Apple desserts can feature fruit or farm-fresh juice

Preparing apple pies for a recent potluck was a labor of love.

The recipe started not in the kitchen, but in the orchard of a local farm, where I’d been invited to cook and eat. About 20 or so apples of several varieties, picked right off the trees, constituted enough fruit for two generously stuffed pies.

Within a few hours, an all-butter crust had been concocted in the food processor and left to chill while apples were readied. Peeling the fruit by hand, I passed them off to my friend for portioning with a corer-slicer. Tossed with freshly grated lemon zest and nutmeg, cinnamon and some cornstarch, the slices gained sweetness from a butter-brown sugar syrup before being tucked into their dough-lined dishes, finished with lattice tops.

Eating in view of trees that produced the apples only heightened our enjoyment. Blessed with a bounty of fruit, the farm also presses gallons of cider for sipping throughout the winter, boiling into syrup and even distilling into brandy. The cider also would provide the key ingredient for another sweet treat, doughnuts, which I feel confident would come together just as easily as the pie pastry that garnered such high praise.

Recipe testers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette confirm that this batter will be sticky, so be sure to flour not only the parchment paper-covered pan but also your hands and the doughnut cutter. It’s also crucial to keep the oil at a steady 375 F, verifying with a thermometer and frying only a few doughnuts at a time. If you crowd the pan, the dough will absorb the oil instead of cooking it instantly.

Vermont Apple Cider Doughnuts

Tribune News Service photo

1 1/2 cups fresh apple cider

1 cup sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 large eggs, at room temperature.

3 1/2 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

6 cups canola or safflower oil, for frying

Cinnamon-sugar (1 1/2 cups sugar mixed with 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon for sprinkling)

Place the apple cider in a saucepan over medium heat and cook it down to 1/3 cup, for about 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl using a mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until mixture is pale and fluffy, for 4 to 6 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating for a minute after each. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

Pour the buttermilk, boiled cider and vanilla into sugar-butter-egg mixture. Mix well and don’t worry if mixture looks a bit curdled; it’ll smooth itself out. Add flour mixture and gently mix just until fully moistened. Mixture may appear a bit lumpy, but the most important thing is not to overmix.

Line baking sheets with wax paper or parchment paper and dust generously with flour. Turn dough out onto a baking sheet and gently pat into a 3/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle dough with additional flour, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Pour the oil into a large pot and heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 F.

Using a lightly floured, 3-inch doughnut cutter (or biscuit cutters), cut out about 18 doughnuts with holes. You can gather scraps and re-roll as needed, but you may need to chill dough more to firm it up.

Drop 3 or 4 doughnuts into pot of oil, being careful not to crowd pan. Cook until browned on 1 side, for about 1 minute, then flip over and fry for 1 1/2 minutes longer. Transfer using a spider, tongs or slotted spoon to lined plate to drain. Repeat process with remaining dough. Sprinkle doughnuts with cinnamon-sugar mixture while still warm.

Makes 18 doughnuts.

Recipe from “The Apple Lovers Cookbook” by Amy Traverso (W. W. Norton & Co., 2011).

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