New Amsterdam Apple Cider Doughnuts
Humans of all cultures have known the secret of dropping dough into hot boiling fat since before recorded time, there is even a reference to fried cakes in the Bible, but the genesis of the America’s favorite “desert for breakfast” can be traced back to the Dutch.
One of my strongest personal takeaways of my research for this Eating Historically series has been that nothing in history changed the way we eat more than the New World. Not only the lessons and ingredients the colonists were given/took from the Native Americans, but the slamming together of cuisines of cultures that wouldn’t have mixed back in their original locales. The doughnut is no different.
Recipes for beignets, a fancy fried dough desert, came to America early in European settlement with the French and Dutch. Beignets can still be found in formally French areas of the continent, like New Orleans or Quebec. The Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam called their dough fried in fat “olykoeks,” which translates to “oily cakes.” The name would evolve into “oliebollen,” literally translating to the very unfortunate “oily balls.”
In a time before refrigeration, recipes were extremely seasonal based on the availability of ingredients. For the early colonists, autumn meant many of the animals born in the spring were ready for butchering to preserve the meat for the incoming winter. All of that butchering le d to a excess of animal fat around the kitchen — so why not use it to fry with? Fry what? How about the cider from the apple crop which is being harvested in September/October in the Northeast? Apple Cider Doughnuts were born.
One of the earliest mentions of “Doughnuts” comes from Sleepy Hollow’s Washington Irving, in his History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty:
Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough-nuts, or oly koeks: a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, excepting in genuine Dutch families.
*This is also the same book that the modern idea of Santa Claus evolved from. Watch our video “Santa Claus: The History” for more.
At some point, bakers realized that adding egg to the recipe made a richer dough, but also meant the center didn’t cook at the same rate, so some genius decided to just cut the center out all together. There are as many legends and theories to who is responsible for the donut hole as flavors of doughnut.
How We Figured it Out (Or Learn from Our Mistakes)
Going north to the orchards of the Hudson River Valley and apple picking is an annual tradition for me and no trip is complete without drinking a cup of farm fresh cider with an apple cider doughnut for dipping. I have wanted to figure out how to make these little clouds of apple heaven for years.
I read dozens of recipes online, so thought I had it all figured out. In my excitement to get cooking, I’ll admit I should have heeded the continued warnings from my girlfriend, “this is baking, you can’t adjust timings and ingredients!” “just stick to one recipe!” “don’t burn down our apartment building!”
Our first try came out a little dense and without that apple cider doughnut sparkle, yet still pretty tasty. I’ve since figured out what went wrong and have included warnings where appropriate below. I am aware this is the internet and you can look at other recipes, but doughnuts are a delicate operation and I stand by this recipe and all I learned while making it.
- 2 cups real apple cider
Originally, most cider was made to be fermented into alcohol to help preserve it without refridgeration. It wasn’t until the dawn of pasteurization (see our video on the history) that non-alcoholic cider was safe to keep.
- 5.5 cups flour
- 1 medium-sized apple, peeled and diced
A tart green apple like a Graney Smith is always best for cooking.
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin spice blend
The modern embodiment of fall itself. Although Dutch and English colonists were making deserts with similar spice blends to “pumpkin spice,” it wasn’t until the commercialization of quick-baking in the 1950’s that it started to be sold in stores pre-made. In the late 1990’s Pumpkin Spice started to become a flavor onto itself. It is commonly a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup buttermilk
Buttermilk was originally the leftovers from curning butter, today you can buy it in the diary section of the super market.
- 1½ cups sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
You can thank a french slave by the name of Edmond Albius, who figured out how to artificially pollinate vanilla in 1841. Without him, desert wouldn’t be the same and we would probably all be 10 pounds lighter.
- A bottle of canola oil
- In a pan over high-heat, bring apple cider to a boil for 15–20 minutes until it turns into a syrup.
*LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES #1:We discovered it is important to get the apple cider reduced by half until it is thick, condensed, and full of flavor.
- While the cider is boiling, sift and mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin spice in a big bowl.
- In another bowl throw in the butter, sugar, brown sugar and mix with an electric mixer. Add in the eggs, vanilla, buttermilk, then mix again.
- By now, the apple cider should be boiled and condensed. Add it into the wet bowl we just made and mix.
- Combine the wet and dry bowls together… and guess what? MIX! When it gets too thick to mix with the electric mixer, get your hands dirty and nead it until firm.
- With your hands combine the apples and dough until well distributed.
- Cover the dough and chill for one hour or more.
*LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES #2: For our first time, we only let the dough proof for about 25 minutes, and this wasn’t long enough for it to rise. Many recipes you see online will even say to let the dough sit in the refrigerator over night.
- When “its time to make the doughnuts,” heat your oil in a large pot/wok/or fryer (if you are lucky enough to have one). The oil should be 370 degrees farenheit.
*LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES #3: The hotter you can get your oil, the better. This is what’s going to make the outsides crispy, and the insides soft.
- Flour a surface and your rolling pin well so that the sticky dough will be easy to work with. Roll out dough until ½-inch thick.
- Use a doughnut cutter to cut out doughnuts. Save the holes.
- Fry doughnuts and holes 2–3 minutes a side until golden. You will have to get a feel for it.
- Let cool and then roll in a pumpkin-spice/sugar mixture.
THE WRITER OF THIS POST WARNS YOU THAT DOUGHNUTS TAKE TIME AND PRACTICE AND THAT YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO YOUR GIRLFRIEND WHEN SHE TELLS YOU TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.