When I wrote about apple picking in Massachusetts last month, my editor spotted what she thought might be an error in the post: I referred to the "cider donuts" sold at the orchard. Did I mean cider AND donuts, she asked?
Nope. I meant donuts made with apple cider, and my condolences if you've never met one!
I don't eat donuts in general, but I make an exception for these babies whenever I visit an orchard that makes them. Basically, they're buttermilk donuts with apple cider added to the batter—lending more moisture, and a subtle sweetness—and often spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. I like them best fresh from the fryer; they don't taste as good even a few hours later, which puts a fortunate curb on my impulse to take home a few dozen. (Although I suspect that dunking a less-than-fresh cider donut in hot mulled cider would still taste pretty darn good.)
If you're not near an orchard, and dare to delve into a vat of Crisco for deep-frying at home, Smitten Kitchen has a gorgeous recipe for apple cider donuts. This recipe from A Bowl of Mush is similar.
I don't know exactly when cider donuts were invented, but they seem to have made their commercial debut in the United States in the 1950s. Using ProQuest, I found the following in a New York Times article from August 19, 1951:
A new type of product, the Sweet Cider Doughnut will be introduced by the Doughnut Corporation of America in its twenty-third annual campaign this fall to increase doughnut sales. The new item is a spicy round cake that is expected to have a natural fall appeal.
According to the 2008 book "Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut," by Paul R. Mullins, the Doughnut Corporation of America (DCA) was founded in the 1920s by a Russian immigrant named Adolph Levitt who was quite the entrepreneur. He launched a chain of doughnut shops, developed a doughnut-making machine and a standardized a mix of ingredients to sell to other bakeries, and came up with National Donut Month and a host of other marketing gimmicks.
By the way, Levitt's DCA no longer exists (it was bought out by Lyons in the 1970s), but its name does: In what Saveur magazine calls "a stroke of pure genius," the brothers behind a small Seattle business called Top Pot Doughnuts bought the DCA trademark. Make that a "formerly small" business; Top Pot now sells its donuts in many Starbucks nationwide. Sadly—or perhaps happily for my arteries—their product line doesn't include cider donuts.