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The Best Donuts off the Beaten Path

October 9, 2013

Who has the best cider donuts in the Capital Region? Lots of people want to know, but I have the sense that most folks go to the same places year after year. And quite frankly, part of what makes apple cider donuts special in the first place is their role in the rites of fall.

But there are many transplants to the area, and they are unshackled by family history and tradition. Tourists may come out leaf peeping and want to get a taste of this legendary deep fried apple cider spiked donut. If you are looking for a cider donut that rises above the rest, where should you go?

That’s why the FLB has been leading packs of eaters into the orchards every fall for the past few years. We are on a quest to separate childhood memories and long held biases from matters of taste. The answer can’t be settled with a popularity contest. This is a problem that requires qualitative analysis to solve. So each year, the FLB picks five different donuts to evaluate, and rates them all on a fixed set of criteria.

Year One we took on the rivalry between Indian Ladder and Altamont Orchards along with a few of their more popular competitors to the north. Year Two we headed east of the Hudson. Year Three we went north, way north into Saratoga county.

The most recent tour was this past weekend, and it covered places beloved by many, but rarely mentioned first in conversations about the region’s cider donuts. Let me say, there are some gems hiding in plain sight.

This is going to be a trickier write up than usual, because I am doing it blind. For the first time, I was out of town during my own Tour de Donut. I’m totally bummed that I missed it. When I return, I’ll have to retrace the steps from this last tour to experience these donuts first hand.

But I do have the score sheets, and I do have a bunch of notes to draw from. There are also these pictures taken by Stanford Steph.

As always, each donut is rated on a five point scale against seven criteria:
1) Crust – The donut’s fried exterior – Nobody likes a limp, soggy donut
2) Sugar – We evaluate the sugar coated ones, and the differences here are astounding
3) Cider – Made with apple cider, that flavor should (but rarely does) shine through
4) Texture – The interior – Some are tough, others are gummy, few are tender and light
5) Taste – How the flavors all work together, or don’t if there is something off
6) Oil – Yes, it’s fried, but you shouldn’t be tasting old oil or handed a greaseball
7) Overall – The experience of eating this cider donut on the whole

On Saturday, nine intrepid eaters met at 8:30 am in Clifton Park. Believe it or not, but there are two places to get cider donuts right in the thick of Route 9. Except it turns out that one is totally worthwhile and the other provided one of the worst donuts on the tour.

Lindsey’s started out the day with a bang. Cider donuts are always best when they are warm, and the group scored a bag of warm donuts. The only problem was that they appeared to be pulled from the fryer too soon, or maybe there was a technical problem with their equipment that got past quality control. Regardless, one side was soft and doughy, while the other appeared to be perfectly cooked. Had the donut been perfectly cooked on both sides, this could have been a contender for the top donut of the day.

In planning this tour, I called ahead to make sure the Devoe’s would be open at 9:00 am on Saturday. I figured with an 8:30 am start time, and allowing a few minutes for dawdlers, handing out scoresheets, collecting money, eating the first donuts, scoring them, and driving to the second location, that this would be fine. I don’t quite know what went wrong, but when the group came to Devoe’s it wasn’t open yet.

Sometimes this can be good. One orchard I spoke to on the phone said the best time to get hot fresh donuts was first thing in the morning. Last Saturday this was not the case at Devoe’s. With only room temperature donuts available in plastic clamshell containers, it was the consensus of the tasters that Devoe’s was selling day old donuts at full price. And these dense, crustless versions that were overwhelmed by cinnamon weren’t anyone’s favorite. Two participants thought they were the worst of the bunch. But that dubious distinction ultimately went to the next orchard on the tour.

Oh, poor Riverview. My personal experience at this orchard in the past was close to that of the tour. I had wanted to return, thinking I had caught them on a bad day. But when I was there, despite the fact the donut machine was running, they wouldn’t sell me a warm donut. Instead they would only dole out the oldest of their shockingly large stockpile.

On the morning of the tour, Riverview didn’t even have their machine running as they were still selling through what appeared to be donuts from the day before. Of all the places visited on this tour, these donuts were widely judged to be the worst in each and every one of the seven categories.

Things were looking bleak for the tour, but the day was about to pick up.

Gade Farm in Guilderland made this year’s tour based on its reputation, but their location on the map–halfway between Riverview and The Carrot Barn–is what secured their spot on the itinerary. To me, this sounded like the best cider donut of the day. But only three of the six awarded the stop the top honor, putting it squarely into second place for the day.

I like what Amanda had to say about this donut in comparison to the final one of the day. Gade Farm was deemed to be a very fresh version of the classic. She saw the cider donut from The Carrot Barn to be a heartier version of the form with the most cider flavor.

In the past, there have been skeptics that suggested the last participant in the tour is at a disadvantage since everyone is so full that they can no longer take enjoyment in a donut. This is the year when we can put that speculation to rest.

The Carrot Barn was the final stop of the day, and a full two thirds of participants scored this as the best donut of the tour. It’s good to know that those destinations a bit further afield are worth the drive. These were served still warm. Stanford Steph praised them for their, “Good crust” and “nice heft.” Will, who joined a tour for the first time on this outing, was so impressed with these donuts that after eating five over the course of a couple hours, he got an extra dozen there to take home.

Congratulations to The Carrot Barn. I wish I had a trophy to award or something, but instead I offer something even better. This orchard moves into the cider donut pantheon with Indian Ladder, Golden Harvest and Hicks. It’s great company to keep.

My sincere hope is to have one last Tour de Donut next year focusing more on bakeries than orchards, and then in 2015 to have a massive Tour de Donut: Champions Edition. For that, we may need to rent a bus.

Stay tuned.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    October 9, 2013 10:34 am

    I’m so glad everyone loved the cider donut from the Carrot Barn. I thought it was delightful myself & it was the 1st one of the season that I tasted.

  2. DoughnutWhore permalink
    October 9, 2013 10:50 am

    Love Doughnuts! Wondering if you tried( since I just saw ur blog) lakeside farms? If so how did they rank? Love the blog
    Thanks in advance for your time!

  3. October 9, 2013 11:31 am

    Maybe what they learned is “don’t go get doughnuts at 9 a.m.” I did a doughnut tasting last week (11 orchards — I just about died), and Devoe’s was my favorite. The crust was a bit soft, but the cake was delicious, spiked with allspice, which I thought was an inspired touch that made it taste more apple-y. Saratoga Apple was very good, too, my second-favorite, quite apple-y with a nice crust (though I notice they didn’t do all that great in your tasting last year, either).

    • kathleen lisson permalink
      October 10, 2013 12:32 am

      KB – I agree. If you are on Route 9 and want to pick up fresh donuts for a daytrip or for visiting guests in the late morning, stop by Lindseys.

    • October 10, 2013 12:32 am

      There was a lot to love about the Saratoga Apple cider donut last year. The problem was that it was clearly cooked in old oil, and that just leaves a bad taste in your mouth regardless of all its other strengths.

      One can only judge the donut in front of them, not the donut that it aspires to be.

    • October 10, 2013 7:50 am

      If someone makes a delicious product, I should be able to get it anytime, particularly at opening. The only time is expect something “old” is at the end of the day. Just my opinion.

  4. October 9, 2013 12:37 pm

    I’m partial to The Carrot Barn, just because I shop there a lot and the kids always get a doughnut there. And I got swing by the very end of the tour and introduce Steph to Richard Ball, the owner and overall awesome guy. He said, to paraphrase, “We grow 125 acres of produce, and all anyone ever praises us for is our doughnuts.” Richard himself made the doughnuts for a long time, getting the recipe just right. I’m so happy that TCB won.

    I also had one of the best sandwiches of my life there that day. This place is the best.

  5. Lilly permalink
    October 9, 2013 2:04 pm

    wow. Indian Ladder, Altamont Orchards, Carrot Barn AND Gade Farm all have done very well?? Living in Altamont has it’s advantages. :-)

  6. October 9, 2013 4:44 pm

    Shannon brought some home from Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie that were delicious… another place to consider if you do a similar tour again. And I’m looking forward to doing a tour of some sort with you and Stanford Steph… if I ever end my endless peripatetic roamings. ;)

    • October 9, 2013 5:16 pm

      Golden Harvest took top honors in the Second Annual Tour de Donut. You can read all the details at the link below:

      That means, if everything goes according to plan, we will revisit them in 2015 as part of the Sixth Annual Tour de Donut – Tournament of Champions (or something like that).

      • October 10, 2013 7:51 am

        I think you should tag tour results with the word “tours” for the word cloud. I had a heck of a time finding the results for the mini hot dog tour recently.

  7. October 9, 2013 5:01 pm

    And once again you’re a step ahead of me, Daniel… I checked the Yelp page for Golden Harvest Farms and your review from last year was right there. Anyway… she brought back a bunch of donuts and some great apple cider; it was wonderful; and your Yelp review praising the place was spot-on.

  8. October 10, 2013 7:48 am

    What I can’t get over is that people sell old cold donuts. When I worked at a bagel store we kept nothing for the next day. It was often hard to sell someone a totally cold bagel if they wanted one (some did).

  9. October 12, 2013 11:18 am

    Indian Ladder will never not win in my eyes. I look forward to those donuts all year….. But I’m biased I guess… I do live like, a mile from there haha

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