Don’t just drink that apple cider — make doughnuts

Apple cider donuts are a seasonal favorite in fall, when apple cider is widely available at markets. / Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS
Apple cider donuts are a seasonal favorite in fall, when apple cider is widely available at markets. / Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

My granddaughter, Greta, and I have a lot in common: We're both always moving, easy to smile (if occasionally cranky) and love to be outdoors in the sunshine.

We also share a passion for apple cider doughnuts, which she gets on Saturdays at a farmers market in New Jersey and I snag from Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park, Pennsylvania, whenever I'm in the area. Made in-house year-round, they're one of the Pittsburgh area's true sugary, guilty pleasures -- if you can stop at two, you're a champ.

Luckily, and perhaps surprisingly for those who don't spend a lot of time cooking, cider doughnuts are easy to make. You just have to be comfortable around (really) hot oil and know how to use an instant-read thermometer.

This classic recipe from Yankee Magazine features dough that mixes together in no time and is easy even for novices to work with. It delivers doughnuts that are wonderfully moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Buttermilk and boiled cider add a rich, slightly tangy flavor that's irresistible. The traditional way to serve them is sprinkled all over with cinnamon sugar, but you also could use confectioners or sanding sugar or dip them in a simple glaze.

To make boiled apple cider (which is super-concentrated), pour 1 1/2 cups of cider into a small saucepan and cook over low heat until it reduces to 1/3 cup, about 25 minutes.

Vermont Apple Cider Doughnuts

1 cup granulated sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 large eggs, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface

1 1/4 teaspoons table salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/3 cup boiled apple cider

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Canola or safflower oil, for frying

1 1/2 cups sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

In a large bowl using a handheld or standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat together sugar and butter until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4-6 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating a minute after each. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

Pour buttermilk, boiled cider and vanilla into sugar/butter/egg mixture. Mix well, and don't worry if the mixture looks a bit curdled; it'll smooth itself out. Add flour mixture, and combine gently just until fully moistened.

Line two baking sheets with wax paper or parchment paper, and dust generously with flour. Turn dough out onto one baking sheet, and pat gently into 3/4-inch-thickness. Sprinkle dough with additional flour, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up. Remove dough from the freezer; use a lightly floured 3-inch doughnut cutter (I used two concentric biscuit cutters) to cut out about 18 doughnuts with holes. (You may gather the scraps and roll again as needed, but you may need to chill the dough more to firm it up.) Place cut doughnuts on the other baking sheet as you go; then transfer to the freezer for 5 minutes to firm up again.

Line a plate with a few layers of paper towels, and set it nearby. In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat 3 inches of oil to 370 degrees. Be sure to test with an instant-read thermometer -- if the oil isn't hot enough, the doughnuts will absorb the oil and be greasy; if it's too hot, the doughnuts will burn on the outside before cooking on the inside.

Drop 3 or 4 doughnuts into the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook until browned on one side, about 1 minute; then flip and cook until browned on the other side, about 1 minute longer. Drain on paper towels.

Repeat with the remaining dough. (If you find that it's getting too soft as you work your way through the batches, pop it into the freezer again for 10 minutes.) When doughnuts are cool enough to handle but still warm, sprinkle all over with cinnamon sugar or confectioners sugar. (I rolled them in a bowl of cinnamon sugar.) Serve immediately.

Makes about 2 dozen doughnuts.


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