Apple cider doughnuts will cure your fear of frying

Photo: Allison Robicelli

You don’t need to wait for an apple picking haul—or even the fall season—to make apple cider doughnuts. And you don’t need to be afraid of frying them in your own kitchen, either. Doughnuts are one of the easiest pastries you can make—no special equipment required. You don’t even need a mixer.

But I know you have questions. Let me allay any fears right away so that you can get frying, today, with confidence.

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Can I use a mixer instead of stirring the batter by hand?

You can, but every time I used a mixer—even when using it for less than a minute—I found the doughnuts ended up a bit tougher than I wanted. One thing I’ve learned through over many years of food writing and teaching: Nearly all home bakers overmix their batters. Mixing the dough by hand avoids that mistake, plus you don’t need to haul out the mixer. It’s just easier.

Why reduce so much apple cider?

Many apple cider doughnuts don’t really taste like apples—they’re doughnuts that use a teeny tiny amount of cider, plus a whole punch of pumpkin pie seasoning. I like using a lot of cider and boiling into concentrated apple flavor, and I don’t like adding spices since they can overpower that flavor. If you want to add a smidge of cinnamon or ginger though, go right ahead.

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What’s up with the potato starch?

I use potato starch a lot in my baking, and believe it’s one of those ingredients you should always keep in your pantry (if you can’t find it in your supermarket’s baking section, try the kosher aisle). For one, starch doesn’t contain any gluten that can be overworked—which will make your doughnuts tough and chewy— giving a beginner baker some insurance in case they get a little overzealous with the stirring. Two, potato starch is great at sucking up moisture, which will help keep your doughnuts on the tender side, as well as allowing you to get more of that sweet, sweet apple cider into your dough.

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Can I use cornstarch instead of potato starch?

No, it’s a completely different starch. Resist the substitution.

What about the shape? I don’t own a doughnut cutter.

You don’t need one. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter what your doughnuts look like. You can use a biscuit cutter or the top of a can to punch out circles, then use your fingers to poke a hole in the middle. You can pop off little balls of dough and fry them on their own for “munchkins.” You could roll out ropes of dough, coil them up, give them a pinch, and make rustic-looking doughnuts. Honestly, who cares what they look like, as long as they’re delicious.

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I don’t have a deep fryer and I don’t want my kitchen getting messy.

If you use a big pot with high sides—like a Dutch oven—any spattering oil will never have a chance to make it out onto your stove. Just make sure your oil comes up at least 4 inches from the bottom, and leave lots of room at the top to contain splatters.

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I have a lot of trouble regulating the temperature of the oil.

First, make sure you have a frying/candy thermometer. It’s a cheap investment that’s a must in the kitchen. Maintaining heat is very tricky, so the thermometer is essential in letting you know whether or not you have to turn the heat up or down. Additionally, cooking in a heavy vessel like a Dutch oven will help keep the temperature steadier, as the pot itself retains heat. Also remember to fry your doughnuts only two or three at a time, because if you add a bunch of cold doughnuts to hot oil, you’ll cause the oil’s temperature to drop and end up with soggy, greasy doughnuts. Be patient—they fry up quickly, and you can munch on hot fresh doughnuts as you go along.

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Apple Cider Doughnuts

  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting your kneading surface
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ginger, or pumpkin pie spice (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • High-heat oil, like vegetable or canola, for frying

Pour the apple cider into a saucepan and bring to a boil, reducing its volume from three cups to one cup. How long this will take will depend on whether your stove is gas, electric, or induction, so just keep an eye on it—my stove is electric, and it took about nine minutes to reduce. Once reduced, pour the cider into a small mixing bowl or liquid measuring cup and place it in the refrigerator to cool.

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In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, potato starch, sugar, baking powder, and optional spice, using a heavy spoon or spatula. Make a well in the center of the mixture.

Whisk the eggs, evaporated milk, salt, and reduced apple cider together until well combined, then pour into the well in the center of the dry ingredients. Use your spoon or spatula to gradually mix them together just until they are fully incorporated.

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Generously flour a clean counter or wooden board, as well as your hands. Pour the sticky doughnut batter out of the bowl and gently knead for about one minute until it forms a cohesive dough. Pat it out to a thickness of about 1/2", then cover it with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, during which time the dough will suck up the excess moisture and stop being sticky. What you’ll have is a nice, soft bouncy dough that you can easily cut through without issue. (If, for some reason, it still feels a bit sticky when you touch it, dust your hands with a bit of potato starch and give the top of the dough a light pat)

Fill a Dutch oven or your largest pot with at least 4 inches of frying oil. Clip a fry/candy thermometer to the side of the pot, making sure that the bulb doesn’t touch the bottom. Turn the heat on thigh, bring up to a temperature of 360 degrees Fahrenheit, then lower heat to medium, adjusting as necessary to maintain temperature.

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Use a doughnut cutter, round biscuit cutter, or the top of the evaporated milk can to punch out doughnuts from the dough. If using the one of the latter options, stick your finger through the center of the doughnut to make a hole, then twirl it around a bit to stretch it out. The doughnuts don’t need to look perfect.

Drop three doughnuts into the oil at a time. They will sink to the bottom at first, and then, as the baking powder is activated, they will puff up and rise to the top. Fry for about two minutes, peeking at the undersides with a slotted spoon or chopstick, and flipping over when golden brown. Continue to fry for another minute or two, then remove from the oil and place on a wire rack over a baking sheet to drain and cool. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts. You can reroll the scraps to punch out more doughnuts, or you can hand shape them into tiny balls to make doughnut “holes.”

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If you’d like to sugar your doughnuts, put some granulated or superfine sugar into a cake pan, and add your doughnuts while they are still hot and just shake them around. Use a spoon to make sure both sides are covered in sugar, then move to the rack to cool completely. If you’d like to dust with powdered sugar, wait until the doughnuts have cooled to room temperature, then dust right before serving. You can dip them in oven roasted apple butter for double apple doughnuts. Or you can just eat them plain.

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About the author

Allison Robicelli

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, host of The Robicelli Argument Clinic Podcast, the author of three books, and a swan meat influencer.