It’s apple season up in the Midwest and when I think back on the apple seasons of my past, I immediately think about cider mills.
My favorite cider mill of all time is The Franklin Cider Mill in Franklin, Michigan. If you’re ever in the neighborhood (between Labor Day and Thanksgiving) stop by!
Driving out to Franklin and grabbing a bag of warm, cinnamon spiced cake doughnuts and a quart of freshly pressed apple cider was a family tradition. We’d grab a spot on the lawn and share a paper bag full of warm, fresh doughnuts and Dixie cups of cider, while we watched the ducks play in the stream and enjoyed the cool, crisp weather. It’s something I cherished at the time, because it was only available for a brief few months each year, but I never realized how truly special the experience was until I moved to a part of the country that *gasp!* isn’t big on apples.
My children have never been to a cider mill and, although this may sound silly to you, it breaks my heart. As far as I’m concerned, cider mills are one of fall’s old-fashioned, simple pleasures and should be enjoyed by everyone! Earlier this week, I saw a friend’s post on Facebook about her family’s trip to a cider mill and that got me thinking. If I can’t take my kids to a cider mill, why not try to bring the cider mill (minus all of the heavy equipment) to my house?
I decided surprise the girls with homemade doughnuts and “fresh from Publix” cider for breakfast.
Once I decided to do this, I was determined to make a good doughnut, but I was well aware that anything I made couldn’t possibly be as good as what I remembered. I also didn’t want to make a recipe that could feed a small nation…just my family. Keeping this in mind, I scoured the internet for a traditional cider mill doughnut recipe that made a reasonable amount of doughnuts and I found quite a few! It appears that I’m not the only one out there missing this part of my childhood.
Almost every recipe I found started off with reducing down some apple cider that would, eventually, be added to the dough.
Reducing the cider down from 1-cup to 1/4-cup concentrates the flavor. When it was reduced down, it was almost like apple cider syrup.
While the reduced cider cooled, I put together my dough. This is a simple, old-fashioned recipe, and took just a few minutes to put together The original recipe called for cinnamon and nutmeg. I am not a big nutmeg fan, so I substituted some pumpkin pie spice. There’s a hint of nutmeg in pumpkin pie spice, but it’s not overpowering.
Once the dough was made, the recipe told me to turn it out onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet that was “sprinkled generously with flour”. I cannot stress this enough. “Generously” is an understatement. Make sure that the cookie sheet is well floured because this is one sticky, sticky dough.
I sprinkled more flour on top, floured my hands and flattened the dough out onto the cookie sheet. I liked this recipe because it didn’t involve a rolling pin. The recipe called for the dough pressed out to a thickness of 1/2 inch and when I pressed it into the cookie sheet, it was perfect.
At this point, the dough went into the freezer for about 20 minutes to firm up. This gave me enough time to clean up the mess I’d made…before I made more mess.
After the dough came out of the freezer, it was time to cut the doughnut shapes out. I don’t have a doughnut cutter. When I make these again, I’ll be sure I get one. I used a 3-4 inch round cookie cutter and, in an attempt to be festive, a mini fall leaf cookie cutter to cut the middles out. (The attempt at being festive fell flat once the donuts were fried, but it was worth a shot. The holes in the middle should have been much smaller.) I placed these cut out doughnuts, leaf-shaped holes and some regular holes I’d cut out from the extra dough on another parchment paper lined and floured cookie sheet.
At this point in the recipe, the dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes. I covered the cookie sheet with foil and put them in the fridge overnight. My goal was to surprise the girls in the morning. Plus, I didn’t want to mess with the whole recipe first thing in the morning before I’d had enough coffee. Who are we kidding? That could get really ugly. So, the tough part was done and I waited until morning to finish.
In the morning, after brewing some coffee (first things first, after all), I heated up some oil for the doughnuts. If you are going to make these, I highly suggest using a candy thermometer. Deep frying is an exact science. The oil had to stay as close to 350* as possible for optimum frying. If the oil is too cool, the doughnuts would soak up the oil. If too hot, they’d burn on the outside and be raw on the inside. Keep the thermometer in the oil as you fry and keep an eye on it as you fry.
As I kept a close eye on the doughnuts, I made a quick glaze that the recipe suggested and also mixed together some cinnamon and sugar. I fried up the doughnuts two at a time. After the doughnuts cooled just a bit and drained on some paper towels, I dipped the tops in the glaze and sprinkled them with the cinnamon sugar.
(See? They needed smaller holes in the middle.)
As for the holes, I just tossed them in some cinnamon sugar.
Were these the doughnuts I remembered? No. I don’t know if anything I made at home would measure up, to be honest. For one thing, the real thing is THAT good. For another, I’m not a mass producing perfect doughnut making machine. These are a pretty good spiced doughnut, though, and the kids really got a kick out of them.
Someday, I’ll take my kids to a real cider mill so they can experience it for themselves. Until then, they seemed quite happy to wake up to the substitute, and that’s really all that matters.
CIDER MILL DOUGHNUTS
Adapted from a recipe found in The New York Times
- 1 cup apple cider
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for the cookie sheets
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
- ½ tsp. salt
- 4 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk (low-fat is OK)
- vegetable oil for frying
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp. apple cider
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, gently reduce the apple cider to ¼ cup. This takes about 20-30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Set aside.
- Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if you're using a standing mixer) beat the butter and sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the reduced apple cider and the buttermilk. Mix until just combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix just until the dough comes together.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and generously sprinkle them with flour, covering all of the parchment. Turn the dough out onto one of the cookie sheets. Flour the top of the dough and flour your hands. Press the dough down into the cookie sheet until the dough is ½ inch thick. Add more flour if necessary. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer for 20-30 minutes to help the dough to firm up.
- Remove the dough from the freezer and, using a 3-inch doughnut cutter, cut out doughnut shapes. Place the cut doughnuts and holes onto the second prepared pan. The remaining dough can be re-rolled and used to make more doughnuts. At this point, cover the doughnuts and refrigerate them for 20-30 minutes or overnight.
- Add enough oil to a deep sided pan to measure 3 inches in depth. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350*. As the oil is heating, line a plate with a several paper towels and have a wire rack nearby.
- Make the glaze, whisking together the 2 Tbsp. apple cider and the powdered sugar until smooth. If desired, mix some cinnamon and sugar together in a separate bowl.
- To fry and assemble: Carefully add a few doughnuts at a time to the oil. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Fry to a golden brown, about 45 seconds. Turn the doughnuts and fry until the other side is golden, about another 30 seconds. Remove the doughnuts from the oil and drain on the paper toweled plate. Cool slightly. Dip the tops of the warm doughnuts in the glaze, setting on the wire rack. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if desired. Serve immediately.
- Makes approx. 14 doughnuts and holes