An ode to apple cider donuts

Apple cider donuts

Growing up in the Midwest, I never really had apple cider. I suppose we had “fall vibes,” but I never really experienced apple picking and orchard culture until I moved to New York.

After transplanting to NYC, I began the annual trek to the orchards in Westchester County and farther north, during which we filled mesh bags with apples because, well, we drove over an hour and paid to do so. While it was fun, I wasn’t feeling the same joy as my peers.

A few years later, I moved to the northern suburbs of NYC, and as part of the move, became familiar with Stew Leonard’s, a grocery store chain in CT, NY and NJ. There, I experienced apple cider donuts for the first time. At Stew’s, they make their apple cider donuts in the stores and in front of customers, and you used to be able to snag a tasty free sample (a true pre-COVID joy).

Stew’s famously does the apple cider donut to perfection – it’s a classic cinnamon sugar donut using fresh apple cider (that they also make) in the batter. The perfect specimen stays light with strong apple flavor throughout, but it’s a delicate balance – too little cider and you can’t differentiate the output from a cinnamon sugar; too much and the resulting donut is way too wet, and the sugar coating gets clumpy.

While the major chains like Dunkin’ have tried to produce apple cider donuts, they rarely stand out because they’re just not fresh enough. My favorites are local offerings like Stew’s and orchard offerings like those at Outhouse Orchards in North Salem, NY. Most farmers’ markets in the suburbs also feature some local bakery or orchard selling their take on the apple cider donut, usually in a wonderfully greasy paper bag.

Now, many years later, my fall trips to the NY orchards are much more fulfilling. While I still fill the mesh bag with apples, I also hunt down and try each spot’s take on the apple cider donut. Some are great, some are meh, but the fall donut vibes are always worth it.

Cover image: Apple cider donuts from Outhouse Orchards in North Salem, NY

Fall favorites from Peter Pan

When Autumn hits full swing in the North East, I love to take trips out of the city to get a little break from the concrete and steel and enjoy nature. I love to partake in viewing the changing leaves, picking apples, getting lost in corn mazes, and hitting up farm stands for the freshest seasonal treats. It’s been a little more difficult to make casual trips this year, so when my cravings hit, I made my way to Peter Pan in Greenpoint to snag some local, Fall favorites.

I’ve mentioned several times, but Peter Pan’s classic, no frills approach is always part of their charm and when it comes to Fall favorites, this might be where they’re at their best. Classic flavors always line the shelves at the Greenpoint landmark such as Marble Crullers, Red Velvet, Boston Creme, traditional glazed, as well other frosted standards covered in sprinkles. Still, arriving in this time of year and seeing Pumpkin, Apple Cider, and Apple Fritter gives such a sugar rush of excitement.

Pumpkin and Apple Cider are two of their most basic donuts and in appearance, there isn’t anything all that special about them. However, it becomes clear upon first bite just how intoxicating these two creations can be and how flavor can really sum up the season. Apple Fritter isn’t as much a seasonal exclusive, but still fits right in with the overall vibe. The Pumpkin and Apple Cider are traditional cake donuts, deep fried, and covered in a sugary glaze. Each bite is intensely sweet, but not overpowering, and deeply satisfying. The fritter is a bit larger in overall volume with chunks of apples directly in the dough. The cinnamon sugar inside forming a perfectly gooey glob of goodness. As winter looms and global conditions spark concern, donuts are often my go-to distraction. A sweet relief, delicious distraction, and enjoyable escape. A perfect tasting to celebrate the season.

Dunkin’ – Spicy Ghost Pepper Donut

A few weeks ago, Jason sent me a link that Dunkin’ (formerly, and always in my heart Dunkin’ Donuts) was dropping something new for Halloween this year… a spicy ghost pepper donut. I laughed it off as we both found it strange. Somehow in the past week, this treat has become near meme level in its consumption. A friend of ours tweeted at us and asked for a review, my employee sent me a picture of him eating one, and another friend in Massachusetts went to a few Dunks to get his hands on one as well. What I thought was a really dumb marketing gimmick had actually taken off for the fast food chain. So, after spending over an hour in line to vote early in NYC, I grabbed one for myself to finally get a take on this weird, possible disaster of a donut.

I’ve stated before that as a Massachusetts native, there will always be a soft place in my heart for Dunkin’ and how their version of the Boston Creme was a staple of my childhood, but this was really pushing it. Regardless, I did my best to try it with an open mind. If anything, trying this gave me more faith that a regular donut from Dunkin’ isn’t as bad as I remember and doesn’t taste as mass produced as I expected or remembered (I’ll save my thoughts on Krispy Kreme for another day and still have not made my way to their new monstrosity of a store in Manhattan). The donut is a traditional Strawberry frosted yeast donut and that part actually tasted pretty great. It was light and fully, not too greasy, and the frosting didn’t taste like pure sugar. It was a pleasant surprise. The Ghost Pepper that tops the donut in sprinkle form is obviously where it falls apart. To me, this wasn’t spicy, but rather the sprinkles (or whatever they are) had more of a Pop-Rock like sensation that tasted like a heated cinnamon candy, nothing spicy whatsoever. Sure, it gave the donut some extra texture, but either this thing really is lacking heat, or I had a dud. From the beginning, I knew the hype would be hard to live up to and I felt pretty right by the end. Cool in concept, but severely lacking in execution and not worth going out of your way to experience. Stick to the Boston Creme.

Fan-Fan Doughnuts

Last weekend, Fany Gerson opened her new donut shop, Fan-Fan Doughnuts, in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in the former site of the original Dough. As one of the founding chefs and long-time partners of the NYC staple, she announced her split from the innovators at the start of the pandemic and had planned to open her new spot in Clinton Hill. However, like practically everything else, COVID put a wrench in her plans, but Gerson powered through and after a few twists and turns, her latest creation opened for weekends only in her old location.

Taking everything she learned via her tenure with Dough, Gerson no longer considers herself a donut novice and has put her experience to the test to create some incredible new concoctions. These yeast donuts have a similar vibe as Dough, albeit smaller and more manageable in size, with a light and airy dough acting as a solid vehicle for some wonderful, advanced flavors that range from classics like Mexican Brown Sugar, Traditional Vanilla, and Belgian Chocolate to stunning creations like Yuzu Meringue, White Coffee (which has an insane espresso cream frosting), and Raspberry Black Currant. There is also a Boston Creme in the style of a Long John (aka a fancy eclair) that is topped with cocoa nibs and a Sea Salt Caramel that if full of gooey goodness. It seems like each week will have slightly different menu line-ups with a few regulars gracing the menu and the plan is to expand their offerings once they sell enough to buy a second fryer.

In just their second weekend, there was already a good amount of hype surrounding the store and line was pretty decent in length for the majority of the morning. For now, it’s take-out only and there is a small counter which displays their daily selections as they rapidly stuff brown cardboard boxes with these delectable treats to get people in and out as quickly as possible (they’re also cash and Venmo only, for now). While the line is not speedy, the wait is definitely worth it and I can’t wait to see how they transform over time with new flavors.

Doughnut Plant – Apple Cinnamon

This weekend saw the return, once again, of Doughnut Plant in New York City. After closing at the start of the pandemic, the iconic local chain reemerged at the start of the summer before having to close down again as they battled to keep their numerous locations open and stocked with delicious goods. As Jason and I have both written about, the virus continues to impact small, local businesses and the restaurant industry has suffered tremendously, which is why we take every opportunity we can to support them through this time.

Earlier this week, Doughnut Plant took to social media to announce a pop-up style return set for this weekend at their flagship spots in Brooklyn and Queens with a reduced, albeit spectacular, menu. In their best efforts to reduce cost and use their resources strategically, this weekend’s menu consisted of a few cake classics (Wild Blueberry and Carrot Cake were there, so my wish had come true) as well as their sensational seasonal favorite, Apple Cinnamon. Maybe it’s the limited availability or the hype that I had built up in my head waiting for this day to come, but it’s quite possible that the batches from this weekend were the best ever. Biting into the Apple Cinnamon was like tasting Autumn in full glory. The decadence was rich, the texture perfect, and it somehow exceeded all expectations. While I wish they could be open every day, I know the logistics in these circumstances must be an absolute nightmare so I will wait patiently and for as long as needed until they can return to their full standards, but I’ll gladly welcome another pop-up as well. Whatever comes next for this institution, I’ll be there ready to give it my full support!

The return of MAD Donuts

MAD Donuts

A couple weeks ago, MAD Donuts in White Plains, which I first wrote about back in November, reopened for the first time since closing because of COVID-19, this time as a pop-up. It was emotional for me to chat with the owner, Matt, and to hear about how the business had changed so dramatically since his grand opening in Westchester Mall.

While it was tough to process the impact of the pandemic on Matt, his family and his staff, it was also great to see him doing what he loves to do, and the results remain spectacular.

I was lucky enough to snag a four-donut sampler (Vanilla Bean Glazed, Chocolate Iced, Piña Colada and an unbelievable Lemon Meringue) and a two-pack of their one-of-a-kind apple fritters, which remain a thing to behold. As big as my face, the fritters are just so good. I always say I am just going to have a bite, and I always eat the whole thing. The tart granny smith apples contrasted with the sweet cinnamon glaze gets me pumped up every time.

As both Marc and I have written here, our local donut spots have gotten hurt so badly by COVID-19. Even NYC stalwarts like Doughnut Plant have struggled to figure out how to open in a way that makes sense. So I got immense joy from seeing Matt, his shop and his amazing donuts again. He just announced that the next MAD Donuts pop-up will be on Saturday, October 10, and I encourage anyone in or near Westchester County to place an order.

North Fork Doughnut Company – Cereal Killer

Throughout the summer, Long Island’s North Fork Doughnut Company has been partnering with Sail Away Coffee for local deliveries around the area and even into the five boroughs (well, at least to Brooklyn). Pairing six canned coffees with six fresh donuts is a hard combo to pass-up and I usually jump at the chance to place an order for the weekend.

NoFoDoCo specializes in big, craft, artisanal donuts that do a great job of combining classic flavors with fun new inventions. Everything from classic glazed, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, to things a bit more adventurous like Samoa, Boston Creme, and Black Raspberry Jelly to new extremes like Tiramisu, Brown Sugar Bacon Pecan, and Pop Tart populate their menu, which changes on a weekly basis. The yeast beasts are quite filling and while not as dense as cake donuts, they’re more filling and packed full of flavor.

The Cereal Killer was a real highlight this go around. Covered in a strong vanilla frosting and then topped with a ton of Fruity Pebbles, it had wonderful textures and a perfect amount of sweetness. Despite its size and volume, it wasn’t too overwhelming and managed to leave me feeling perfectly full (I still tried the others). The crunch of the cereal was the perfect added bonus (something that Donut Pub here in NYC also nails exquisitely) and really enriched the entire experience. Each bite had the perfect amount of cereal and the vanilla icing held them nicely in place to prevent a mess with each mouthful. Even with a name like Cereal Killer, this one won’t destroy the roof of your mouth, but leave you wanting more.

Cereal Killer – 9/10

More Cape Cod donuts

Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery

Last month, I hit the road to Cape Cod, which is now a bit of a late summer family tradition. While there, I always try to visit the Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery, which to me is the ultimate local, small-town donut destination. This year, it was a little different with social distancing, but I was so glad the bakery was still open. When I walked in, the first thing I saw was an employee walking from the kitchen to the front of the shop with a stack of fresh jelly donuts (“just made this morning”), and I knew it was going to be a great visit.

There’s just something about grabbing a donut (or maybe multiple donuts) and an iced coffee then sitting outside in the sunshine that is so perfect. This year, we even saw a couple (along with their dog and their cat) who we saw last year as well. When my daughter said hello, they mentioned that their dog Whitney whines in the morning until they go to the bakery. Amen, Whitney.

This trip, we also tried a new place called Old King’s Coffeehouse in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. A newcomer founded in 2019, Old King’s is much more than a donut shop, serving tons of breakfast and lunch items. But keep your eyes peeled for the donut case at the front counter, which has a daily selection of classic (Old Fashioned) and more modern (Maple Bacon) flavors.

Old King’s Coffeehouse
Cinnamon Bun and Maple Bacon donuts from Old King’s Coffeehouse

Finding these local spots – especially in an otherwise sea of Dunkin’ Donuts in Massachusetts – is always such a joy. Support your local donut shops, my friends!

Cover image credit: Chatham Village Cafe and Bakery Facebook page

Hole in One Bakery – Cape Cod, MA

Let’s be honest, Cape Cod is known for lots of great food and as a native New Englander, my memories of visiting the Cape are mostly filled with lobster and clam chowder. Returning as an adult these days, it’s become quite apparent to me that local donut shops (that are specifically NOT Dunkin’ Donuts) are hard to come by the further you head out down the Cape. However, Hole in One Bakery is a local mini-chain (of sorts) that offers up some delicious baked goods and proves to be a solid option for donuts when in a pinch.

With a few locations up and down the Cape, I popped in to their Eastham joint just before closing to snag their remaining options for the day. This spot lands on the classic, old fashioned style donuts spectrum, but they do seem to have more crafty, artisanal options during the day that I was bummed to have missed. I went straight for their Cinnamon Sugar donut and it was delicious, old-time delight. Wonderfully chewy dough brought home the old school charm and it was beautifully dusted in a cinnamon sugar powder that enhanced every bite. Perfectly coated, excess powder never fell off the donut or covered my mouth, which is always a great highlight when enjoying this style. Their plain option was rather dry and not too flavorful, but would probably be best paired with a hot cup of coffee (not really my vibe). Even at the end of the day, the cinnamon sugar tasted amazingly fresh and was a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

The local charm of the shop and ability to nail a classic was enough to satisfy me and leave me intrigued for future visits.

Save our donut shops!

There’s no doubt that this pandemic has brought unforeseeable changes to so many aspects of our daily lives. Seemingly overnight, our world was turned upside down. Restaurants in particular have really felt the hit brought on by shuttered doors and operating on delivery alone is proving to be not only a health risk, but virtually unsustainable.

In early Spring, the beloved Doughnut Plant closed in order to better understand how to operate safely in our new climate and in May, they slowly began to reopen their stores for delivery and pick-up. Sadly, they’ve now announced that they’ve closed once again, and now through at least August.

Owner Mark Israel took to Instagram to write a lengthy post on the difficult decision to wind down operations and the future of their stores.

“Small businesses need help and more support. Restaurants have lost more revenue and jobs than any other industry. Fixed expenses have remained the same but as we all know, business is down. NYC in particular has been hit hard: people have left and people are staying home (including tourists).  Doughnut Plant doesn’t want to be part of the problem — landlords and property management companies are also bearing the brunt of the pandemic. By temporarily suspending operations our goal is to have a long-term solution with our property managers, not be another “number” shuttering its doors. Later this month Congress will consider their final coronavirus response bill for 2020. We know that the federal government is in the position to provide bakeries, cafes and restaurants the support necessary to help countless businesses survive. Time is running out. Your support these past months has helped, but there is more that needs to be done. Tell Congress to support your local coffee shops, cafes, bakeries, restaurants and employees. Tell Congress to pass the Blueprint for Restaurant Revival.”

We stay away from politics in the Donut Club, but helping our favorite stores stay in business is beyond politics and a critical duty as connoisseurs. Learn more about the Blueprint for Restaurant Revival and, if possible, please do what you can to support these crucial businesses and jobs for countless people.

Save our donut shops!