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The Best Cider Donut East of the Hudson

October 4, 2011

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.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2011 9:40 am

    Great post about the event, Daniel. I think you captured the exact sentiments and overall feelings of the day.

    I think another trend can be taken from the information you gave above and what happened at the tour. Warm donuts make the world of difference. The warmest ones we got were from Samascott; this is why I believe people enjoyed these so much. I am positive the mealy texture of these donuts would be less than appealing in a cold product. Also, Golden Harvest didn’t have hot donuts, but they were sufficiently warm. Love Apple and Zacharys’ donuts were room temperature. Goolds were slightly cold. I’ve eaten Goods’ donuts warm, and it is unfortunate that we didn’t get warm ones, because I’m confident that they would have given Golden Harvest a run for their money.

  2. October 4, 2011 9:54 am

    Over the years, my wife and I have had donuts from 6 of the 7 places you mention in your blog. Although our tastings are not nearly as scientific as yours, we agree with the group – our favorite donuts are from Golden Harvest. BTW, their Applejack, which I discovered after reading about it in FLB, is excellent, as is their vodka and brandy. I highly recommend that your readers tour the distillery the next time they are at Golden Harvest for donuts, cider, apples, pumpkins, squash, etc, and discover that apples can be made into something delicious besides cider! (The distillery is only open on Saturdays and Sundays) r.

  3. October 4, 2011 9:56 am

    Thanks Dan for putting together an excellent tour!

    Samascott’s donuts were just weird. They stick out the most to me in a negative way.

    Golden Harvest is just an all around great orchard from their wide selection of apples (good prices on veggies too, BTW) to their excellent donuts and of course their distillery.
    We made it back home with a bottle of vodka, one of Applejack and 10 quarts of really inexpensive Concord grapes from which I made fabulous jam.

    All in all, a great day and I look forward to the next tour.

  4. October 4, 2011 10:21 am

    Glad to see Golden Harvest as the winner. I drive by both Love Apple and Golden Harvest on my daily commute and am fond of both places. Even stopping closer to 6 in the evening I am able to get warm donuts from Golden Harvest on weeknights. It’s such a treat. I usually have stuffed two down my throat by the time I hit up I-90. My hubby and I went through a dozen over the weekend. They are some of the best donuts I’ve had. This area is sorely lacking in traditional mom and pop donut shops (unlike where I grew up in the Midwest where DD isn’t as ubiquitous) so the cider donuts from the orchards are such a treat each autumn.

  5. October 4, 2011 10:36 am

    Anyone remember the Engel’s farm stand across from the Desmond? I always had a soft spot for their cider donuts, especially the minis. I’d start with “just one” but in the 10 minutes it took me to drive from there to work, the bag would disappear.
    Lydia
    PS We’re making our own applejack for the first time this year. Could we be a stop if you plan a “Tour” for that? Of course you’ll need a designated driver, or a bus.

  6. October 4, 2011 10:54 am

    I’ve had Goolds donuts hot. When they’re good, they’re great. But I’ve also had them hot when they’re cranking out massive quantities during their annual Fall Festival. I remember that batch years later because it was liquid inside from under-cooking. Nevertheless, I keep going back because when all the stars are aligned, and you are able to get them warm and well cooked, Goolds cider donuts are divine.

  7. October 4, 2011 11:06 am

    It was a great time Daniel! I am now a Tour Addict. Golden Harvest is a great place indeed; when I was commuting Hudson ALB last winter it was difficult to drive past BOTH it and Love Apple every. single. day. If it had actually been donut season I would have had serious troubles. (Nowadays I just studiously drive down the Thruway instead of 9H)

    Thanks again; I concur with the results and can’t wait for the next tour!

  8. October 4, 2011 11:47 am

    I was the 23rd person, the no-show, due to a family emergency. (Daniel, I hope you got my note explaining why I was unable to come.) Thanks for the prompt review of the donuts – I’ve been asked, on the trip back to Long Island tonight, to pick up some donuts (as, though they have orchards, nowhere nearby sells fresh donuts) and it appears that both Golden Harvest AND LoveApple are an efficient detour from my usual route. :) Of course, it won’t be the same if not fresh from the fryer. (At least, though, *I* can enjoy that!)

    It sounds like it was a lovely time, and I’m really bummed that I had to miss out!

  9. Betty permalink
    October 5, 2011 3:43 pm

    For the person looking for Engels – they are out on RT2, east of Troy, before Eagle Mills and doing donuts

  10. charles alexander permalink
    October 5, 2011 9:05 pm

    I was a visitor from afar on the tour. And I don’t know that I walked away with a new love for apple cider donuts, but there were some good donuts on the tour, and it was a great time to be with friends, see the orchards and a bit of the countryside, and hold and taste at least one really warm donut — maybe that’s why I was a fan of Samascott. Thanks, friends, for taking me along on the tour!

Trackbacks

  1. derryX Dines: Love Apple Farm Cafe – Ghent, NY « derryX.com
  2. Tastes of Fall « Ms., not Mrs.

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