Ask anyone in my family what our favorite time of year is, and we’ll all pick fall. Even the kids, who dread going back to school every year, relish the coziness of autumn more than the joys of summer.
I suspect the apple cider doughnuts have something to do with it.
Actually, I should clarify. It’s not the doughnuts, per se. It’s what they represent: family trips to go pumpkin patching and apple picking (where cider doughnuts are always on offer), no chores, no homework, just family time.
And fall signals the start of baking season, when the house starts smelling like cinnamon and brown sugar again, and there’s always some sort of baked treat on the kitchen counter.
You would think that with all the doughnut eating we do on our excursions, we’d have no interest in eating them at home. But apparently when it comes to doughnuts, our family knows no limits.
And so, I’ve come up with what I think of as the ideal apple cider doughnut — though it’s almost a fib to call it that since it’s not fried.
I’m really not a fan of deep frying (too smelly and messy), but luckily some genius invented doughnut baking pans. The best part about using these pans is you don’t have to worry about having a dough stiff enough to shape and cut. This means I can make a really moist, almost runny batter that will result in exceptionally tender doughnuts.
In fact, the batter I’ve developed is quite similar to my favorite muffin batter, and just as easy to make. So, technically, you could say these are doughnut-shaped apple cider muffins, but why spoil the magic? They are, no matter what you call them, undeniably delicious.
Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts
Makes 1 dozen regular-size doughnuts or 2 dozen mini doughnuts
Whether you’re making cakes or quick breads, using oil instead of butter, plus a healthy dose of sour cream, makes for the tenderest, moistest crumb with an impressive amount of fluffy lift. And cake doughnuts are, after all, basically just quick breads in disguise. But I want my apple cider doughnuts to taste like apples, not just spice cake. So I usually swap out the sour cream for apple butter, and I concentrate the flavor of the apple cider by boiling it until reduced by half. Brushing the doughnuts with melted butter before rolling them in spiced sugar has a dual purpose: It helps the sugar adhere better, of course, but it also helps mimic the decadence of truly fried doughnuts, without the hassle of frying.
1 cup fresh apple cider
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup apple butter or sour cream
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup melted coconut oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two regular or two mini doughnut pans.
In a small saucepan, boil the apple cider until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
In a separate mixing bowl, combine the eggs, vanilla, apple butter or sour cream, sugar and oil; whisk until smooth. Stir in the cooled apple cider.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.
Set a large ziptop bag inside a large measuring cup or bowl (to help keep it upright while you fill it), and fold the top down to open up the bag. Spoon the batter inside, squeeze out the air and seal the top. Snip off a corner of the bag and use it to pipe the batter into the prepared pans, filling each indentation 3/4 full. (Piping with a bag helps ensure you don’t overfill the pans, which would close up the doughnuts’ holes.)
Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes (8 minutes for mini muffins), until the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Allow to cool a few minutes in the pan before removing.
Topping: In a shallow bowl, stir together the sugar and spices (alternatively, you can process them in a food processor if you prefer the texture of superfine sugar).
Brush each donut with melted butter, then toss in the sugar mixture to coat. (You can skip the butter step if you’re feeling virtuous; the doughnuts are moist enough to allow the sugar to adhere.)
Though these donuts are best eaten the day they’re made, they’re so moist and tender they’ll keep in an airtight container for up to three days. Just wait to top them with the butter and sugar until you’re ready to serve.