The Best Cider Donut Further Upstate
On the map, the route looked positively reasonable. In practice it may have been a bit more daunting. This third installment of the Tour de Cider Donut took us north in search of the best versions of the form. Make that way north.
Hicks-Wilson Orchard in Granville seemed like a perfectly reasonable destination when compared to the much further afield Gunnison’s in Crown Point. But when I dropped the latter from the route, I never stopped to think just how far we were going.
All in all, the loop around Liberty Ridge, Saratoga Apple, Reggie’s, Hicks-Wilson, Sutton’s and back to Liberty Ridge was 120 miles. Still, we started around 10 o’clock and were tasting our final donut at 2 in the afternoon. The upside about tasting five donuts, each separated by a leisurely drive in the autumnal countryside, is that when the tour is over, we didn’t feel completely disgusting.
And now we have a lot more data points on cider donuts to share, including which of these five beloved cider donut makers produces the best of the bunch.
For those who may have missed the past two cider donut tour recaps, here is how the evaluation works. Each donut is judged on a scale of one to five points, with five being the highest, on several criteria. These are, crust, sugar, cider, texture, taste, oil, and overall.
We are only tasting the sugar coated ones. Also, it should be noted that we aren’t throwing the weight of the FLB around in order to get donuts hot out of the fryer. Instead, when we order the donuts, I ask if it would be possible to get any that are hot. It’s funny, because after three tours, I can’t recall that working even once although sometimes we happen to stumble upon warm ones.
This tour there were eight of us. After last year’s massive turn out, I was kind of expecting more. But it’s still a greater number than the inaugural tour. Plus there were a lot of competing events like that balloon thing, Color Me Rad, and Mindy’s wedding. Oh, and there was also that issue of driving 120 miles plus whatever it takes to get to and from Schaghticoke.
Yeah. This tour wasn’t for the weak. But as a seasoned long distance driver and champion eater, I was up for it even if nobody else came along.
We started when Liberty Ridge opened for the day and for the season. This is a very Disneyfied farm-like experience, complete with a ticket booth for an all-inclusive fun-filled day. However, one doesn’t need a ticket to visit the bakery and pick up some cider donuts. It was a little nerve wracking driving up to the bakery to see what looked like a building boarded up with plywood. Maybe they haven’t quite finished putting up siding, or perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to look. But if it looks closed, don’t worry.
It’s a crime that Liberty Ridge takes their delicious hot donuts and puts them in plastic clamshell cases to steam by the dozen or half dozen. Luckily we avoided those doomed donuts and went for a selection from the larger enclosed box on the counter.
Ours were still warm shortly after opening at 10:15 a.m. The interior of these were noted for their dense, more cake-like texture. They had a darker, almost slightly grainy appearance that made these distinctive donuts the favorite of StanfordSteph. Others enjoyed them, but they weren’t a standout for most.
Saratoga Apple was our next stop and it was filled with both highs and lows.
Their donuts got the highest scores of the day on crust and texture. Taster Ryan said it well, “I like Saratoga Apple the best for its light interior, complex apple flavor, and crust, but the bad oil taste was too much.”
The interior texture was surprisingly light, and that was clearly the highlight of the experience. It helped that these were still slightly warm. Still, the sugar coating was relatively sparse, the intense nutmeg flavor was divisive (with most finding it overwhelming), and then there was the issue with the oil. Even those who enjoyed the donut while eating it noticed an unpleasant and lingering aftertaste.
On the basis of their strengths, if I were in the area, I would pop back in here to try another donut and hope they are using a fresher batch of oil.
Pulling up to Reggie’s Farm Stand in Greenwich, it looked both awesome and closed.
There they had a dedicated Donut Shack. Here is where you should check out the pictures that StanfordSteph posted, so you can get a sense of the glory of this rustic cooking cabin. Despite the clear indication that the place was abandoned, we decided to poke around and found an open door to the adjacent farm stand. There was a display of both fresh cider donuts (cooked that morning) and discounted day-olds. In the absence of any staff, there was a cash box to leave your money on the honor system.
So we got our eight donuts. These were the first specimens of the day that weren’t warm. But they were widely commended for having some of the best cider flavor from any donut on the tour. They also employed a heavy dose of cinnamon in their sugar topping that some loved and others felt was distracting. However we all agreed that we would love to try these warm. Given their strong score based on a room temperature donut, a hot version could have potentially blown away the competitive field.
From here it was off to the boondocks of Granville to visit Hicks-Wilson.
Let me say this. These guys know how to play the game. There is always a line for donuts. And sometimes that line can be crazy long. But the orchard takes advantage of this, and makes sure to keep the donut cycle well-tuned so that everyone is rewarded for their wait with warm donuts. You would think everyone would do this. But they don’t, though.
There is a cost to this. The donuts aren’t hard fried. It almost feels like they are poached in oil. There is no crust, and these warm little rings of joy are heavy with oil. Warm, they are magnificent. But if allowed to cool down, they would lose everything that makes them special. Well, almost everything. Hicks-Wilson also scored the highest on cider flavor of any place on the tour, and took top honors for sugar based on their generously applied, well-coated execution.
Finally we returned to civilization in Queensbury for a visit to Sutton’s Market.
This was surprising. Because in the midst of some kind of country tchotchke store is a little bakery that cranks out some seriously good cider donuts. Lest people think participants were experiencing palate fatigue this late in the day, Sutton’s was one of the overall favorites of many on tour.
Like Reggie’s, however, this donut was not warm and had been sitting in its case presumably since the morning. While it may not have had a top score in any one category, Sutton’s was a well balanced donut and had strong numbers across the board. With its lack of flaws it was understandably some tasters top pick, but without anything truly remarkable about it either others thought it fell short.
Ultimately MikeFeurstein in his final comment unbeknowingly summed up all three tours quite nicely. This is what he said, “My ideal cider donut is really crusty and really sugary. Reggie’s meets that requirement according to my notes. However it was cold, so the warm choice is Hicks despite lack of crunch.”
The past winners have been Indian Ladder and Golden Harvest, each taking the win based on their killer combination of crust and sugar. But we have also learned in the past that just being warm doesn’t elevate an inferior donut. We were lucky on this tour to experience three different donuts close to their ideal state. And only one of those rose to the top.
Hicks-Wilson won the day, being the favorite of the most judges. Sutton’s was a close second.
Is Hicks-Wilson worth the drive? Maybe not. There are great cider donuts available all around the region. But if you are up in the area, it is definitely worth checking out. Especially since in addition to those delicious and always warm donuts, they are also the home of Slyboro hard cider.
But that’s another story.