Why It Works
- Hazelnut oil or brown butter will lend richness and complexity to the dough, without creating an overtly nutty flavor.
- Subtle use of rose water and almond extract, while optional, enhances the natural aroma of fresh apple cider.
- Refined coconut oil's high smoke point completely eliminates that dreaded fried-food smell, while use of a solid fat for frying keeps the finished doughnuts light and crisp, never greasy.
The tradition of serving fresh doughnuts with apple cider dates back more than a hundred years, but doughnuts made with apple cider? That's more of a mid-century marvel, popularized by the Doughnut Corporation of America. Founded by Adolph Levitt, the DCA wasn't a doughnut shop, but a manufacturer of automated doughnut machines, proprietary fry-oil, and doughnut mixes, as well as marketing strategies—like the introduction of national doughnut month.
Which is to say, when they rolled out the "Sweet Cider Donut" concept in 1951, it was instantly adopted by most everyone who worked with DCA's product lines, including mom and pop shops, orchards, and doughnut chains alike. Nearly 70 years later, apple cider doughnuts are more popular than ever, if somewhat misunderstood.
Adding Apple Cider Flavor
The originals were characterized primarily by the use of the same spices found in apple pie—a cake doughnut meant to be served alongside apple cider—but over time, people have come to expect them to taste like cider as well. Which proves to be something of a quixotic task, as the character of apple cider is defined by its super fresh, just-pressed flavor, whereas most cider doughnut recipes involve a lengthy reduction process to "pack" more cider flavor into the doughnuts.
I don't find that approach works particularly well, as the lengthly cooking transforms the orchard-fresh flavor of cider into something earthy and dark. More flavorful on a technical level, but it's certainly not more of the flavor I want, which is that of fresh apple cider. Can you imagine how Max's watermelon sorbet would taste with a watermelon reduction, rather than fresh juice? Or how about lemonade made with a lemon juice reduction?
I prefer a simpler approach to cider doughnuts, with fresh apple cider and a host of subtle aromatics in the dough to lay a flavorful foundation, and a topcoat of freeze-dried apples ground up with toasted sugar for a big hit of fresh apple flavor the moment that doughnut hits my tongue.
I also start with a yeast-raised dough, rather than a cake-style one. In large part, that's because yeast-raised doughs can accommodate a lot more liquid on the whole, allowing me to incorporate a higher proportion of fresh cider. But I also find that the lightly fermented flavor of a yeast-raised dough resonates more with the cider, playing up its natural funk. Yeast-raised doughnuts have a better structure for dunking as well, letting them soak up lots of hot cider without falling apart.
It's not an old-school approach by any means, but it takes me exactly where I want to go: to a crisp but tender doughnut that actually tastes like apples.
How to Make the Dough
The dough itself is super simple, and comes together in under two minutes. Start by pulsing the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, instant dry yeast, salt, and spice) in a food processor, then add the cider and continue processing to form a soft but sturdy dough.
Finally, pulse in a little fat to form a sticky but pliable dough—I love using hazelnut oil as its flavor is such a good match with apples (I have a bottle left over from my last batch of homemade Nutella and waffle cones), but brown butter works in a similar way, adding delicately nutty richness that adds to the complexity of the cider.
I proof the dough in a greased container until it's puffy and light, but resilient enough to bounce back from a gentle poke after a minute, a stage at which it will be roughly doubled in bulk.
At cool room temperature, say 70°F (21°C), this will take about two hours, but you can expect the dough to move faster or slower in warmer or cooler environments, respectively (or when using freshly browned butter that's still quite hot). As with literally any stage of any recipe, the physical cues take precedent over the estimated time, so pay close attention to the dough, not the clock.
When the dough has risen nicely, I turn it out onto a flour-dusted surface and roll it until it's just shy of 1/2-inch thick, about 12mm. This is pretty important, so grab a ruler; taking the dough all the way down to 1/4-inch will result in wimpy, wafer-thin doughnuts, and leaving it over 1/2 inch will give you doughnut behemoths that may refuse to cook through. These problems of being too thin or too thick can also be exacerbated by under- and over-proofing later on, so take care to get the dough right while you can.
How to Cut and Form the Doughnuts
Of course, you can cut the dough however you like, but I find that 3-inch rounds will stretch and puff into nicely sized 3 1/2-inch rings, which feel just perfect in my hands. You can cut them larger or smaller, but do be aware this will affect how long they need to fry.
Transfer the rounds to a greased baking sheet; using oil or pan spray rather than flour will minimize the amount of debris that later hits the oil, so it stays clean and fresh for reuse. For classic doughnut rings, use a 1-inch cutter to form the hole; I've got a set of graduated, nested cookie cutters that's perfect for the task.
If you don't have a 1-inch cutter, don't worry; the rings can easily be formed by hand, giving them a little more rustic charm. Just poke a hole in the center of each round, and gently stretch into a ring with your fingers.
If you like, gather and knead the doughnut holes and scraps into a ball, then roll and cut as before.
Cover the doughnuts and proof as before, until the rings have risen to about 18mm or just shy of 3/4 inch. At this stage the dough will feel puffy and light to the touch, but a little resilient, not fragile. Again, the physical cues are vastly more important than the literal timing, but expect the second rise to take about an hour at cool room temperature.
Frying the Doughnuts
When the dough has nearly risen, begin heating the oil so it can hit about 365°F (185°C) by the time the doughnuts are ready. As with the cake and yeast-raised doughnuts from my book, my DIY Donettes, and homemade cannoli, my number one recommendation for deep frying is a solid fat like refined coconut oil.
Little jars of refined coconut oil can be pretty pricey in supermarkets, but when shopping in bulk at warehouse clubs or online, that price will drop to just a few cents an ounce. And I've got 18 recipes here on Serious Eats to help justify that purchase.
Like lard or shortening, refined coconut oil is solid at room temperature, which is a crucial detail for fried doughnuts. Imagine a piece of bread dunked in oil for a few minutes, and the way it would squish in your mouth.
That's nice if you're talking about a chunk of focaccia dipped in a fine olive oil, but that's exactly the textural quality that makes doughnuts feel greasy and gross. Solid fats change all that, as they revert to their solid state once cool, giving the doughnut a pleasant, lingering richness, like a piece of bread with a thin smear of butter.
Even better? Thanks to its high smoke point, refined coconut oil won't curse your kitchen with that awful, fried-food funk. After frying the doughnuts, my kitchen smells like doughnuts, not grease.
Rolled and cut as directed, the doughnuts can be fried for about 90 seconds per side in refined coconut oil heated to 365°F. But the timing will vary depending on the precise size and thickness of the doughnut, as well as the temperature of the oil, so be sure to fry a test doughnut that can be cracked open to check on the interior, so the timing of future batches can be adjusted accordingly.
While the doughnuts are fresh from the fryer, I dredge them in apple cinnamon sugar. This can be made well before the doughnuts (no need to clean the food processor in between chores) and stored in an airtight container, but because it comes together in about 30 seconds, it can also be made at the last minute.
Whenever you make it, be sure to dredge the doughnuts while they're still warm.
In the end, you'll be rewarded with a light but crisp doughnut with a gentle spice perfuming the dough, and an intense apple flavor in the sugar coating itself. They're best served alongside a mug of hot cider, or while standing outside on a crisp autumn day.
13 1/2 ounces bleached all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal, plus more for kneading (about 3 cups, spooned; 385g)
1/2 ounce sugar (about 1 tablespoon; 15g)
1 1/4 teaspoons (5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
1 1/2 teaspoons (5g) instant dry yeast, such as SAF; not RapidRise or active dry
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
9 ounces apple cider; do not use a reduction (about 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons; 255g)
1/4 ounce rose water (about 1 1/2 teaspoons; 7g) (optional)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 ounces hazelnut oil, or brown butter (just over 1/4 cup; 55g)
Refined coconut oil, such as Nutiva, for frying (see notes)
For the Topping:
1 recipe Apple-Cinnamon Sugar (about 1 1/4 cups; 8 ounces; 225g), or cinnamon sugar to taste
Making the Dough: Combine flour, sugar, salt, yeast, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda, and cloves in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to combine. With the processor running, add the apple cider, rose water (if using), and almond extract (if using) all at once. Process until the mixture comes together in a soft, sticky, but well-structured dough, about 50 seconds. With the processor still running, add the oil and process only until well-combined, about 10 seconds more. At this stage, the dough may have a rough texture and slightly oily sheen, but this is normal.
Proofing the Dough: Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover, and proof until the dough is puffy, light to the touch, and roughly doubled in bulk. When pressed gently with a flour dusted finger tip, a shallow impression will form but spring back after a minute. The exact timing will vary depending on the temperature of the ingredients, as well as the proofing environment, but expect about 2 hours when proofing at 70°F (21°C).
Forming the Doughnuts: When the dough is puffy and light, transfer to a lightly floured work surface, dust the surface with a touch more flour, and roll to a thickness of 12mm (just shy of 1/2 inch). Take care not to roll the dough too thin at this stage; at 1/4 inch or 7mm, the doughnuts will turn out thin and flat.
Dust off excess flour with a pastry brush, then cut the dough into 3-inch rounds. Cut a 1-inch round from the center of each to form a ring, or form the ring by poking a hole in the center of each round, then gently stretching the dough to form a ring. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, then knead the scraps together. Let the scrap dough relax a few minutes, then roll, cut, and shape a final few doughnuts.
Second Rise: Cover the prepared doughnut rings with plastic wrap, and proof until they rise to thickness of 18mm (just over 1/2 inch), with a light but sturdy texture. The timing at this stage will vary depending on environmental conditions, but expect about 1 hour at 70°F.
Preparing the Oil: Fill a 5-quart stainless steel or enameled Dutch oven with enough melted, refined coconut oil to achieve a depth of about 3 inches. Clip on digital thermometer and heat oil to 365°F (185°C) over medium heat. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels, and have the prepared apple-cinnamon sugar nearby.
Frying the Doughnuts: When oil reaches 365°F, practice maintaining that temperature for a few minutes before starting. Once you're comfortable with the controls, slip a test doughnut into the hot oil and fry until pale gold, turning frequently with tongs to ensure even color, about 75 seconds per side. When done, transfer the doughnut to the paper towel–lined baking sheet and, when cool enough to handle, break open to see how you like the consistency. If needed, see troubleshooting section below. Adjust temperature as needed, and proceed accordingly with the remaining doughnuts, frying no more than 4 or 5 at a time.
To Serve: Place the prepared apple-cinnamon sugar in a wide dish, such as a pie plate. When each doughnut is cool enough to handle, dip into the sugar, and turn to coat both sides. Transfer to a serving platter, and enjoy immediately. These doughnuts are best when fresh and warm.
Troubleshooting: If the raw doughnuts seem heavy and dense, with a tight crumb after frying, the dough is underproofed; allow the doughnuts to rise a while longer, preferably in a slightly warmer environment to speed the process along. If the raw doughnuts feel puffy and almost fragile to the touch, with a greasy, sponge-like crumb after frying, the dough is overproofed. If the finished doughnuts seem greasy and pale, the fry oil is likely too cool. If the finished doughnuts have a heavy crust, but seem dense or raw inside, the fry oil is likely too hot. If the doughnuts seem tough, the gluten in the dough was likely overdeveloped, as a result of all-purpose flour too high in protein, or as a result of overprocessing.
Food processor, rolling pin, 3-inch cookie cutter, 1-inch cookie cutter, clip-on digital thermometer
Doughnuts taste best when fried in solid fats; historically, this was done with lard, and later shortenings like Crisco, while doughnut shops today often use refined palm oil. At home, refined coconut oil is my favorite fry medium for doughnuts, thanks to its high smoke point, neutral flavor, and solid consistency once cool. Small jars at the supermarket can cost a pretty penny, so harness the power of bulk buying to bring the price down; look for big tubs at warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sams, or shop online. My favorite brand is Nutiva, which costs as little as 22 cents an ounce when purchased by the gallon.
Sweet Cider Donuts. Smithsonian Magazine.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 12 to 15|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 9g||11%|
|Saturated Fat 4g||22%|
|Total Carbohydrate 37g||14%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||8%|
|Total Sugars 15g|
|Vitamin C 7mg||33%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|