Cider Donuts: Broadalbin to Schaghticoke
Who has the best cider donuts in the Capital Region? Indian Ladder Farm, Golden Harvest Farms, Hicks-Wilson Orchard, The Carrot Barn, Cider Belly, and Terrace Mountain Orchard. How do I know? Because with the help of countless volunteers, we have pitted the cider donuts from thirty of the area’s most beloved orchards and bakeries against each other and these were the six that rose to the top.
However, this project is far from complete. Last Saturday twelve of us ate our way through five more versions of this regional specialty. This year we focused entirely on the 43rd parallel of the Capital Region, starting out west in Broadalbin and making our way east to Schaghticoke.
This tour was different from all the others, because there were six places on the route, yet we could only stop at five. Reports from the field were that the donuts at both Ellms and Smith’s were underwhelming. So only one of the two was going to make the final cut. Given the size of our group and the uncertainty of everyone being able to avoid the entry fee at Ellms, we chose Smith’s.
For today’s summary I won’t have to bore you with scores, because there was one clear winner. Although, I have a little secret that nobody else knows about the runner up. But before I totally spill the beans, let me tell you how the day played out.
As always, each donut was 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
From everything I had heard about Eagle Mills, going into this tour I really thought this first stop was going to be the clear winner. This was a staggeringly beautiful location to start the tour. There is no orchard on site, but there is a water-wheel-powered cider press that currently operates using antique equipment. You’ve got to check this place out, and try some of the cider.
When I arrived shortly after 10am, they were bringing freshly made tray after freshly made tray of cider donuts across the bridge into the gift shop. Obviously, they were stockpiling for what promised to be a busy day. But not that many people came between 10am and 10:40am when we got our first batch of donuts.
As is the custom on the tour, I ask the clerk if we can get any hot donuts. No such luck. Which was a shame. Because even though we were told these donuts were freshly made in the morning, they were literally cold. It was Christine K.’s very first cider donut of her life, and she bit into raw dough. These donuts weren’t quite a disaster, but they were mighty close. Chad V. noted the nutmeg flavor was “front and center” but that wasn’t enough to elevate these dense, oily rings to anyone’s top pick.
Then it was off to Smith’s Orchard Bake Shop in Ballston Spa.
During the nomination phase of the 7th Annual Tour de Donut, Burnt My Fingers warned of his travels to Smith’s. The report was that he “had a good experience, but the attraction was the pies rather than cider donuts which are prepared once a day and not served hot.”
When our group arrived at Smith’s these sentiments rang in my ears. In fact, the donut case on the counter was just about empty. There were literally three donuts remaining. So crossing my fingers, I asked hopefully if there were any more donuts in the back.
Yes. Yes, there were. And they were hot. And amazing. Ah. Maze. Ing. Eric T. suggested after trying one that we just “stop now!” Sometimes the cider flavor of apple cider donuts can be hard to detect, but these left a lovely lingering cider impression in the mouth. Danielle K. praised its “Nice caramelly brown fry.” And Steve N. remarked on the “Tender, light, flavorful crumb.”
These were the favorite donuts of all the adults on the tour, with the exception of one. Sheila V. had a different pick for her top spot. So let’s hear about the race for second place.
Sunnyside Gardens in Saratoga Springs was stop number three. This is a popular local business that talked a big game about its apple cider donuts, and holy moly was this place jammed full of people. It looked like everyone was there to get pumpkins, but we were there for the donuts.
At this stop, the donuts were sold from a table inside the greenhouse. It was unclear where the donuts were being cooked, but the ones in the bag we got had a trace of warmth to them. The bag mind you, was one of those cheap thin produce bags you might find in a supermarket to keep your parsley from getting water all over everything. I can’t say I was a big fan of that.
However, the donuts themselves were remarkably good.
Sheila V. thought these had just a bit better cider flavor, texture, and taste than the hot cider donuts we got from Smith’s. Steve N. appreciated the crust and oil-free finish. I was a fan of the exterior sugar and interior texture.
Most everybody had something positive to say about these donuts. And that was enough to put them in second place overall.
Have you ever heard of Malta Ridge Orchard in Ballston Spa? It’s not even listed on Yelp, which is crazy in 2016. I should probably get online and try to fix that. But first things first.
This was more like a roadside produce shop that also sold cider donuts. Whereas Sunnyside had people directing traffic, Malta Ridge looked almost abandoned. Still, the stock of cider donuts was precariously low. We snagged the last dozen of its sugared donuts that were pre-bagged and sealed in groups of six.
The avalanche of white granulated sugar used on these cold donuts was divisive. Some people loved it. Others, decidedly did not love it. Looking on the bright side, Steve N. noted that his donut was “well cooked.” And he’s right. The donuts all had nice color, which is more than I can say about our first stop. Chad V. dinged these for being “too dense.” Maybe if they were warmer, the donuts would have been better.
Perhaps there is a reason this place is off the radar.
With hope in our hearts we headed out on the longest leg of the tour to Borden’s in Schaghticoke. Did I spell that right? It looks wrong. How could that possibly be right?
Timing. This was clearly a case of bad timing. And the clerks apologized that there were no hot donuts available. The farm clearly had a mobile donut operation set up in a trailer out front. But they had stopped making donuts for the day long before we had arrived. And that meant that the only donuts for purchase were made earlier and sealed up in plastic clamshell containers
Sniff. At least Borden’s sold a cider slush, which was delicious. So once all the scoresheets were collected, the tour was able to end on an up note. At least for me.
Except that wasn’t quite the end. You see, I ended up bringing all the leftover donuts back home. I was curious to taste how Smith’s compared to Sunnyside once it cooled down. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the things that made the warm Smith’s donut great, no longer existed once it reached room temperature. The texture firmed up, and those crisp edges faded away.
And I have to say, if I had to choose between a room temperature donut from Smith’s or one from Sunnyside, I’d take the one from Sunnyside.
Congratulations to them both. But the official winner of the 7th Annual Tour de Donut is Smith’s, by a landslide. So don’t be dissuaded by the ramblings of Burnt My Fingers. Yes, the place is primarily about pies. But the bakers in the back can make a mean apple cider donut when they put their minds to it.
Hope you can get out there and grab a hot one before fall yields to winter. God knows when that will be. It’s October 18 and the high is 83 degrees. So actually, it might be more prudent to wait until it feels like fall again before venturing out to get one.
Many thanks to everybody who made it on this grand easterly march across the region, and dedicated their bodies to the pursuit of cider donut greatness. Next year, we’ll attempt the long awaited Tournament of Champions.