This is a piece I did for my food writing class, inspired by Pastry Chef Janine Sciarappa.
Apple Cider Doughnut Cake
With a Few Tweaks, Apple Cider Doughnuts Become Cake
Move over pumpkin spice. Apple cider is here to claim its crown as the ultimate fall flavor. Apple Cider Doughnut Cake, inspired by the popular fall breakfast treat, brings the harvest to your table. Make this dessert after returning from your apple picking excursion and whoever you serve it to will be saying, “Pumpkin spice, who?”
Apple cider doughnuts are known as “cake” doughnuts, which means that instead of yeast to rise the dough, the leavening agent is baking powder (sometimes a little baking soda, too). The doughnuts have the distinctive taste of cider with an appealing dense texture. Since the little rounds are baked instead of fried, you can turn the doughnut batter into a cake with just a few tweaks.
For the cake, you’ll want to use one tart apple, such as Granny Smith. If you are buying them directly from a local producer, ask what varieties they use in their cider and grab some fruit to match. In the batter, the apples are used as a puree. To do that and concentrate the apple flavor, slowly simmer the peeled and chopped fruit in one and a half cups of cider until they absorb the liquid has mostly been absorbed and the pieces are tender enough to mash. Once it cools to room temperature, the reduction will be mixed with a half cup of milk and this will be used as the liquid the cake batter.
What makes this confection so tender and moist also answers the age-old debate of whether butter or oil is the superior fat source in cakes like this. Butter is praised for its flavor, but can easily result in a dense or dry crumb. Oil, on the other hand, vegetable oil brings much needed lightness and moisture, but lacks any memorable taste. Here you use both, so you have a pleasing texture while maintaining the buttery decadence.
This indulgent delight is made using the creaming method, where the fat and sugars are beaten in a mixer until they are fluffy and homogenous. Make sure to take your stick of butter (a half cup) out of the fridge in advance so it comes to room temperature, or you will end up with a concoction that more resembles sand. This is not a shortbread recipe.
Next, add three eggs, one at a time. To ensure that all ingredients are mixing together well, a spatula comes in handy to scrape the bottom of the bowl after each addition of an egg. Fear not if the batter starts to look a bit granular at this point. The sugar is starting to dissolve after being introduced to liquid from the eggs. Adding a fourth of a cup of vegetable oil now will help the sugars continue to diffuse and smooth out the mix.
On to the dry ingredients. A fourth of a teaspoon each of nutmeg and mace are combined with two and a half cups of flour to add the aroma of warm spices and the taste of fall. You should also add one teaspoon of salt salt and your leavening agents (one and a half teaspoons of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda) to flour. The dry ingredients are added to the batter slowly in three batches; after the first two additions, pour in half of the apple cider reduction. The very last element to hit the mixing bowl should be the remaining dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Too much activity will over-stimulate the gluten and result in a dense loaf.
Could you bake this in any pan? Sure, but you’d be losing part of the aesthetic. To mirror its breakfast cousin, this autumnal treat should be baked in a buttered Bundt pan. After roughly 35 minutes at 350 degrees, the cake should be done baking. If you can insert a toothpick without leaving residue when withdrawn, the cake is ready to come out of the oven. If your sense of smell had its way, you’d get to dig into your masterpiece right away, but life is not that fair. You will have to wait a bit longer. After about 10 minutes sitting in the pan, the cake should be ready to flip and unmold, but it still should cool completely before serving.
You have made it to the final step of your baking journey. All that is left is to brush some melted butter over the cake and sprinkle it with a hefty dose of sugar mixed with both cinnamon and nutmeg to get the full apple cider doughnut effect. Time to brew the coffee and enjoy your breakfast as dessert.
[In these pictures, I actually didn’t use the topping. Instead, I went for a more decadent finish of cinnamon whipped cream and apple cider caramel.]