Official Review of the Best Cider Donuts in Upstate New York

I had a busy little Ciderday this past September when I hit the road with Dan Berman, the man behind the curtain over at FUSSYlittleBlog, and a few of his fellow foodies to quest for the best during one of his quarterly, “Food Tours.” Yes. A Food Tour.

So before we breakdown the, “Tour de Donuts: Champions Edition,” let me lay some groundwork for what these Food Tours are all about. This was my first one, but it definitely won’t be my last.

Dan schedules four Food Tours a year, splitting them into two categories: savory and sweet, devoting two tours’ worth of taste to each flavor profile. Previous tours have included a Tour de Buffalo Wing in Albany (and Schenectady!), a Tour de Seasonal Burger Stands (Missing that one was a mis-steak), a Tour de Italian Subs 2.0 (which means there was an OG Italian Sub Tour, and that’s OK with me), and a Tour de Soft Serve (I’m dying), just to name a few.

But back to the donuts: It was $4 to cover the cost of the day’s donuts, and in exchange we received a scoresheet and a sugar high. When we first meet up, Dan outlines the donut protocol for each pitstop, “I’ll go into the bakery and ask for our donuts. I’ll ask for hot ones. Maybe they will give them to us, maybe they won’t. But I will not be asking for special treatment. The idea is to try the donuts that anyone can get, not just the ones for bloggers who are going to be judging them against their local competitors.”

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Since this was a tournament of champions, Dan corralled a roundup of previous years’ winners and stuffed them into a one day tasting marathon (definitely my kind cardio). So we hit up five orchards/bakeries that day,  and it was the first time Dan and his followers returned to any of the 35 places they’ve visited during previous tours over the years. By the end of the tour, we logged about 180 miles, practically ate our weight in apple cider donuts, and tasted our way to a winner. You can read more about this year’s Tour de Donuts: Champions Edition right here on Dan’s blog: pre-tour post and post-tour results.

So, the Food Tours, why does he do them?

As a regional food lover, Dan’s curious to know who makes the very best of the best here in the Capital Region. He also likes to get people out of their bubble and out on their feet to new places with their tastebuds doing most of the heavy lifting.

“One thing I’ve found about living in the Capital Region is how difficult it is to get people to drive beyond their [neighborhood/village/city, etc.],  so these excursions offer a chance for people to step beyond their comfort zones and visit some of the beloved local businesses outside the places that are part of their everyday lives.”

Apple cider donuts are to Upstate New York as Maple Syrup is to Vermont, and King Salmon is to Alaska’s Yukon River. They’re a quintessential treat of fall, and if you haven’t noticed, there’s an abundance of apple orchards spanning the Capital Region, so it’s worth using the donuts as an excuse to explore our ‘hood at large and play agritourist for the day.

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Now, we’re not encouraging you to abandon your family’s annual visit to Great-Grandma Ruth’s favorite orchard, but Dan urges people to change it up and break from routine every once in a while because, “there is a greater diversity in apple cider donuts than most people realize.”

And that’s where the Food Tours come in handy.

I’m a “victim” of family tradition, as I grew up primarily visiting Indian Ladder Farms with my ride or dies (Stop #3 on our trek), which was and still is an awesome place to grab a sweet treat and pet some goats), but it wasn’t until I got my driver’s license, had some freedom and a deeper appreciation for the region, the season, farm life, and basic fall activities that I began to broaden my apple cider donut horizons by making pit stops at some other well known farm stands and cider donut spots in the area.

On the tour, three of the five stops were new donuts to me, so that right there is a great example of why it pays to go the extra mile (literally, I told you we logged 180 of them!).

During the tour, Dan emphasized that eating the donut is part of the experience of visiting the destination, and that there are some foods that can’t or shouldn’t be removed from their appropriate context — cider donuts being one of them. Besides, your best chance of snagging the donuts that are still warm from the fryer is to eat a couple one on the spot, so be there or be square.

Now, every dog has it’s day, and the same goes for apple cider donuts. Maybe the fry oil isn’t super fresh. Maybe humidity affects the sugar. Maybe the donuts were sitting out too long and the crust got a little stale. Maybe too many pies were made that day, and the donuts didn’t get enough TLC. There could be a variety of factors that influence the “perfect donut,” and even your favorite spot might lack consistency from time to time when it’s peak apple season and they’re cranking out the donuts. So please donut be offended by the results of this, or any apple cider donut tastings. It’s all in good fun, and we appreciate the hard work of everyone who’s all hands on deck during the festive, yet hectic, apple picking/donut making season in Upstate NY.

For Dan, ideally apple cider donuts are, “hot, with a crisp sugared crust, a moist tender crumb, and redolent of apple cider,” and I couldn’t agree more. Each donut I tasted was pretty scrumptious, and every bit as similar as they were different. Sure, there was a scrutinizingly specific voting sheet with five categories used to evaluate each donut: Crust, Sugar, Cider, Internal Texture, Overall Taste, Oil,

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But the core of the matter is that there’s really is no such thing as a bad apple cider donut. It reminds me of the that saying about pizza and knocking boots: When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. Boom. How do ya like them apples?

I was a little surprised that I had a new favorite this year: I’ve been a lifelong groupie of Indian Ladder Farms and their donuts taste like my childhood, and Lakeside Farms in Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake ranks high on my list, too, but Golden Harvest Orchards in the Hudson Valley made the apple cider donut of my eye this season!

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I hope you enjoyed our road trip and consider using our quest as inspiration when planning your own donut drive next fall. Or next weekend, as most of the stops we made in the video are open for donuts all year round, including the tasting room at Indian Ladder Farms Cidery and Brewery, so cheers to that! I promise, no matter which route you take and how many stops you make, you won’t be disappointed.

As for getting in on Dan’s Food Tours, the next one won’t be until winter, but it will be New York City-style pizza slices in Schenectady. Who doesn’t wanna pizza that action? See you there. Ciao bella!


 

P.S. – For you loyal 2BD viewers, no, you’re not having deja vu, but there’s a chance you’re seeing double. You might remember “Dr. Irritation,” from Ked Does Steampunk at The Enchanted City in Troy, NY.

Comment what your favorite apple cider donut place is!




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