Hi, hello again...it's been a while, I know. The past few weeks have been a flurry of action, to say the least. A week vacation in Michigan, Little Guy's first birthday party, followed by a couple nights of this mom's first experience with scary-high baby fevers. You know how you always hear moms say they can tell their kid's temp just by feeling their cheeks? Yeah, they're not making it up. After feeling that delicate skin at a raging 104.3 degrees, there is no way you will ever forget it, and suddenly the magical mom powers of telling temp by touch are bestowed upon thee. Now that we are all sleeping through the night again and things around here are getting back to normal, I can finally fill you in on this fun endeavor I tried a few weeks ago.
When we moved to Illinois a little over a year ago, I had never heard of an apple cider donut. Oregonians are well versed in maple bacon donuts and Captain Crunch-laden donuts, but I can't say I ever saw a cider donut while living there. It isn't just the donut itself that is so popular here, it's the whole experience of hitting up one of the many apple orchards nearby and picking your own bushel, eating the donuts, drinking the cider, and watching kids play in the autumn-inspired playground. Last year we bundled up our 3 week old newborn and headed out to our first orchard experience. We didn't pick anything but enjoyed the scenery, barn-turned-gift shop, and the squeals and shrieks of little kids having a ball.
This year we visited an orchard a bit closer to home and less commercialized but still lots of fun. We sampled and picked about three varieties including blushing gold, cameo, and honeycrisp. To my surprise, Little Man wasn't shy about diving right in and gnawing the heck of out some apples. I guess those eight front teeth are coming handy already.
I've always wondered how hard it would be to try to recreate the delicious cider donuts these orchards make and sell, mainly because A. I don't always want to drive an hour to get a really good donut, and B. donut making would be a fun fall tradition to start in our house.
After doing a little research and a bit of trial and error, I finally got the recipe right and method figured out. I won't lie, frying things isn't for the faint of heart, especially if the smell of hot oil doesn't often waft through your house. The trickiest part of the whole thing is getting that darn oil to stay at the right temp. I used a Dutch oven which is great at holding its heat, but really bad at being responsive to heat changes. This is one time when an electric fryer would have been useful, however, I still can't justify purchasing an small appliance for the once or twice a year something gets fried in our kitchen. I did learn that it is a lot quicker to get oil to heat up than it is to cool down. With that in mind, be sure to read the tips at the bottom of the recipe for a few pointers on getting the oil temp just right.
This recipe is adapted slightly from Yankee Magazine's recipe for Vermont Apple Cider Donuts, which I really liked for the method of reducing down the apple cider to deliver a more concentrated apple flavor. The addition of the grated apple is my attempt to add a bit more moisture and flavor as well.
I do hope you'll try these, if not this year, then hopefully next year. It's a fun project, and a really festive way to celebrate the autumn season. Happy fall. :)
Apple Cider Donuts
This recipe is true to its name, using boiled apple cider in the dough for a concentrated flavor and deep fat fried as tradition insists. The addition of grated apple really keeps the finished product moist and full of autumn flavor. Slightly adapted from Yankee Magazine's Vermont Apple Cider Donuts.
Yield: about a dozen 3" donuts plus holes
2 cups apple cider (not apple juice)
1 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temp
2 large eggs
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 medium sized apple
4 cups all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
Canola or vegetable oil (for frying)
Cinnamon sugar (1-1/2 cups sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon) or confectioners' sugar
- Put the 2 cups of apple cider in a wide saute pan over high heat and reduce down until you get 1/3 cup boiled cider. Let cool. You might have to pour it off a few times into a measuring cup to check your progress.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using electric beaters), beat together the soft butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl with spatula.
- Add the buttermilk, vanilla, and boiled cider to the bowl. Mix to incorporate.
- Peel and grate the apple using a box grater. Use a paper towel to wring out the excess water from the grated apple. Add to the sugar/egg mixture and mix to incorporate.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix just until the flour disappears. Don't overmix. The dough should be soft but not overly wet and sticky.
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and generously dust with flour. Scrape out the dough onto the lined baking sheet. Use floured hands or rolling pin to press down the dough to 1/2" thickness (do not try making these thicker-they will not cook properly!) Pop the whole tray into the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up while the oil is getting hot and ready.
- Fill a dutch oven or large pot with about 1.5 inches of canola or vegetable oil, and bring the oil to 360-370 degrees F (no more, no less!- see tips). Use a digital thermometer or candy thermometer you can affix to the pot to monitor the temp.
- Take the dough out of the freezer and cut 3" circles with at least 1" holes using whatever you have (I used a wide glass for the outer ring and a narrow shot glass for the inner ring). Gather up the scraps and repeat process until you have about a dozen donuts plus their holes.
- When the oil is between 360-370 degrees F (and not climbing), carefully drop four donuts and a few holes into the oil. Fry for 1 minute on each side (seriously, set a timer - too little time and the inside will be raw).
- Remove the donuts with a spider strainer or metal tongs and let them drain on a baking sheet lined with a brown paper bag (or newspaper) topped with paper towel.
- Let the donuts cool slightly just enough to handle and dip in a bowl of the cinnamon sugar and turn to coat all sides. Alternately, you can dust with confectioner's sugar.
- Let the oil temp come back up to 360-370 F before starting the next batch.
- These are best enjoyed right away while still warm or the next day with coffee to dip them in.
- When you are done frying all the donuts, let the oil cool completely (this will take a few hours), and you can strain it off and use it for another purpose.
The trickiest part of this recipe is getting the oil to stay at just the right temp. I used a cast iron dutch oven which is great at keeping its heat but bad at being responsive to heat changes. My suggestion is to turn the burner on high for about 5-7 minutes, then check the temp of the oil. When it hits around 300, lower the burner to medium and keep heating for a few more minutes. When it gets to around 350, lower the burner to medium low and heat just until it reaches 360. You want to be sure the oil is not still climbing when you place your donuts in the oil, or you will end up with burnt donuts with raw middles. You'll have to keep monitoring the oil temp as you go. Once it reaches the 360-370 range, you'll probably want to keep it on medium low, but this varies with the type of heat (electric, gas, induction) you're using and the type of pot (stainless steel, cast iron, etc.). Alternately you could use an electric fryer if you have one and set the temp accordingly.
The other trick to this is the size and shape of the donut. Be sure the dough is not more than 1/2" thick (it will puff up plenty, trust me), and be sure the middle hole is big enough to let oil in to cook it from the inside out. I would go with about a 1" hole.