I have never met a variety of deep-fried dough I didn’t like. Yet, given that most doughy fried items out there are rather mediocre* — say, the chain donut shop steps from my apartment — I don’t find myself indulging this habit as often as I’d like. The exception to this rule is apple cider doughnuts, which I am absolutely weak in the face of. Despite the fact that even the loveliest looking ones at the farm stands tend to disappoint, I eat them anyway. Because it’s fall and crunching through ochre-tinted leaves, wrapping your fingers around a paper cup of mulled cider and eating even lackluster apple cider doughnuts is the right and proper thing to do.
Or it was. Although I am sure my timing couldn’t have been worse — you know, with a four week old to take care of, no biggie — I got a hankering something fierce last week for the kind of apple cider doughnut I almost never find around here — save this piping hot and off-the-chart perfect ones Alex and I shared at Hearth this past Valentines Day. When I realized that recipe was readily available on the Web, it was a short and slippery path to posing my infant son to a 3-pound tub of trans fats… er, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Okay, fine. We’ll get to that now. Here’s the deal with the shortening, an ingredient I haven’t made any bones about my dislike of (at least in pie crusts and cookies or in any place where it is intended to replace sweet, delicious butter). I had heard a rumor that shortening makes for a fantastic deep-frying agent. Theory has it that because shortening, unlike oil, is solid at room temperature, once the fried item has cooled, it “seeps” less oil into the stuff around it (think telltale greasy napkins and paper plates) and generally tastes less greasy on the tongue. I had to find out. Which also meant that I had to set out to buy a large quantity of shortening, which meant that I had to pack my son into his stroller for one of our first solo errands together to buy an egregious quantity of trans fats (the store didn’t carry the trans-fat free stuff — the horror! — though it’d be hard to argue that “healthfulness” was my preoccupation). He won’t remember this, will he?
Or maybe he will. Sorry baby, mama couldn’t resist.
Back to the doughnuts. You’ll be pleased to know that despite requiring chilling and cutting and deep-frying — something I’m anything but skilled in, which I blame on my Yankee, Jewish upbringing; seriously, my people did not deep fry things — these were not hard to make. The dough comes together quickly and the cooking takes less than 15 minutes, beginning to end. And the eating… well, faintly spiced, lightly apple scented, perfectly light and crisped at the edges (I do believe the shortening has converted me), oh these are so very worth it, all of it.
* My Favorite New York Doughnuts: People often ask me for local eating recommendations but I always dodge these questions because restaurant reviewing, dissecting and generally telling people where to spend their hard-earned money is so not my bag. But I’m going to do something uncharacteristic today and just outright admit my five favorite local places to indulge my doughnut habit because it would be a shame to have done as much hip-padding research as I have on the subject and not allow you to share in my doughy discoveries: 1. The doughnut holes at Tabla’s Bread Bar. 2. The crème brûlée (like, brûléed and everything!) at the Doughnut Plant on Essex Street. 3. The barely-sweetened petite pistachio doughnut from Balthazar’s bakery. 4. The made-to-order, airy yeast doughnuts available at brunch at Back Forty, served with a rotation of dessert sauces (last time was concord grape, swoon). 5. The apple cider doughnuts at Hearth, but look below! You can now get them in your own kitchen.
Apple Cider Doughnuts
Adapted from Lauren Dawson at Hearth Restaurant
Makes 18 doughnuts + 18 doughnut holes (suggested yield for a 3-inch cutter; my larger one yielded fewer)
Most apple cider doughnuts, despite their name, are kind of a bummer because they don’t taste very apple-y. One of the many things that appealed to me about this recipe was the way the apple cider was reduced and concentrated to hopefully give it more presence. And despite the fact that these are cake doughnuts, which have always played second fiddle to yeast doughnuts in my experience (likely because cake are more likely to get stale sooner, or you know, by the time you buy them), I think this is all the more reason to make them at home.
Personally, I don’t think a sweetened doughnut needs any kind of topping, but I went with a cinnamon-sugar coating anyway. Hearth dips theirs in an apple cider glaze, and serves them with applesauce and barely-sweetened whipped cream. We had ours with a dark beer.
1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil or shortening (see my explanation in the post) for frying
Glaze (1 cup confectioners’ sugar + 2 tablespoons apple cider)
Cinnamon sugar (1 cup granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon)
Make the doughnuts: In a saucepan over medium or medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to about 1/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer) beat the butter and granulated sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk, mixing just until combined. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix just until the dough comes together.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper and sprinkle them generously with flour. Turn the dough onto one of the sheets and sprinkle the top with flour. Flatten the dough with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Use more flour if the dough is still wet. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes. Pull the dough out of the freezer. Using a 3-inch or 3 1/2-inch doughnut cutter — or a 3 1/2-inch round cutter for the outer shape and a 1-inch round cutter for the hole from a set like this, as I did — cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto the second sheet pan. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes. (You may re-roll the scraps of dough, refrigerate them briefly and cut additional doughnuts from the dough.)
Add enough oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F*. Have ready a plate lined with several thicknesses of paper towels.
Make your toppings (if using): While the cut doughnut shapes are in the refrigerator, make the glaze by whisking together the confectioners’ sugar and the cider until the mixture is smooth; make the cinnamon sugar by mixing the two together. Set aside.
Fry and top the doughnuts: Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pan, and fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Turn the doughnuts over and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels for a minute after the doughnuts are fried. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the glaze or cinnamon sugar mixture (if using) and serve immediately.