and time. But we found a better way that also produces the lightest doughnuts we’ve ever tried, thanks to Romanian cookbook author Irina Georgescu. Her secret? Cultured dairy.

Romanians love doughnuts. Jam-filled Berliners and lemony papanași line pastry cases across the country. Gogoși rapide, featured in Georgescu’s book “Tava,” are the most casual affair of the bunch. Made as an impromptu snack at home, they require no yeast, no complicated techniques and no planning ahead.

It’s all thanks to brânză de vaci, a cheese that’s mixed into the batter, transforming the humble doughnut into something ethereal and airy.

The tangy dairy boosts flavor, providing a subtle tartness akin to that of crème fraîche or buttermilk. It also lightens the doughnuts by lending extra lift to the batter—when dairy ferments, some of the milk sugars become lactic acid, providing leavening power.

Romania’s tradition of using cultured dairy in baked goods has ancient roots, Georgescu notes. Rome’s invasion of the region drove its people into the mountains, and there soft, salty sheep’s cheeses worked their way into the cuisine by necessity.

Even with the modern advent of baking powder (a stronger leavener), dairy still has its place in Romanian baking—there’s no substitute for the tart, luscious quality it imparts. But for ease, Georgescu swaps out the brânză de vaci for widely available Greek yogurt to achieve the same cloud-like interior.

We found that the batter, lightly perfumed with lemon zest and barely sweet, comes together in minutes. Scoop it into a pan of hot oil—deep enough that the free-form doughnuts bob—and fry, flipping once, until golden-brown.

Pillowy on the inside and crisp on the outside. “These doughnuts are ready before you’re ready to eat them,” Georgescu warns. And no elaborate glazes needed—simply roll the still-warm doughnuts in cinnamon sugar, a just-sweet-enough finish.