We ran with the doughnut idea, but instead of submerging them in a vat of oil, we decided to go a bit lighter and make use of some old baking pans we had laying around, making these Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts.
Highlighting the essence of fall, inside the batter you'll find not one, but two apple infusions - the first comes from spicy apple butter, while the second comes in the form of unfiltered apple cider (and if you can find unpasteurized, all the better - you'll most likely only find this at an orchard though). Before you ask, you might be able to get away with apple juice, but cider is more rich and developed, so if you opt for juice, it may lead to a weaker apple-flavored doughnut.
You'll also find plenty of cinnamon in the doughnuts, along with pure maple syrup - to keep them moist, a scoop of thick, Greek-style yogurt also joins the mix. We used a large and small doughnut pan for this, coating them with nonstick spray and sugar before filling them. This makes more batter than will fit in both, so as soon as they had baked and were taken out of the pans, we washed the large pan in cool water, then repeated the same process, with enough batter leftover to make three more large. If you don't fill all of the wells with batter, add a little bit of water into the empty ones so they don't scorch.
These doughnuts may not have the same texture as the indulgent deep-fried variety, but don't discount them for that reason - they are still moist, fluffy and full of flavor. Coating the wells of the pan with sugar does help with releasing them from the pan, but it also gives them a fun, sweet crusty top that I would miss if it wasn't there. If you don't have any doughnut pans and would still like to give the recipe a shot, try using miniature bundt pans.
Besides getting bonus points for not being nearly as messy if you chose to fry them, you can ditch any guilt from eating one of these beautiful rounds by baking them - you could even incorporate a bit of whole-wheat pastry flour if you like! You could dip the tops of the doughnuts with a simple confectioners' sugar, vanilla and milk (or even maple syrup to continue the theme) concoction if you like, which was our initial plan, but after giving them a nibble (okay, more like eating three each), Jeff and I both thought a glaze would make them a bit too sweet for us.
Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts