Autumn harvest doughnuts

Like Nana used to make

When we moved into my great-grandmother's little old farmhouse over 10 years ago the quantity of stuff that cluttered every room was positively overwhelming. Nana wasn't exactly a hoarder, but, like many folks who survived the Great Depression and a world war, she didn't like to throw anything away. It might have been easier if it had all been just junk that could be thrown en masse into a dumpster, but stashed amongst the bundles of salvaged bread ties and boxes filled with empty thread spools were hidden treasures, many of which were culinary in nature. Some were disguised from years of disuse, like the rusted cast iron skillets that, once scrubbed clean and re-seasoned, revealed a shining black surface as smooth as silk. A few of these heirlooms, like the skillets, now receive almost daily use, while others have become seasonal essentials. The stacking set of circular aluminum doughnut cutters I found stashed in the back of a kitchen drawer have since become as evocative of fall as pumpkins and cider.

My mom would often fry up potato doughnuts for autumn harvest parties and I was thrilled to find the original recipe card in a little wooden box amongst the odds and ends in Nana's kitchen. My brother, who lived in Vermont for a time, came home and requested a recipe for the cider doughnuts which can be found at orchards and farm stands throughout New England.

Mrs. Ryan's Doughnuts

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons melted lard (not homogenized – available at Humphrey's Market) or vegetable oil
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 cup sour milk
4 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
Lard or vegetable oil, for frying
Granulated sugar and cinnamon or powdered sugar, for dusting

Beat eggs and sugar until airy and pale yellow. Then add lard or oil, potatoes and milk, and beat until smooth. Sift together the flour, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder, then add this to the egg mixture and mix gently to combine. Chill the dough for at least one hour or overnight.

Turn out the dough onto a clean, dry surface that has been lightly dusted with flour. Pat the dough with floured hands into a rough circle, then use a floured rolling pin to roll it to a thickness of ½-inch. Cut into rounds with well-floured three-inch doughnut or biscuit cutters (an inverted glass works well in a pinch).

Heat lard or oil in a skillet or electric fryer to 365 degrees. Gently place the doughnuts in the hot oil. Be sure to lay them down in the oil facing away from you, so that if the oil spatters it does so away from your hands and face. Fry the doughnuts a few at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan and cause the oil temperature to drop, which will result in soggy doughnuts. Fry the doughnuts for 60-75 seconds on each side until golden brown. Drain on a rack set over a tray of newspaper or paper towels. Let cool for five minutes, then shake the doughnuts in a paper bag with your sugar of choice.

Cider Doughnuts

2 cups fresh apple cider
3 ½ cups flour
cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
6 tablespoons melted lard or butter
Oil or lard for frying
Sugar for dusting or maple glaze (see below)

Maple glaze

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons half and half
3 tablespoons maple syrup
A pinch of salt

Bring the cider to a boil in a small nonreactive saucepan and simmer until reduced by half. Cool completely. (This cider syrup can also be used on pancakes or mixed with seltzer or sparkling wine for a simple but delicious autumn cocktail.)

Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt and spices in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cooled cider, eggs and melted lard or oil. Add the cider-egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix gently to create a sticky dough. Chill for at least one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rough circle. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough out to a thickness of ½-inch. Use floured cutters to cut out rounds of dough. Alternatively, you can simply use a two-tablespoon-portion scoop to form round fritters (my preferred method). Fry the doughnuts in hot 365-degree oil in a skillet or fryer, 60 to 75 seconds per side for round doughnuts or about 90 seconds total for doughnut holes. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly before tossing with sugar. To make glazed doughnuts, whisk together powdered sugar, maple syrup and salt until smooth. Dip slightly cooled doughnuts in the glaze, then transfer to a rack to cool and allow the glaze to set.

Ashley Meyer

Ashley Meyer has been cooking as long as she has been walking. The daughter of beloved former Illinois Times food columnist, Julianne Glatz, Ashley offers a fresh, inspired take on her mother’s culinary legacy. Ashley studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand and recently achieved the...

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