I'm not usually one to deep fry anything, but I make an exception every fall for these donuts. I'm still totally scared of the pot of boiling oil (my brain is constantly shrieking "Explosion Imminent!"), but the taste of these donuts is definitely worth it! In previous years I've rolled the hot donuts in cinnamon sugar, or made a simple glaze with powdered sugar and milk, but this year I decided to go all out and make some browned butter icing to top them with. Best decision ever!
The apple flavor in the donuts is subtle and sweet, and the browned butter icing adds just a hint of caramel flavor. They're pretty straightforward to make, although reducing the apple cider always takes a little longer than I anticipate. I think the key to getting nice looking donuts is to roll them out between two sheets of plastic wrap, and then let them chill so they're easy to cut. I am seriously guilty of never letting things chill, but it's a must with these donuts. They're a perfect fall treat!
Apple Cider Donuts with Browned Butter Icing
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1 c. apple cider, preferably fresh apple cider or something high-quality like Simply Apple
1 c. sugar
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 c. butter-flavored shortening
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 quart canola or peanut oil (for frying)
In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the apple cider to a boil. Continue to cook over high heat for about 7-10 minutes or until it’s reduced to 1/4 c. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
While the cider is reducing, combine shortening and sugar in a large bowl and mix with an electric mixer on high for 2-3 minutes or until it’s light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating completely after each addition. Add reduced cider and buttermilk and beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Add flour mixture to the liquid mixture and beat until just blended. The dough will be very soft.
Carefully lay a sheet of plastic wrap on top of a baking sheet. Transfer dough to the plastic wrap. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll dough out to about 1/2″ thick. Top with another layer of plastic wrap and transfer the pan to the freezer for about 20 minutes or the refrigerator for 1 hour.
When the dough has chilled, remove from the freezer/refrigerator. Using a round cookie cutter, cut circles out of the dough. Using a smaller cookie cutter,cut the centers out of the circles and reserve the “holes” for little bite-sized pieces of apple-spiced goodness! Place cut dough pieces on a lightly floured baking sheet. When all the dough has been cut out, place the pan back in the refrigerator while you prepare the oil for frying.
In a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 1 quart of oil over medium heat. to 325 degrees. While oil is heating, line a plate or baking sheet with paper towels. When the oil is hot, carefully place a few pieces of dough into the hot oil. The dough will sink down and then rise to the surface. Check the bottom side; if it’s golden brown, flip the donut. If it’s still a little pale, give it another 30 seconds or so and then check it again. After you’ve flipped the donut, the other side will cook significantly faster, so keep an eye on them. All in all, they should take about 90 seconds-2 minutes to cook completely.
Remove donuts from hot oil with a heat-proof slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels, followed by a baking rack (if you need the paper towel space for more donuts). Repeat frying process with remaining dough and then with the holes–the donut holes will cook EXTREMELY quickly, so be careful not to burn them.
Browned Butter Icing
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tablespoons butter
3-4 teaspoons milk
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until browned. Pour browned butter into a bowl with confectioner’s sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk until frosting reaches a smooth, glazey consistency. Dip cooled doughnuts into bowl and allow excess frosting to drip back into bowl. Transfer to rack.