I occasionally fry doughnuts in a large pot of boiling oil. I won't lie: Every time I do it, I am afraid I'll burn the house down. And I don't love the fast-food aroma that lingers in my house days after the doughnuts have been eaten. So this fall, when I have a craving for Homer Simpson's favorite food, I'm going to turn on the oven instead of the stove.
Doughnut snobs don't consider oven-baked doughnuts the real thing. For purists, frying is what makes a doughnut a doughnut. But for others, including me, the adorable shape and shiny glaze characterize the treat. If you are in this group, you will love doughnuts made the safe and relatively low-fat way.
I decided to use baking powder and baking soda rather than yeast in my doughnuts, because I could mix and bake them without waiting for the dough to rise. It made sense, because my local apple orchard has begun to offer freshly pressed cider, perfect for cider doughnuts. Replacing some of the dairy in my recipe with a little cider would add welcome moisture and sweetness. And a bit of cinnamon in the batter would enhance the mild apple flavor.
When I make fried doughnuts, I roll the rather stiff dough and cut it with a doughnut cutter. I knew the batter for baked doughnuts was going to be too loose to handle this way, so I went looking for a pan. A nonstick mini doughnut pan at Williams-Sonoma (Target and Wilton.com have them, too) caught my eye, appealing to my sense of moderation. How many calories could a mini doughnut have? This would practically be a diet recipe, as long as I didn't eat all 12 of the doughnuts I planned to bake.
I was excited to use my new pan, but after I made my batter I puzzled about how to get the batter into the tiny cavities. Attempting to spoon it around the metal center of each opening, I made a complete mess. In the end, I wound up spooning the batter right on top of those centers and using a thin metal spatula to smooth the batter evenly into each, uncovering the center in the process.Once that problem was solved, I put the pan in the oven, and in a mere 8 minutes, my doughnuts were baked.
You could throw these doughnuts into a paper bag with some cinnamon sugar and gently shake to coat them while they are still warm. Or, you could do what I did, wait a few minutes (mini doughnuts don't take long to cool) and dip them in a glaze made with cider and confectioners' sugar. Either way, they're best eaten within an hour or two of baking, with a mug of hot coffee or steaming mulled cider.
BAKED APPLE CIDER DOUGHNUTS
For regular-size doughnuts, triple the recipe, use a 6-section doughnut pan and bake for 15 minutes.
For the doughnuts:
3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/4 cup apple cider
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg yolk
For the glaze:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apple cider
1. Make the doughnuts: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the impressions of a mini doughnut pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, cider, butter and egg.
3. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just moistened. Divide batter among the doughnut impressions. Bake until the doughnuts are well risen and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 7 to 9 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
4. While doughnuts are cooling, make the glaze: Whisk together confectioners' sugar, cider and nutmeg in a small bowl. Dip tops of doughnuts into glaze, letting excess glaze drip back into bowl. Return to the rack, glazed sides up, and let stand until the glaze is set, about 15 minutes.
Makes 12 mini doughnuts.