People come to McDougal’s Orchards to pick apples. Few leave without a bagful of Jack McAdam’s freshly baked apple cider donuts. They’re lured by the intoxicating aroma, which leads them from the orchard to Captain Jack’s Donut Shack about a third of a mile away. There, they gather at the kitchen window and gape at the “donut robot” mesmerizingly churning out crisp, brown rings four at a time: a worker feeds batter into the hopper, which drips rows of ringed cakes onto a conveyor belt, which tips them into a vat of hot oil, which lifts them onto another belt, which slips them onto sheets. Another worker sprinkles the donuts with cinnamon sugar and slips the sheet onto a cooling rack, where they sit until they’re just cool enough to be bagged and delivered to the next customer. McAdam, co-owner of McDougal’s Orchards with his wife, Ellen, concocted his top-secret donut recipe (“If I gave it to you, I’d have to shoot you,” he tells us) after he retired as captain of a fisheries research vessel 10 years ago. On his busiest weekend last fall, he estimates he made 1,360 dozen (that’s more than 16,000!) donuts.
A few doors down from Down East’s office, at Willow Bake Shoppe (1084 Commercial St., Rockport; 207-596-0564), head donut technician David Joseph makes knockout cider donuts during the wee hours for morning commuters like us. He kindly adapted his recipe for the home cook. Makes 12–18 donuts.
Old-Fashioned Apple Cider Donuts
4–6 quarts frying fat, such as shortening, lard, canola, soybean oil, or coconut oil (Each lends a unique flavor — lard is traditional, though Willow uses a soy-based shortening.)
1½ pounds all-purpose flour
9 ounces fine granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 whole eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup soybean, canola, or light olive oil
1¼ cups fresh apple cider, at room temperature
water to adjust
extra sugar and cinnamon for coating, or make your own glaze
In a large, heavy pot (or a deep fryer), heat fat quickly to 380–385 degrees, using a thermometer to adjust and maintain temperature. Make sure your kitchen is ventilated, as oil may smoke. While fat is heating, sift dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside. In a smaller bowl, beat eggs and oil, then add cider and mix well.
Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix with a sturdy spoon until a dough forms resembling sticky biscuit dough, adding more flour or water as needed. Turn out dough onto floured surface and work quickly to form a smooth, soft dough, adding flour as needed and being careful not to over-knead. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
After dough has rested, sprinkle work surface liberally with flour and use a rolling pin to roll dough to roughly ¾–1-inch thick. With biscuit or donut cutter, cut out donuts, making sure to minimize waste. If you’re using a biscuit cutter, cut the hole with a fork.
Using chopsticks as forklifts, carefully place as many donuts into the hot fat as can fit without overcrowding. Fry for roughly 75 seconds, then use chopsticks to flip and cook for an additional 75–90 seconds. Carefully remove donuts with chopsticks or slotted spoon, place on cooling rack or sheet pan to drip and cool (don’t use paper — it’ll make your donuts soggy!). Once the donuts are cool enough to handle but still hot, toss in cinnamon sugar or plain sugar, dip in glaze, or leave them plain.
Fry the remaining donuts and the holes — heck, even the scrap pieces if you want.