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All Cider Donuts Are Not Created Equal

September 27, 2010

Turns out last weekend, there were two Tour de Donuts.  One was ours, in which 12 intrepid New Yorkers set off to determine who makes the best cider donut in the region.  The other was out in Michigan where hundreds of bicyclists rode for thirty miles, taking breaks for donut-eating contests along the way.

I think ours was probably better.  At least it was more productive.

We only ate five donuts apiece.  And while a few of us may have been a bit uncomfortable towards the end, nobody was drenched in donut sweat.  And while we did not burn off nearly the calories that we consumed, we ended the day wiser in the ways of the cider donut.  Clearly they are not all created equal.

The judging was very close, and ultimately we unearthed two different camps of cider donut lovers that divided the pack of tasters right down the middle.  But at the end of the day, there can be only one.

That dividing line was based on one’s love for a crisp crunchy coating versus the love of a soft comforting interior.  Even I will not endeavor to find the holy grail of a cider donut that is able to achieve these mutually exclusive characteristics.

Let me back up for a second and tell you 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.  Each taster assigned weights to these categories depending on which was most important to them.  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 Indian Ladder Farms, Altamont Orchards, Fo Castle, Lakeside Farms and Bowman, in that order.  The tour started at Indian Ladder at 9:00 am.  We didn’t tuck into our first bag of donuts until 9:20. The last donut tasting and post judging wrap-up concluded just before 1:00 pm.

Five donuts in four hours doesn’t sound like that much. But it takes its toll.

Not everyone made it through.  Of the six completed guest score sheets I received, three named Indian Ladder as their top donut and the other three named Altamont Orchards.  Indian Ladder ruled the crust category.  No other donut could come close to its “crisp crunchy shell.”  Altamont had a slight edge over the pack when it came to texture.  Tasters praised its “doughy, not too dense” interior.

I would like to think that I could be the tiebreaker, but I recognize that each of these donuts represents a different school of thought, and satisfies a different craving.

In terms of the overall donut eating experience, I prefer Indian Ladder.  I enjoy being able to watch the donut machine cranking out donuts in the window.  Now I’m no interior design guru.  But to me the Indian Ladder donut counter reminds me more of a bakery or farm store while Altamont Orchards feels more like a country store.  That may be completely meaningless to you, but I enjoy the surroundings more at Indian Ladder.

That said, I’ve had both better and worse donuts at Indian Ladder than I did this past weekend.  Sometimes they have been tough.  Other times they have tasted of overused oil.  Although my first cider donut of the season from Indian Ladder this year was hot and divine.  Altamont Orchards, where I have not gone nearly as often, has never given me a disappointing donut.

But it’s not fair to bring in these outside factors to bear in the judging, so going purely by the numbers, no matter which way I try to cut them…

Indian Ladder Farms’ crusty and cakey cider donut wins by a nose.

Altamont with its soft and rich donut was a close second.  Lakeside Farms was a respectable third with the only warm donut received on the tour, and I should note that they dominated the other contenders on cider flavor.  But Fo Castle’s pale, “rubbery” “middle-of-the-road” donut lagged behind, and the ridiculously popular Bowman was at the bottom of the barrel with its “commercial”-tasting specimen.

In terms of places to go and experience fall, I absolutely see the appeal of all these places.  Thank you to everyone who sent in nominations.

There was just too much gleaned from the tour for one blog post. Keep your eyes peeled on Yelp for more of my thoughts on each of the orchards.  And for those of you who missed attending this first FUSSYlittleBLOG event, do not despair.  I had such a great time that I’m planning to do something similar in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, Indian Ladder and Altamont are pretty close together.  So get out there, try both donuts back to back, and let me know where you stand.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Erinn permalink
    September 27, 2010 12:08 pm

    Sounds like a great day! Sorry I missed it, but the hot-air balloons were calling to me. (Too bad Saturday turned out to be too windy to fly!)

    For future tour ideas, may I suggest a cupcake tour? I know they’ve been done before, but usually by a panel of “experts”, and I think it’d be fun to see if our group’s results match theirs. There’s both Saratoga & Albany options for this type of tour. For next summer, there’s the ice cream stand tour option. I’m sure I can think of others if I try…

  2. September 27, 2010 1:57 pm

    I love the idea of doughnuts. But I’ve never found them to taste nearly as good as they smell.

  3. September 27, 2010 9:20 pm

    I am amazed at your ability to both push an opinion, and maintain an open mind. One could easily see how it might be easier to rank one doughnut above another, especially based on preference.

    I was completely for ILF, but with the understanding that Altamont was also good, but in a completely different way. So it also wins, but only for that amazing crunch.

  4. Ellen Whitby permalink
    September 27, 2010 10:41 pm

    I’m surprised that only one of your specimens was warm. And I’m surprised it wasn’t an Indian Ladder donut, seeing as how you started there fairly soon after they opened. Donuts lose their freshness pretty quickly. Did you ask how “fresh” the different donuts were? Obviously, they were all made same day but I would guess that the IL donuts tasted better in part because they were fresher, having been made just before you arrived and not a few hours earlier, as might have bee the case with Lakeside or Bowman donuts, which you wouldn’t have eaten until nearer to 1:00.

    Can’t wait to hear about the possibilities for a butter tour.

  5. Jenny on the Block permalink
    September 28, 2010 9:24 am

    Glad we were there to taste the winning donuts — sorry we had to leave early. We too preferred Indian Ladder’s donut. However, when we brought leftovers home, the tasters here found that the Altamont donut aged much better, and preferred those.

  6. September 28, 2010 7:13 pm

    They’re close together, but they’re both pretty far from Saratoga County folks. Funny, I never really considered crust as a deciding factor — I’d go for 1. how strongly does it actually taste like cider and not just a plain doughnut and 2. can I get a warm one.

  7. September 28, 2010 10:39 pm

    Oh man, I want a cider donut in the worst way.

    So sad I couldn’t make it, stuck out at the Larkfest booth all day fending off cookie thieves with my tongs!

    I’m still on the Indian Ladder Donut Bus, but my interest is piqued to check out some new places.

  8. StanfordSteph permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:05 am

    Sad to see that Bowman ranked so low. How is the picking at the other farms? Would like to pick this weekend and also have donuts.

  9. September 29, 2010 9:22 pm

    just came from indian ladder — 2 donuts made my dinner. oh, and a cup of cider. the donuts were warm and soft, the sugar was crunchy and had been laid on with a generous hand. doesn’t get more perfect than that for me.

  10. October 2, 2010 2:04 pm

    My big criteria is whether or not they’re pulled directly from the fryer and given to me, which has less to do with the donut itself and more to do with a management decision. Yes, it often means waiting in line for donuts, but, to me, it is worth it. If it’s even been sitting out for an hour, it’s just not the same. There are only two places I’ve found in the area that do this (there may be more than this; the few times I’ve gone to Indian Ladder I haven’t gotten fresh-from-the-fryer donuts), and that is Hick’s in Granville, and Goold’s in Nassau. I prefer Hick’s overall, but Goold’s is more convenient.

  11. Kare permalink
    October 20, 2010 2:48 pm

    HANDS DOWN! GOOLD ORCHARDS DONUTS ARE THE BEST BAR NONE!
    We’ve done the donut tour and have to tell you…
    we’ve had soggy donuts, we’ve had donuts from the (nameless)orchard that freezes them ahead for their busy days ( yes you can tell.. ) and we’ve even tried bakery cider donuts and found not a stitch of fresh cider in them!
    We’re sticking with Goold’s Cider donuts.. Theyre our big winner!

  12. Debra permalink
    January 20, 2015 11:41 am

    I tried Villa Italia cider donuts the other day (I should say donut as I did not eat the other one I purchased). I thought I had read somewhere that they were one of the tasty ones in the area. If I did read that, I have to disagree. There is something in the mix that leaves a funky taste in your mouth. I couldn’t distinguish what it is, but I did not like it, at all.

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