A taste of fall: Can't make cider doughnuts? Not to worry — they're everywhere

"You can't keep them out on the shelf ... After a while you just throw out your schedule, just throw stuff out there, and it's like a jail break." -- Drew Bove, Mrs. Murphy's Donuts, Manchester

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Now that apple picking season is in high gear, you may be tempted to try your hand at making some tasty homemade cider doughnuts. Think twice before you do.

The first time Kerry Comollo Mackinnon tried to make doughnuts, she nearly burned down her family's log cabin home.

Only 11 years old at the time, Kerry decided to take a shot at making doughnuts after a day of skiing.

"We didn't have a deep-fat-fryer, so I filled up a pot with hot oil, she said. "I turned around to get the batter and heard a 'whoosh.'"

The pot caught fire and went up like a torch, with flames lapping the angled ceiling above the stove.

Although the fire department was able to rescue Kerry's family cabin, that was the last time she attempted to make fried doughnuts at home.

Nonetheless, she now stands ready to help intrepid cooks with supplies from her store, Vermont Kitchen Supply in Manchester. The relevant inventory includes stock pots, doughnut pans and cutters, batter droppers and wire-mesh baskets known as spiders that are ideal for scooping doughnuts safely out of hot oil.

For the less adventurous chefs, fresh cider doughnuts are readily available this time of year from multiple purveyors in Bennington and Windham counties. And while many of these producers delight in telling their customers about what makes their cider doughnuts special, don't expect to get the details of their recipes, which are closely guarded secrets.

Here are just a few that are worth a taste.

Equinox Valley Nursery, Manchester

Equinox Valley Nursery has been offering its own homemade cider doughnuts from Labor Day to Halloween for more than three decades. During this period, owner Roger Preuss and daughter Jenn Casey operate a doughnut robot in a makeshift kitchen shed by the nursery's entrance so that each cider doughnut is warm and fresh when handed to you. One of the essential ingredients is the love put into every batch — plus a dash of blood, sweat and tears, Casey said.

What's a doughnut robot? It's not as futuristic as you might think: It's part deep fryer, part conveyor belt, and it flips the doughnuts automatically, making sure that each side is cooked evenly.

Another key is the cider itself, which they obtain from Hicks Orchard in Granville, New York. Casey said ultraviolet (as opposed to boiling) pasteurization allows Hicks' cider to retain its natural flavor. Preuss also points out that keeping the oil at a constant temperature and measuring the batter properly are critical to producing high quality cider doughnuts.

Dutton Berry Farmstand, Brattleboro, Manchester and Newfane

The Dutton family makes fresh cider year-round from apples picked in the family orchards and pressed at its Newfane farmstand. Having fresh cider allows the Duttons to make their own cider doughnuts throughout the year (time permitting). They offer plain, sugared and even chocolate glazed varieties.

The Duttons' doughnuts are fried using a doughnut robot in Brattleboro, and are sold at their Newfane and Manchester locations, too. According to owner Wendy Dutton, what makes their doughnuts unique is that they are all made from scratch, like their other baked goods.

"We have our own recipe — we do not use a doughnut mix," Dutton said.

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They also preserve their cider's natural flavors through ultraviolet irradiation, because heat pasteurization "completely changes the taste," Dutton said.

Mad Tom Orchard, East Dorset

For the past 20 years, Tom and Sylvia Smith relied upon Mrs. Murphy's doughnuts to supply them with the cider doughnuts they sold at Mad Tom Orchard each fall. But this year, they learned that their long-time supplier could no longer support their doughnut needs due to capacity constraints.

So they attempted to prepare their own doughnuts at the orchard for the very first time.

"It was a scramble," Tom said.

But after quickly acquiring a doughnut robot, a 20-quart mixer (weighing in at 190 pounds), a huge bowl, some good doughnut mix and a healthy supply of Dutton apple cider, they were in business.

"I find the hardest part is just getting the dough from that mixer to the hopper on the doughnut maker," Sylvia said. But after a few trial runs, the Smiths were pleased with the quality of doughnuts they produced. They intend to offer doughnuts every weekend until Columbus Day.

Mrs. Murphy's doughnuts, Manchester Center

Having worked at Mrs. Murphy's since 1981, Drew Bove knows a thing or two about cider doughnuts. In the past, this local institution could only offer them in the fall because it was not possible to get cider at other times of the year. But now, Bove can source good cider throughout the year, and customer demand for cider doughnuts is no longer seasonal.

"So as long as we can buy cider, we will make [cider] doughnuts," he said.

Unlike other cider doughnut retailers in the area,Drew does not rely on a doughnut robot to produce his cider doughnuts. The treats are all made by hand as part of a labor-intensive process, starting at about midnight every night. "The only doughnut robot here is Drew," said his colleague Shaye Squillante.

What also makes Mrs. Murphy's cider doughnuts special is the spices.

Which spices? "Kind of a secret recipe," Bove said.

Other than that, the cake doughnut recipe he uses for cider doughnuts is similar to the one for the company's other cake doughnuts - except, of course, with the substitution of cider for milk or other liquids.

The customer demand for cider doughnuts is still the greatest in the fall, particularly in October — not only at his store, but also at area weddings, Bove said.

"You can't keep them out on the shelf," he said.

Lauren Hunt contributes to Southern Vermont Landscapes from Arlington.


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