The air has a crispness to it, you’re dressed in your favorite flannel shirt or maybe an autumn-hued sweater, and you’ve just arrived at the apple orchard (or maybe you’re at a local fall fair). You smell sweet fragrant apples, and then you get a whiff of something else: fried dough and a hint of cinnamon. You follow your nose and join the line. You’re waiting for one of fall’s simple pleasures: apple cider doughnuts.
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There’s something almost magical about being at an orchard or fall fair (or even your favorite doughnut shop) and taking that first bite of an apple cider doughnut. A good one is tender yet cakey, has a delicate crust, and is lightly spiced, with an apple-y tang. And it’s best eaten warm. One might argue that it’s hard to re-create this experience at home, but I would argue that making apple cider doughnuts at home is the best way to ensure that you get the best doughnut possible. Fresh, hot, and satisfying (because you made it!).
I have been making apple cider doughnuts for years. It’s my own fall tradition. So, drawing on that experience and Cook’s Country’s tried-and-true Apple Cider Doughnuts recipe, I’m here to help you make the best doughnuts you can.
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How to Make Apple Cider Doughnuts
Let’s start with the dough. Using 2½ cups of flour, one egg, ¾ cup of buttermilk (for a bit of tang), and 4 tablespoons of cooled melted butter will form a nice workable plain dough with plenty of richness and moisture. Using a combination of baking powder and baking soda (which gets activated by the acidic buttermilk) ensures that the doughnuts turn out fluffy.
There are many ways to add apple flavor to the dough. We tried cider, boiled cider, and even shredded apple, but the doughnuts were not yet teeming with apple flavor. The solution turned out to be apple juice concentrate. (Apple juice concentrate is sold in tubes in the freezer section of the grocery store, not in the juice aisle.) Replacing some of the buttermilk with the thawed apple juice concentrate keeps the wet and dry ratios in the dough in balance and gets sweet apple flavor into the dough.
The dough is easy to whisk and mix together, and once it’s ready, it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. I highly recommend making the dough the day before you want to fry and eat the doughnuts. This makes the dough easier to work with since it will be nicely chilled, and it allows you to fry up doughnuts for breakfast without getting up at the crack of dawn.
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Once you’re ready to cut the doughnuts, simply dust your counter with flour (don’t be shy—you want a heavy dusting), flour your hands, and pat the dough out into a ⅓-inch-thick round. Then, use a floured (yes, we’re going heavy on the flour here because we don’t want any sticking) 3-inch round cutter to cut the doughnut rounds and a floured 1-inch cutter to cut a hole in the center of each dough round. (Can I share a secret here? Sometimes, I don’t bother cutting out doughnuts and just use a 1-inch cutter to make all doughnut holes, which I find easier to fry and more fun to eat.)
When the doughnuts are all cut and arranged on a flour-dusted baking sheet, pop them into the refrigerator while you heat your oil. Don’t skip this step—working with cold dough is much easier than handling droopy warm dough.
How to Fry Apple Cider Doughnuts
Before you begin frying, whisk together some sugar, cinnamon, and salt to coat the fried doughnuts in, and be sure to set up the spot where you’ll transfer the fried doughnuts. You don’t want to be pulling doughnuts out of hot oil and then trying to juggle a baking sheet and a rack. (That is truly a recipe for disaster.) Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and layer paper towels on half the rack.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven to 350 degrees. Use a thermometer to ensure that the oil has reached the right temperature before you start frying. Then, fry six doughnuts at a time, being sure to flip them every 30 seconds, until they are golden brown, which should take about 2 minutes. Check your oil while the doughnuts are frying and be sure that it is staying between 325 and 350 degrees (adjust your burner if you need to). Use a spider skimmer or a slotted spoon to transfer the doughnuts to the paper towels to drain.
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Then repeat, frying the rest of the doughnuts followed by the doughnut holes, again checking the oil temperature and making sure it is at 350 before dropping the doughnuts in and that it stays between 325 and 350 while they fry. If your oil is too low, you’ll get blond doughnuts, and if it’s too hot, your doughnuts will get too dark. Neither will taste as good as perfectly fried doughnuts.
Toss the doughnuts in the cinnamon-sugar coating and then place them on the other side of the wire rack. Pull out your favorite fall platter, pile the cider doughnuts on top, and serve them nice and warm. (You don’t even have to wait in line!)
5 Tips for the Best Homemade Apple Cider Doughnuts
- Use thawed frozen apple juice concentrate for lots of apple flavor.
- Work with cold dough and use plenty of flour when cutting the doughnuts.
- Chill the dough and set up everything you need before frying.
- Pay attention to the oil temperature when frying and adjust the heat as needed.
- Eat the doughnuts while they’re still warm!