Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cider Doughnuts

You know, I try not to dwell on unhappy memories and as a result, I don't have many childhood anecdotes to retell here. Occasionally, I'm reminded of something pleasant and immediately, I want to share-sort of to prove I wasn't raised by wolves or something.

Years ago (and really, I mean years) there was a wonderful farm way the hell out in the middle of nowhere on Rt. 22 in Illinois (way west of Deerfield, which wasn't the booming metropolis it is today but rather a sort of unremarkable backwater). Gosh, you'd think I could at least remember the name of the place, but I'm not sure I ever knew it. Every fall, We'd drive for what seemed like forever in the backseat of my parent's 1968 Mercury (a green so dark and sparkly it almost looked black) to go get apples and pumpkins, as I choked on second hand smoke from both adults and my teenaged sister-smoke that mingled with my mother's heavily applied Azure perfume. What? You don't remember Azure? It was horrendous, but it came in a gorgeous bottle (Estee Lauder was all over the beautiful bottles back then. Mum had previously worn Youth Dew but felt compelled to give it up when our housekeeper took to wearing it (I guess a fragrance tends to lose its cachet once the cleaning ladies embrace it). Anyway, between Pall Malls and Estee Lauder's latest assault, it seemed like a pretty long drive into the wilds of North West Chicagoland. Vernon Hills? Was that it? I'm sorry, for the life of me I can't remember the name of the place nor the town-not that it matters as the place is long, long gone.

I could spot the orchard from a few miles off as they had a gigantic Jack-O-Lantern atop their silo. You couldn't really miss it as there wasn't much of anything else around. Wait...Koppens? Could that be the name? Meuller's? Damn this early senility. Anyway, I'd see the giant pumpkin and know that fresh air was only a couple of miles down the road.

Free of the smoke chamber, my first stop was the barn where they had both hot apple cider and apple cider doughnuts. Years later, living in Massachusetts, we'd go to the Big E (Eastern States Exposition) pretty much so I could re-live this happy memory by gorging on cider and cider doughnuts. They were good, but not even close to the treats of my childhood.

I don't remember if my sister was partial to the doughnuts or not, but our mother was. Clearly, not the best thing for a diabetic with cardiac problems, but eh-it was a once a year binge. Oh, those doughnuts were really good. They sold apple and pumpkin butter that were pretty fantastic as well.

My mother wasn't a baker, but you know, we'd driven all this way out into the country so it was almost obligatory to buy a few apples. She'd bring them home and bake them in (I really do wish I were making this up) diet ginger ale and cinnamon hearts. She'd hollow the apples out and plunk exactly three tiny candies into each and fill it with ginger ale. The apples would then be baked to a pulp. Mmmm...memories...almost as good as the skinless chicken breasts stewed in V-8 Juice. Anyway, we'd get a few apples that were too special to simply eat, that would instead be subjected to my mother's idea of baking.

When I saw the recipe for cider doughnuts in this month's issue of Gourmet, a little voice went off in my head saying "Don't." I'm a firm believer in trusting one's gut feelings. The minute I begin making excuses, or trying to ignore it-I'm doomed. I made the doughnuts. Or I tried to anyway.

Reading the recipe, it sounded screwy to me, particularly not chilling the dough for a couple hours, which is normal with cake doughnuts. There were so many poorly conveyed directions and just outright wrong directions that I feel confident that the recipe was not tested prior to publishing. What I got, from following the directions was a sticky mess that even with a well-floured cutter was impossible to cut. I added close to 1 cup more flour than the recipe called for, and it was still impossible to work with. The doughnuts were heavy, bland, (save for too much cinnamon which overpowered any hint of boiled cider flavour) and not very attractive (I gave up and cut them with a small juice glass forgoing the holes).

OK, I'm being a bit harsh-they weren't inedible (though they would have been if I'd not added the flour) but they also weren't special. These were not the cider doughnuts of my youth-they weren't even the second-rate cider doughnuts of my early adulthood. For third rate cider doughnuts, I don't need a subscription to Gourmet-I could have improvised much better on my own (and I'm going to prove this by trying them again next Sunday).

On the other hand, it did provide me with an excuse to make boiled cider syrup, which makes the house smell wonderful-or it would have had the stupid, insipid cinnamon not overpowered it.

This is not the first time Gourmet has published a horribly off recipe-but the frequency with which they are happening is notable. I'm really disappointed, not only with the doughnuts, but with the subscription in general. Clearly, I won't be renewing. The magazine has a long history, and maybe in a decade it will be safe to return to its pages again, but for now I think this is going to be the last thing I prepare from Gourmet's pages for a while. My gut feeling is screaming to be heeded.

Anyone have a good recipe for cider doughnuts?

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