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