The Best Cider Donut East of the Hudson
Saturday started off as a cold, wet and dreary day. There was a good chance it would rain for the entire second annual Tour de Donut. But this event was happening rain or shine.
Twenty-three people said they would come with me to five of the best apple cider donut makers east of the Hudson River in an effort to determine who makes the best specimen of the lot. Despite the rain, twenty-two showed up. In the end, I walked away with a belly full of donuts and seventeen completed scoresheets.
Last year there were only six.
But last year it was a very close call between two beloved local institutions, and Indian Ladder Farm beat out Altamont Orchard by a hair. This year it was a blowout. One place dominated the competition.
Before I tell you which place bowled over these intrepid tasters, let me back up for a second and tell you a bit about the judging, and remind you about the places we visited.
Every donut was judged on a five point scale for crust, sugar coating, cider flavor, texture, taste, oil and overall. Lest you be concerned that this evaluation is all about the numbers, I also asked each participant to name their favorite donut from the five and explain why.
We went to Zachary’s, Goold’s, Golden Harvest, Samascott and LoveApple Farm, in that order. The tour started at 8:30 am in East Greenbush, although we didn’t tuck into our first batch of donuts until 8:45. The last donut tasting and the post-judging wrap-up concluded not long after 11:00 am in Ghent.
All in all it was a much quicker tour than our first outing in apple country. And surprisingly the five fried donuts didn’t seem nearly as arduous to consume this time around.
Personally, I’m a little worried about that last point.
Zachary’s Pastry Shoppe was a great place to start. They only sell cider donuts on Friday and Saturday in September and October. Theirs are relatively crustless, with noticeable spice and a light sugar coating. While they were made fresh earlier that morning, they were not warm. We ate them outside on the covered patio as participants introduced themselves to each other.
A few tasters praised these for their excellent cider flavor, use of cinnamon sugar, and rich cake-like texture. Others were less impressed.
The story of our visit to Goold’s is a bit of a tragedy. At every stop, I ask if the donuts are hot, and if they aren’t I ask if we can get some that are. I do this channeling my best inner pushy-Jewish-grandmother. But what I don’t do is leverage the tour to try and get donuts that aren’t available to the general public.
At Goold’s early on a slow rainy Saturday morning, our group was not exactly inconspicuous. After we had our donuts in hand, a woman who was apparently an owner asked what we were up to and I gave her the skinny.
She asked if we had gotten hot donuts. We didn’t, although it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
It was clearly explained to me at the counter as I procured our donuts that the employee had to sell the ones that were already made first. However the owner was ready to whisk our bag away and replace it with a bag fresh from the fryer. It almost brought tears to my eyes when I told her that we couldn’t accept those.
The donuts we sampled were small, quite firm, and nobody’s favorite. MindyKB described them as, “Chewier in texture; more cinnamon than sugar in the coating; neutral cake flavor.” The few people who did have anything good to say about them praised the cinnamon spiked sugar coating. Personally I found them to be cloyingly sweet. But I imagine if they were hot it would have been a much more competitive donut. What a shame.
Luckily the next stop was Golden Harvest Farms, home to our closest local micro-distillery Harvest Spirits. And despite not stopping in for a sample of their applejack or vodka made from apples, this orchard raised everyone’s spirits.
It was @jenh718 who wrote that this was “the first donut I wanted to finish.” She wasn’t alone.
Finally we encountered a cider donut with some crispness to its crust, a light interior texture, and a good balance of sugar. Shauna, who gave it the tour’s only perfect score, called it “Apple Heaven”.
Samascott has both a farm stand on the main road through town and an orchard a bit off the beaten path. Despite providing directions to the orchard, I briefly lost all of the participants of the tour to the farm stand. But all’s well that ends well.
By the time our caravan arrived at Samascott Orchards, a piping hot batch of donuts was just coming out of the fryer. I’ve long held that a hot cider donut is the best cider donut. But I was wrong.
I think it was DerryX who said that these donuts were so distinctive you’ll either love them or hate them. From a quick rundown of the scores, more people hated them. Despite being hot, the interior was crumbly and grainy, not unlike a bran muffin. Although this unique form did have its fans. Even those who didn’t like its assertive grainy flavor and unusual texture still were able to praise its hot-from-the-oil crust.
Fortunately we were able to end on a high note in Ghent at LoveApple Farm. Fans of their donuts cited the crisp crust and soft interior, which in many ways is the holy grail of cider donuts. @ajw93 wrote, “The best flavor overall and the best texture to my taste (cakey and soft)!” But a handful of detractors considered that soft interior to be pasty or gummy, and a few people noticed an unpleasant oily aftertaste.
So, how does all this shake out?
Despite participants disagreeing on many individual aspects of each donut, there was widespread agreement about which donuts were the best of the day.
Congratulations to Golden Harvest Farms! Of the seventeen completed forms, a staggering twelve picked these as the best of the bunch. Albany Jane called them “Crispy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside.” lilithny who gave it the highest scores of the five across all categories described them as, “Light, right amount of sugar. Cider flavor could be a little stronger, but overall enjoyable.” DelSo noted, “Crust, texture and taste were all superior.” DerryX went on the record with “Best overall and individual components. Best crust by far.”
The verdict is still split on whether these or the cider donuts at Indian Ladder are better. There seems to be a lot of variability in what comes out at Indian Ladder, but their fans still insist they are the best in the region. Maybe one day we’ll get a chance to put them head to head.
For now, we need to be satisfied with finding the best cider donut east of the Hudson.
As for the rest of the competitors, LoveApple was a clear second place with Zachary’s close behind. Even Samascott, despite its detractors, had more fans than Goold’s. I suspect that this will be disappointing news to some. But that’s the way the donut crumbles.