New England is the ultimate in seasonal fall excursions: Foliage in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, apple orchards as far as the eye can see, corn mazes with kettle corn and hot cider stands awaiting you at the end? It can't be beat, despite how biased I may sound.
The icing on the top of any fall outing cake this time of year is, of course, the sweets and treats that await us. I mean, we go apple picking in order to bake our fill of apple pies, turnovers and crisps; we buy gallons of apple cider to turn them into mimosas (with a cinnamon-sugar rim, of course). But nothing tops capping off a day frolicking among fields of fallen leaves like a warm, apple cider doughnut melting in your mouth.
That being said, there's an art to baking the perfect apple cider doughnut that you don't get just anywhere. Some New Englanders spend their fall seasons perfecting their own recipe or munching on every doughnut within a 50 mile radius. But this goes much further.
Known as the Cider Donuteur on Instagram, Alex Schwartz, a Cambridge, Mass.-based designer and video game developer, has sparked a cider doughnut renaissance with a feed, started this month, solely created to review these seasonal treats for warmth, taste and moistness. Not only that, but he put together an interactive Google Map of most every farm in New England that cranks out cider doughnuts. The Lord's work if I've ever seen it.
Most farmstands, you'll see, are concentrated in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, which makes sense, but Schwartz has filled in the map as north as Burlington, Vt. and Bangor, Maine to find all the cinnamon-sugary goodness in the area. He even extended it to Albany, N.Y. and parts of Connecticut, which is doing them a favor, really.
Schwartz's reviews are detailed and even dive into the idiosyncrasies of the venues they're sold at; after all, the perfect fall atmosphere really adds to the cider doughnut-eating experience.
We asked Schwartz all about his doughnut-tasting checklist and found that 1. He prefers plain cider doughnuts as opposed to the ones super saturated in cinnamon and sugar...
"This is a hot topic of debate, but I'm a cider doughnut purist and think a doughnut shouldn't use the sugar topping as a crutch to carry the taste. If a farm store offers both plain and sugar-coated versions, it's a fantastic sign that I'm about to enjoy their doughnut, as it lets me know they are aware the doughnut can stand on its own," he said. "I mean, most things can be eaten if they're coated with enough sugar, but where's the fun in that?"
...and 2. There's no real official rating system. "I might as well adopt the 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' mantra of, 'Everything's made up and the points don't matter,'" he said.
Read along for expertise and guidance on how you, too, can hunt down the perfectly-baked, scrumptiously-sweetened apple cider doughnut of your dreams.
What makes <i>the</i> perfect doughnut?
"I rate the taste based on a number of factors: the crumb structure, fry bits, toppings and their sweetness, presence of an apple flavor and whether it's served hot and fresh."
What about the experience surrounding said doughnut?
"For me, driving along a windy New England road in the cool, crisp autumn air, seeing a hand-painted doughnut sign in the shape of an apple on the side of the road and pulling a U-turn to take a quick stop at the orchard, where you meet an old lady running the doughnut stand who hands you a hot doughnut off the machine and directs you to an Adirondack chair where you can watch the leaves fall and smell distant woodstoves while you eat your perfectly-cooked doughnut and wash it down with a cold cider -- that would edge out a slightly better boxed donut that's sold in a gas station."
How much work went into creating your map?
"As for traveling, I have visited about a dozen or so of the farms listed on the map and am adding more every week. One day, I went out to Stow, Mass. with the intent of hitting up two big orchards and ended up finding three additional farm stores that I didn't yet have on the map. I had previously promised myself that I'd stop at any place that had a sign for cider doughnuts, so as you can imagine, it was a wild day, gastronomically.
"Compiling the list was a heads-down, data collection effort. I relied on searches and scoured the sparse or sometimes nonexistent farm websites to find out whether they were still in business. If you want a good laugh, check out some of the websites of the smaller farm stores and orchards. I think some of these sites haven't been updated since the early 2000s, so it's a bit of a welcome time capsule to a simpler era. Some farms still require you to call to listen to their voicemail to hear which apples are currently available for picking. I love it.
"Don't get me started on the fact that some people spell it 'doughnut' and some go with 'donut.' It definitely makes searching for content a bit more confusing!"
What's next on the list of treats to review?
"As of today, I've only compiled lists and reviews of cider doughnuts, but I don't think that it'll be the only topic that I end up spending an inordinate amount of time cataloging, so I'll keep my future options open instead of artificially limiting my connoisseur potential."
What do you say to the fall enthusiasts of the world?
"To the haters out there: People seem to love to make fun of the 'pumpkin-ing' movement a la 'pumpkin spice everything,' and some call it 'basic.' I'll say that maybe it's basic because it's just plain good. Don't yuck on other people's yum!"
You heard the man.
So, next time you're on the hunt for the perfect fall New England apple cider doughnut, consider your search done.
Do you have any apple cider doughnut locations to add to his list?