Here in the South, fall comes about a month later than where I grew up. So my kids wait for November to experience the sights and smells I associate with October. We’re raking crunchy orange and brown leaves over the Thanksgiving break; my Yankee cousins have bagged them up by Halloween. Though no one burns those leaves anymore, the crisp November air still reminds me of other autumnal aromas: cinnamon, nutmeg, and cider, the smells of a Vermont Oktoberfest crowded with bins of apples and carts selling donuts.
A good New England cider donut (or doughnut, if you insist) makes all the others look like city slickers with their shiny glazes and goopy fillings. Fried crisp on the outside, its tender, delicate crumb interior whispers of fruit and spice. Unfortunately, though there are some fine donut joints in Memphis — I’m looking at you, Gibson’s and Cafe Eclectic — you can’t find cider donuts. Even more unfortunately, unlike some other foods from my homeland that I can cook up at home (bagels, matzoh ball soup, clam pizza), donuts require measures beyond me. Namely, deep-frying.
So how’s a Yankee mom supposed to indoctrinate her Southern-raised children? Could the recipes I’d seen for “doughnut muffins” be even remotely on par with the genuine article? I thought I’d better try, lest my boys lose touch with their roots. Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe, these tasted close enough to their Connecticut cousins to take the edge off my craving. They don’t use cider or buttermilk, so they aren’t as delicate, but I made them without going to the grocery store. (You can, too. If you don’t have nutmeg, substitute vanilla or cinnamon or even pumpkin pie spice.) When you’re dealing with a craving, that counts for a lot.
This recipe reminded me of a few of the advantages of baking from scratch. Because I suspect that the only thing standing between me and 200 pounds is my stubborn refusal to buy store-bought treats, I prefer that baking be challenging, so I won’t do it every day. But I also detest fussy projects that I can’t do with kids in the house. My boys and their friend greased the pan, whisked the dry ingredients, helped cream butter and sugar, and made the cinnamon-sugar topping. This recipe is easy enough to whip out even after holiday feasting, so if you have houseguests, keep it in mind.
And for goodness’ sake, make mulled cider to go with them (heat cider, orange or lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and some brown sugar, then finish when it’s hot with the juice of that orange or lemon). Splash a little rum in for the weary grownups, if you like, and show ‘em how to dunk.
Adapted from “Dirt Bombs” at bonappetit.com
- Vegetable oil or butter to grease the muffin tin
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk
- For topping
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan (don’t use cupcake papers). Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and whisk.
Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. This might take a while, even with an electric mixer — you want the sugar to be disappearing into the butter. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients in three additions alternating with milk in two additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Stir in each addition till combined, but do not overbeat.
If you have one, use an ice cream scoop to portion batter into muffin cups. Bake until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30–35 minutes. Let cool five minutes in pan, then transfer to a wire rack.
While the donuffins are baking, mix sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Put melted butter in another bowl. Working one at a time, dip tops of muffins in melted butter, then cinnamon sugar. Or try this: put the cinnamon sugar in a paper bag. Roll muffins in melted butter, then drop them one at a time in the bag to coat with topping. Serve immediately, with lots of napkins.