The Taste of Autumn, in a Muffin

IMG_2761A girl cannot live by chocolate alone. Sometimes, frankly, she needs to remind herself that there’s a world beyond chocolate, where chocolate does not rule her every waking moment.

Sometimes, in the autumn, when the air is crisp with a hint of snow and the smell of wood smoke, when the geese party out in the bay and raucously plan their winter in warmer waters, and when the last leaf falls from the last tree, right then, a girl needs an apple cider doughnut.

What is it about an apple cider doughnut? The doughnuts are cake-style, not yeast, so they are more dense and crumby, but still tender and light. Their sweetness comes from the apple cider used in the batter.

And the perfect apple cider doughnut, the one this girl craves, is slathered with cinnamon and sugar. It’s that taste and the incomparable mouth feel, really, that sets these doughnuts apart.

The tender, crumby doughnut, encased in crunchy granulated sugar, warmed with lots of cinnamon. Oh, yum . . .

Unfortunately, my favorite apple cider doughnut is found at an orchard stand 25 miles away—it’s hard to justify taking the time to drive out there for just one doughnut. I suppose I could make doughnuts at home, as my grandmother did, but doing my own deep frying just doesn’t appeal to me.

I got my fall copy of Yankee Magazine this week . . . and saw they included a recipe for apple cider doughnut muffins! I hoped that my life had changed for the better.

Yankee Magazine is the source of some of my favorite recipes, including the rhubarb pecan upside-down cake my husband makes. Still I worried whether a muffin would, could, live up to the whole apple-cider-crunchy-tender-sweet-doughnutty-goodness I love so well.

Heck, yeah! These muffins nail the flavors and the mouth feel. They’re pretty easy to make and kind of messy, which adds to the fun. The kitchen smells completely and thoroughly divine while it all happens. The only thing missing is the way your tongue feels kind of oily and coated after eating a deep-fried doughnut. I’m willing to give that up.

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Here’s the recipe, straight from Yankee magazine, with my annotations.

Total Time: 55 minutes

Hands On Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

For the muffins:

Ingredients (sorry—they’re all in American measurement! Pesky American measurements!):

  • 2 cups sweet apple cider (not hard cider, although that might be fun, too)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375° and set a rack to the middle position. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan and set aside. (I guess you could use muffin paper liners but you shouldn’t. First, it would lessen the surface area that cinnamon sugar can stick to and, second, real Yankees wouldn’t approve because the papers are unnecessary and, therefore, wasteful).

Put the apple cider in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Set aside to cool.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream the butter with the sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend. (I forgot the vanilla, as usual, and it all still tasted great!)

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat just to combine. Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the cider, then the remaining flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups and transfer to the oven. (I was afraid to fill the cups too full so I ended up with 15 muffins. In retrospect, I’m sure I could’ve done as the recipe said and just divided the batter into 12 muffins—they don’t rise too much).

Bake until tops are firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.

For the topping:

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Instructions:

Now, prepare the topping (this is where it gets fun!): In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. As soon as the muffins are cool enough to handle, brush their tops and sides with butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat (I threw the muffins in, top down, and used a spoon to ladle more and more cinnamon sugar over them . . . ahhhhhhhh).

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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I really, really like these muffins! I made them two days ago and they still taste good and have a good consistency today—and that would not be true of the leftover doughnuts, as I know from experience.

So, if you want to know what fall in the North Country of upstate New York tastes like, it is now in your power to find out! Let me know what you think!

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60 thoughts on “The Taste of Autumn, in a Muffin

  1. I’m not sure that sweet cider vinegar is available in the UK… we don’t seem to have decent maple syrup either… in the past I have been known to order it direct from a farm I know in Vermont, but it’s such an extravagance! Oh, I would like to visit New England again.

  2. For anyone who lives in Oregon or southern Washington, you can get unpasteurized apple cider at the Draper Girls’ Farm in Hood River.
    :d
    If that’s too far from your home, you can get boiled cider from the King Arthur Flour Company. It’s a very concentrated syrup, so a little goes a long way. You’ll be able to make gazillions of doughnuts with one bottle.
    🙂

    • I actually still have a couple of them! Two people can only go through so many muffins a day. I wondered about you and whether you could convert this recipe to GF–it’s so great that there are more products around now that make your life easier!

      • Well, Mr Walker and I can go through a lot of muffins in a day;0) With all the gf product nowadays, life is indeed so easy nowadays, that I can convert any recipe into a gf recipe with such little effort. And I like cooking! Thanks again and have a lovely weekend!!

  3. I’m gonna give these a try!! It is to be cold here this weekend. So a fire in the stove , a cup of coffee and a muffin…. Come on cold weather!! 🙂

  4. mmm . . . these look delicious. I often make muffins–and plan to try this recipe. Years ago I used to get Yankee magazine–and like you, I really liked their recipes. I still make some of the recipes that I clipped out of the magazine 25 or 30 years ago. This post makes me think that I should subscribe to it again.

      • I’m doing two holiday boutiques, two days in a row, at the beginning of December (eek–soon!) I have candy boxes everywhere! It’s so hard because I only have the vaguest idea of how much will sell so I worry all the time about having enough . . .

      • Your comment made me giggle because it reminded me of my wonderful grandmother who used to own tearooms; even after she sold them she didn’t ever stop worrying about whether she had ‘enough’, which meant that every family holiday we always had far too much food!

  5. These are the only donuts I eat, and only in the fall. There’s a wonderful farm stand near my house and, after reading your post, I’m going to stop there this morning for one of their cider donuts. Aside from the yummy taste, they’re the right size, too.

  6. These look great! After reading this I had to look up the difference between apple cider and apple juice, and came to the conclusion I’ve never had cider before as it’s not sold in the supermarkets I shop at.

  7. Yes, yes, yes, YES!! I want them all!! When I first started reading your description of the apple cider doughnuts I was feeling the salt in the wound at never having eaten one. But these I can make! It’s going to happen next weekend and I’m already excited!

  8. These look scrumptious!
    Quick question. When you say sweet (not hard) cider, do you mean sweet as opposed to dry or low alcohol as opposed to a more punchy one? (You’d be amazed how many food/baking terms differ between British and American English :-)). Thanks!

    • That’s something I should’ve been clearer about in the post! The cider I’m referring to may not be available where you are at all–it’s a “soft” (non-alcoholic) cider that’s unfiltered and unsweetened. I think apple juice could be substituted in a recipe like this. And maybe even hard cider could be–but I haven’t tried that.

      • Interesting! We don’t have alcohol-free cider in the UK. Too much of a hard cider tradition. I think I might just sub in dry cider. It will contain natural sweetness from the very tart cider apples but no additional sugar.

  9. I am so making these. Am like you that I love the apple cider donuts at the orchards each fall, but would be fun to have a healthier version I could eat once a year.

    And speaking of chocolate, I put my order in 😀

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