Joenuts (featuring Mini Apple Cider Donuts)
Some recipes get stuck in my craw. My mouth already watering with anticipation, I follow the words on the page as though they are biblical scripture, adhering to every measurement and direction like my life depended on it. When the final result is markedly far from my divine expectations, the obsession embeds. I must retool, rework, and rewrite until my experience equals the promise of the recipe. Strangely, this seems to happen much more with desserts than anything else. Why, oh, why can’t I become preoccupied with a salad recipe?
This past month, I’ve been possessed by baked, not fried, apple cider donuts.
One day in late October, I was taking a break from watching mindless television and decided to organize a storage drawer in the kitchen. Low and behold, I found a never-used mini donut pan that must have been a gift from someone years ago. This discovery magically coincided with The New York Times publishing an apple cider donut recipe. I took it as a sign from the catering gods and got to work immediately.
My first attempt was a straightforward adherence to the text, and the results were good, but that’s all. Then I took some advice from the comments section and reduced the apple cider to concentrate the intensity of flavor in the featured ingredient. That was great until I reduced it too far and the donuts lost their springy lift in the baking process. What if I reduced the cider for less time while infusing it with added flavor? I played with spice levels, more sugar/ less sugar, mixing flours. Closer… closer… but there was still something missing.
Then it was the beginning of November and while everyone I knew was obsessing about the election, I used baking as a therapeutic distraction. I started to call them “Apple Cider Joenuts” for Joe Biden and felt optimistic for the first time in a while. I delivered them to friends around town.
There was still something missing though.
One night in the second uncertain-who-our-next-president-would-be week in November, I bolted upright from a deep sleep. It came– a breakthrough wrapped in one of those dreams where I was about to drive a car off a cliff and suddenly, out of nowhere, “LEMON!”
I lay back down in bed and listened to the cacophony of sleeping dog woofs, cat wheezes, and husband snores. I was wide awake now, not from a nightmare, but from inspiration. 2 am is a lousy time to start baking though, so I would have to wait until morning to see if I was right.
A little bit of lemon juice was exactly the added acidic component that was missing from the original recipe. It lifted the apple and spice flavors up. It tasted like someone had just turned the lights on.
So here’s my take on Apple Cider Donuts. I’ll always call them Joenuts.
This recipe is for a mini donut pan because that’s what I’ve got. I know they’d be great in a big donut pan too, though you might have to bake them a little longer. I did try them out in a mini muffin pan and they were unholy (hole-less?) but fantastic, though I had to bake them for 12 minutes instead of 10.
Apple Cider Mini Donuts
makes about 3 dozen mini donuts
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 1 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
- ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour (I love whole wheat pastry flour for taste, texture, and health, but if you can’t find it or don’t want to shop for it, just use all all-purpose flour)
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- Dash of salt
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a small saucepan, put the apple cider, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Bring them to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes on medium/ low heat. You want the liquid to reduce to ½ cup, but not get super thick. Let cool for 10 minutes off the oven burner (even though the burner is off, there’s still a lot of heat rising from the hot grate so it’s best to move the pan to another burner or just pour the cider into a measuring cup to cool.)
- In a medium bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together.
- In a large bowl or bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter with the brown sugar and white sugar until it’s well mixed.
- Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla and lemon juice. Beat until well blended.
- Add the flour mix ½ cup at a time and blend on low speed until everything is combined.
- Add the cider and mix until combined but don’t overmix.
- Coat the donut pan or muffin pan with nonstick spray or butter. Using a piping bag or a spoon with a steady hand (you can alternatively put the batter into a ziplock and snip off the corner for a makeshift piping bag), fill the molds 1/3 way full.
- Bake 10 minutes for mini donuts, 10 minutes for mini muffins. I’m guessing it’ll be somewhere between 12-15 minutes for full-sized donuts, but I haven’t made them yet so don’t quote me.
- Melt the butter in a bowl and mix the cinnamon, sugar, and salt on a plate.
- Carefully dip the slightly cooled donuts into the butter and then press onto the sugar/ cinnamon/ salt mixture.
I don’t think you need to press both sides into the butter or the sugar because I don’t think they need the extra sweetness or fat, but that’s just me. Play with it. You’ll figure out the thing you like the best.
Pro-tip: Re-butter the pan as you go.