With today being exactly a month into autumn, and the fact that Halloween is just next week, I’m trying to embrace the season as much as I can. The only problem living in Southern California is that October doesn’t necessarily equate to cold, chilly days, but rather we usually get stuck with 80° or higher days mixed with Santa Ana winds. This combination leaves us with very dry and warm air, and sadly, can lead to pretty bad wildfires. Doesn't sound like the cozy fall days that other parts of the country get to enjoy, does it? (Hello, I’m Debbie Downer!)
I’ve been doing my best to ignore these non-ideal temperatures by partaking in events that are perfect for the season. Last week, my family and I did our annual night out at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights, where the whole theme park is turned into a haven for all things spooky and Halloween-related. And just this past Saturday, I went with a group of friends to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery via Cinespia to watch a screening of the original Halloween to celebrate it’s 40th anniversary. Although both of these days were pretty hot and dry (it reached 90° on Saturday), it still helped me get in the spirit.
Of course, I’ve been taking this sentiment with me to the kitchen. The recipe(s) that I’m providing you with today are ones that define the season - I don’t think you can get more “autumn” than with apple cider doughnuts. These babies are a quintessential autumn treat that people go crazy for at apple picking farms, farmers markets, and of course, doughnut shops (like Sidecar and Blue Star - some local favorites of mine). Unlike the last time I posted a doughnut recipe, these will be fried in vegetable oil and therefore not baked in a doughnut pan. There will be a couple of things you’ll need in order to make a successful batch of these fried doughnuts: 1) a large pot or Dutch oven 2) a kitchen thermometer to keep on eye on the oil temperature and 3) a doughnut cutter. This is the doughnut cutter I used and it worked perfectly.
The day I was frying up these apple cider doughnuts was unfortunately a pretty hot day but I didn’t mind due to the amazing smells it gave my apartment. Although I didn’t have to put a sweater and socks on, I was hugged by the warm spices that define the season (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves) and that at least made me feel like it was a proper autumn day.
Besides giving you a recipe for the doughnuts, I’m also including a recipe for apple butter, which is actually one of the ingredients listed for the doughnuts. You of course have the option to buy store-bought apple butter to save time, but I definitely think making your own apple butter is worth it and will feel like such an accomplishment. Although it is a bit time consuming (the apple butter cooks in the oven for about 3 hours), it is fairly a hands-off process with the most tedious step being to peel the apples. My best advice would be to treat this entire post (apple butter and doughnuts) as a weekend project: make the apple butter early on a Saturday, followed by making the doughnut dough and allowing it to chill in the fridge overnight, and finally frying off the doughnuts on Sunday morning for breakfast. That way, it’s not all too overwhelming and allows you to enjoy each process.
The apple butter recipe yields about 2 cups and since you only need half a cup of it for the doughnuts, you luckily are left with a good amount to enjoy in other ways. Not only can you gift a jar of it to a friend or family member, which they would LOVE, but you can also choose to be selfish and keep it for yourself to spread on toast, waffles, scones, etc. I say to go with the latter option, but hey, I’m only recommending it because you deserve it after all the work you put in it!
Unlike in apple pies or other fruit desserts where there are specific “baking apples” to use, the apples that work best for apple butter are ones that have a softer skin. These varieties include Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, Honey Delicious, and McIntosh. Feel free to mix and match - I did a mix of Gala and Fuji.
Apple Cider Doughnuts
Makes about 16-18 doughnuts
Recipe adapted slightly from Bon Appétit
2 cinnamon sticks (3 inches in size)
3 cups apple cider
1/2 cup apple butter, store-bought or homemade (see my recipe below)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. kosher salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
Vegetable oil, for frying
For cinnamon-sugar topping:
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
In a large skillet, bring the apple cider and cinnamon sticks to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the liquid reduces to a thick and syrup-y consistency, about 20-30 minutes. There should be about a 1/3 cup of liquid when finished. Scrape into a medium bowl, and whisk in the apple butter, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Set aside.
In another medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, 1 tsp. of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in a bowl large enough for a hand mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs one a time, making sure to mix well before adding each one.
With the mixer on low, add in half of the dry ingredients, then half of the wet ingredients. Repeat once more, and mix until well incorporated. The dough will be very sticky.
Transfer the dough to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet that is generously dusted with flour (use about 1/3 cup). Sprinkle more flour on top of the dough, and with floured hands, gently press out the dough until it is 3/4” thick. Dust once again with flour. Tightly wrap the baking sheet with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Whisk the cinnamon and granulated sugar in a bowl (this will be for the doughnut topping). Set aside.
Take the baking sheet out of the fridge, and begin punching out doughnuts using a doughnut cutter. After first batch, gather the scraps and re-roll the dough out gently and punch out more doughnuts. Repeat until you have 16 to 18 doughnuts and doughnut holes.
Using a Dutch oven or large pot, heat about 3 inches worth of vegetable oil on medium-high heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees F (you’ll need a kitchen thermometer for this). Working in batches, fry about 3 to 4 doughnuts at a time for 2-3 minutes per side, until they’ve reached a deep golden brown. Once all doughnuts are done, fry the doughnut holes for about 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer each finished doughnut and doughnut hole to a cooling rack (place paper towels underneath to catch any excess oil), allow them to cool for a few minutes, then toss into the cinnamon-sugar mixture while the doughnuts are still warm. Enjoy! Doughnuts are always best when eaten the day they are made, but are okay the 1-2 days after when stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
Homemade Apple Butter
Makes about 2 cups
Recipe adapted slightly from Food Network Kitchen
4 lbs. of assorted apples, peeled and chopped (read above for best apple varieties)
2 cups apple cider
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
In a Dutch oven or large ovenproof pot, combine the apples, apple cider, brown sugar, and salt and cook on the stovetop over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, partially cover with the lid, and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the apples are soft. Removed from heat, and stir in the lemon juice, vanilla extract, and spices.
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Using an immersion blender (or you can carefully transfer the cooked apples to a blender and work in batches), puree the apples until smooth. Place the Dutch oven or pot into the oven, lid removed, and bake for 2.5 to 3.5 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, or until the apple butter is a deep amber color. The time it takes depends on what kind of apples you use.
Allow the apple butter to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator. Enjoy on toast, scones, waffles, etc. and/or use for the doughnut recipe above!