If a schism between the American North and South still endures, it might all come down to doughnuts — namely, whether you favor the cake-based pastries of Dunkin’ Donuts, a northern mainstay now firmly ensconced below the Mason-Dixon Line, or the yeast-raised glaze doughnuts of Krispy Kreme, an institution born in Winston-Salem.
Actually, the coveted cider doughnut, a plentiful treat in Henderson County in the fall, might one day decide the battle.
Being an apple product makes cider doughnuts uniquely of the region. Then again, “they’re not originally from here,” admits Leslie Lancaster of Grandad’s Apples N’ Such. “It’s a northern thing.” Six years ago, Grandad’s expanded their “such” domain to include the flakey, butter-infused treat. Though the agritourism orchard got its recipe from an Atlanta bakery, Lancaster acknowledges the deeper roots of apple cider and cider doughnuts, which originated in Canada and New York State.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly when the apple-cider doughnut became the “It Doughnut” in Hendersonville, but the craze is barely a decade old. Popular tourist destination Sky Top Orchard increases its production every year. And while Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard may be the latest farm to cash in on the dough, introducing the pastry just last year, it sold 40,000 of the sugar-and-cinnamon-coated sweets from Labor Day to late October — a little less than two months.
Though some customers choose to buy individuals, the doughnuts generally come in packages of six. Hot coffee or apple slushies are common pairings, notes orchard co-owner Rita Stepp.
“It reminds me of a theme park,” says Stepp, a Hendersonville native. “That smell billows out and it just tastes like fall.”
A bit denser than anything found at Dunkin’ or Krispy Kreme, these cake doughnuts have a moist inside with a crisp exterior. Conventional pie spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, even a pinch of cardamom — are in most recipes, but Lancaster isn’t giving much away. “Forty-five seconds per side, some flour and sugar,” she says offhandedly. Though her husband Pat is a fourth-generation apple farmer and is steadfast in preserving age-old apple heritage, Grandad’s also keeps the newer traditions in the family.
Lancaster says the quality of cider is reflected in the final product. A mixed cider made with whatever is ripe (think: Ginger Gold, Zestar, and Gala in early August) makes for a darker doughnut, both in taste and appearance. Comparatively, a pure Honeycrisp, available in late August and early September, begets a light, airy fritter.
“I grew up with fried pies,” says Lancaster. “But I’ve eaten quite a few of these doughnuts, too.”