Fabulous Fall: Homemade Apple Cider Doughnuts.

Most years, I’ve dreaded fall. The first frost makes me wilt like my Café au Lait dahlias. The cool crops can't compare to heirloom tomatoes, and while I adore pansies, I miss the riot of blooms in the cutting garden. As soon as autumn arrives, I start counting the days until spring.

This year, however, I decided to change my unhealthy attitude. I’m working hard to appreciate the fall garden. I’m watching our beech trees turn into brilliant works of art. I’m relishing the colors of the season, the sweater weather, the incredible bounty of shiitakes from our logs. I’m embracing fall. Fully. A little mental adjustment, and I’m finding it’s not so bad.

But just as I’ve made peace with autumn, Christmas infringes on my newly found pleasure.

Some members of my family {cough ValandLauren cough} have been excitedly Pinning and planning Christmas since before Halloween. They may be disowned.

Still, I realize it’s not their fault. The marketing begins earlier and earlier each year. Christmas decorations arrive with the Halloween costumes. Santa’s sleigh lands at the mall this weekend. Even Biltmore’s 35-foot Christmas tree rose yesterday. (Won’t this be a fire hazard by December 25?)

I’m not giving in. I refuse to walk down the betwinkled aisles of Target. I avert my eyes from the enormous inflatable Abominable Snow Monster at Lowe’s. I’ve even shushed our girl as she hummed the holiday music currently practiced by her orchestra.

It’s November 7, people!

I’m not ready. I want to savor the seasons, not rush them. As soon as the turkey sandwiches are gone and we’ve eaten Peter’s birthday cake (November 30), I’m ready. Bring on the Christmas spirit!

Until then, I’m determined to eek out every bit of autumn adventure.

Skytop Apple Orchard @Garden Delights

Like most families, one of our autumn traditions includes a visit to a nearby apple orchard. It’s a beautiful orchard in the North Carolina mountains, with gorgeous views of perfectly aligned trees following the natural dips and curves of the land. Since our first outing years ago to the orchard, apparently every family in South and North Carolina discovered its existence. The orchard is now a madhouse of parking lot directors and bewildered parents, stumbling along, trying to find a row of trees that hasn’t been picked clean. Add to the fact that our family made our journey in September—in 90-degree heat—and suddenly, our fun tradition of apple picking turned into a cranky day.

Gala Apples @Garden Delights

We didn’t even get our traditional apple cider doughnuts.

Oh. The doughnuts...

Truthfully? It’s the highlight of the outing. Crispy, warm, just-fried dough bliss encased in cinnamon and sugar…I live for those traditional fall treats. I know. They’re pure badness. There’s not one healthy crumb in these doughnuts. The napkins quickly fall apart with the doughnut’s grease, and the excessive sugar makes my teeth feel furry. But for all of their diabetes instilling qualities, there’s nothing so mentally pleasing as eating a hot apple cider doughnut while overlooking the hills and valleys as they show off their fall style.

On our visit, the line for these delicacies stretched along the parking lot, curving past trees, seemingly endless. OK, that’s an exaggeration. The wait wasn’t endless.

It was 1-1/2 hours.

Instead, our sweaty, cranky crew carried our healthy apples to the car, and we left.

But I kept thinking about those doughnuts.

Maybe I craved them a little too obsessively. Maybe I tied my autumn happiness to their sweet, crunchy promise. Maybe I read more than a dozen recipes for apple cider doughnuts. If only we had apple cider doughnuts, my sugar-obsessed brain thought, we could keep Christmas at bay.

In a fit of full moon madness, I made apple cider doughnuts last night.

At 9:30 p.m.

Apple Cider Doughnuts @Garden Delights

Here’s the thing: if you’re going to be bad, then be REALLY bad. Nothing says badness like eating sugary fried dough right before bedtime, right?

After my literature review of the recipes available, I chose this one from Smitten Kitchen. I love this blog and knew Deb wouldn’t fail me in my quest for deep-fried, sugary happiness. I added a bit more spice to my version, because I really like cinnamon.

Before we begin, know this: your kitchen will be grossly, disgustingly greasy. Prior to last night, I’d never deep-fried anything, because I have an odd aversion to cleaning up grease. Bacon grease is challenging enough for me. My pathological need for these doughnuts turned me into a deep frying fool. And, it was just as nasty to clean as I feared.

But the doughnuts were worth it.

Apple Cider Doughnuts
1 cup apple cider
3-1/2 cup flour (keep the bag handy to add flour to the cookie sheets)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
4 tbsp. butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
Vegetable shortening for frying

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp. apple cider

Cinnamon Sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp. cinnamon


Pour 1 cup apple cider into small sauce pan. Using medium heat, reduce cider to approximately ¼ cup, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, add butter and granulated sugar, beating with electric mixer until smooth. Add eggs and continue to beat until incorporated.

Reducing the speed to low, add the apple cider and buttermilk.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low until dough forms.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and coat with flour. Turn dough onto one sheet, sprinkling the top with flour. (The dough will be sticky.) Using your hands, flatten the dough to ½-inch thickness. Place the baking sheet with dough in the freezer for 20 minutes until firm.

Apple Cider Doughnuts Pre-Cooked

Remove dough from freezer. Using a 3-inch round cookie or doughnut cutter, cut doughnuts. Use a 1-inch round cutter to cut holes. Place the shapes on the second baking sheet, and place in the freezer for another 20 minutes to firm. (You can reuse the dough scraps to make more doughnuts.)

Prepare your toppings. For the glaze, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and cider until smooth. For the sugar topping, blend the cinnamon and granulated sugar well. Set toppings aside.

Add shortening to a deep pan, about 3 inches. You’ll want enough shortening so that the doughnuts float while cooking. Heat shortening to a temperature of 350 degrees. If you have a candy thermometer, great—I didn’t, and the doughnuts turned out fine. You just want a nice, hot oil bath in which to cook the doughnuts to a crispy light brown without burning them.

Apple Cider Doughnuts in Oil

WARNING: HOT OIL! Please do not burn your finger like I did. Carefully add a few doughnuts to the oil. Fry for about a minute, then turn the doughnut over. Continue frying for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from skillet and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain for a minute.

Dip the top of the doughnuts into the glaze, then dip the doughnuts into the cinnamon sugar topping. I coated both sides of the doughnut with the cinnamon sugar because that’s how they do it at the orchard.

Apple Cider Doughnuts Close-Up @Garden Delights

Eat immediately while warm. Trust me. Just like the doughnuts from the orchard, these treats taste best fresh from the skillet. I fried a batch, then saved the remaining cut out dough in the freezer for morning. I thawed it for about 15 minutes, and we had fresh doughnuts this morning. It worked beautifully.

Now that we’ve checked off our requisite apple cider doughnuts from our fall to-do list, I might—might—be less adverse to Christmas-themed Pins sent to me by the family.

Although, there’s still an urgent matter of finding my free-range, organic, heirloom Thanksgiving turkey…

Yes, I think I’ll stay focused on fall.

(Make the doughnuts. They’ll make you happy. And it only took 30 minutes to clean the stove.)