Apple orchards are a New England specialty, and apple season is most definitely here – it arrived a few weeks early this year, according to farmers I’ve chatted with at weekly markets, due to our unusually hot summer.
Apple season means fresh local apples (in dozens of varieties), which means fresh-pressed cider, which means fresh fried cider donuts. These are cake-style donuts with cider in the batter. They don’t taste particularly like cider, but it gives them a pleasant sweet flavor, and perhaps helps with a tender texture. Some of the best I’ve tried can be found in Amesbury, at Cider Hill Farm. They’re available in two styles: plain or sugared, and they’re snatched up as quickly as the bakers can make them.
The Cider Hill bakery is located in a converted barn that also houses a gourmet shop and produce stand. Behind the barn are the apple orchards, where you can pick your own. Just to your right as you enter is the viewing window, where a small donut machine with a conveyor fryer churns out the donuts. Someone stands at the end with a stick to catch them for plain, or to toss them in cinnamon sugar, then transfer them to paper-lined trays that get placed in a bakery case.
Invariably there’s line, especially on weekends – it was stretching out the door when I visited. A group of kids behind me discussed how many donuts to get when they’d reach the case, as each wanted at least two – or three. “We need 18,” a girl determined after taking a vote. At $5.95 a dozen (or 60 cents apiece), they could afford the splurge.
White bakery bags are there, along with waxed paper for serving yourself. I place mine in a bag, almost too hot to hold. There’s another line for purchasing, and then, outside, among the pots of mums and piles of pumpkins, the fragrant scent proves too much to resist, and I take a bite. Donut nirvana – not too sweet, with subtle flavors from nutmeg and cinnamon and a hint of apple. It’s the texture that makes Cider Hill cider donuts so incredible – light and airy inside, slightly crisp exterior, not at all heavy. And they even taste delicious hours later, when they have cooled down.
In addition to donuts, the Cider Hill bakery has several other apple offerings, including apple cider cinnamon tea bread, apple cake, caramel apples, and apple crisp. I’ll have to return to sample those as well.
Cider Hill Farm Cider Donuts
45 Fern Avenue
Photographs by Lisë Stern