A Week with a Jug of Apple Cider: Donuts + Bourbon + Pork

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The week of apple cider recipes started with dinner. It was Danny’s first day at his new gig at the airport, and I was leaving work early to put together something good. My boss, knowing that I enjoy cooking, thoughtfully suggested the idea and it was brilliant. Excited, and feeling like now it had to be really good given the gift of extra time, I started a list of possible congrats-on-the-new-awesome-job-i-love-you dinners.

Spaghetti Bolognese
Pasta Carbonara
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Boeuf Bourguignon
Roasted Apple, Shallot, and Blue Cheese Tart

Pancetta, White Bean and Chard Pot Pies
Pork Shoulder Braised with Apples

All options on that list are solid, but it came down to that braised pork shoulder with apples. Why? Because we love pork shoulder. Maybe because it’s one of the first big cuts of meat we tackled in the kitchen together. This recipe also appealed to me because I had the time for a weeknight braise so I felt like I should take advantage of that. And bonus, it called for apples in a savory dish. I could also serve this on top of cheesy polenta, which probably sealed the deal.

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At the grocery store, I found myself asking that perennial question popping up in search engines each October: What’s the difference between apple cider and unfiltered apple juice? None of the store employees could really say until we googled it and came to the conclusion that they are basically the same thing (in the U.S. anyway). As for the apple brandy called for in the recipe, that was a problem that bourbon could easily solve.

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After a few hours, the pork was tender and juicy, and everything I’d added to the pot combined to make an incredible, apple-scented sauce. We talked — about the job, newspapers, living in St. Pete, the WEDDING — and lingered at the table until our plates were clean and the bottle of wine was empty.

The next thing to make with this jug of apple cider is a cocktail. The simplest of cocktails! Fill a small tumbler with ice. Pour two ounces of bourbon into the glass. Top off with apple cider. Stir it up with a cinnamon stick and sip. I mean, it is essentially fall in a glass and it couldn’t be easier to make. It’s our at-home cocktail of choice for now.

And then there were donuts. One day, Danny and I will visit Iowa in September when it’s time for apple picking and fresh cider. Til then, I have this recipe for Apple Cider Donuts. I have to tell you that frying donuts is not as scary as I thought it would be. Oil splatter, as it turns out, is not really a concern, and a cast iron skillet will do the job just fine. A platter of freshly fried donuts on our table that weekend made me feel pretty good about everything. The week of apple cider ended just as sweetly as it began.

pork

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pork shoulder braised with apples

Apple cider, bacon, and brown bits from the braised pork work together to make an incredible sauce. Definitely serve this over cheesy grits or polenta to make the most of it. I like mine with plenty of cheddar and heavy cream. I ended up cutting the meat into more than six pieces to cut down on cooking time, which turned out just fine.

Serves about 6.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
5 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 6 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1/3 cup bourbon (or Calvados or other apple-flavored brandy, if you have it)
1 1/4 cups apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
2 tablespoons (or more) apple cider vinegar
3 tart, firm apples (such as Pink Lady or Honeycrisp), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch wedges (about 4 cups)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Fresh chives or scallions, chopped

Place a rack in lower third of oven. Heat oven to 325°F.

Heat oil in a large heavy pot/Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring often, until browned and crisp, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

Increase heat to medium-high. Add butter to pot with drippings. Season pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook pork shoulder, reducing heat as needed to prevent overbrowning, until brown on all sides, 8-10 minutes per batch. Transfer pork shoulder to a plate.

Add shallots to pot and cook, stirring often, until shallots begin to soften, about 4 minutes.

Remove pot from heat; add bourbon and stir, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot. Return to heat and simmer for 1 minute. Add apple cider and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Bring to a simmer, then return pork shoulder to pot, placing in a single layer on bottom of pot.

Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise pork shoulder until fork-tender, about 2 hours, making sure to turn meat after 1 hour. Stir in reserved bacon.

Using tongs, transfer pork to a deep serving dish. Place pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in apples and cook until they are just tender and sauce is slightly reduced, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir mustard into sauce and season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce with apples over pork. Sprinkle with chives and serve.

(Recipe from Bon Appetit.)

apple cider donuts

Homemade donuts are totally doable, and this recipe makes a batch of cinnamon-y, apple scented donuts that are so worth the time. I was tempted to sub in butter for the shortening, but I trusted the source and stuck to the recipe. I figured if Yossy is calling for it then it must be an important part of the donut. If you don’t have cake flour, Joy the Baker tells you how to make your own cake flour. For cutting the donut shapes, use a 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter and a 1 1/4-inch round cookie cutter for the donut hole.

Makes 10 to 12 donuts.

1 cup apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated shortening or lard
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup buttermilk
canola oil, for frying
1/2 cup sugar, for topping
2 teaspoons cinnamon, for topping

Bring the apple cider to a boil over high heat and cook it until it has reduced to 1/3 cup, 7 to 10 minutes. Let cool.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg into a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the shortening and sugar on medium speed until sandy. Add egg and egg yolk and mix on high until light and thickened, about 5 minutes. In another bowl, combine the reduced apple cider and buttermilk. Then add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk mixture, to the mixer in three batches, mixing until just combined. The dough will be soft and sticky and look like cookie dough. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour or overnight.

When you are ready to  fry the donuts, heat a large skillet or dutch oven with at least 2 inches of oil over medium heat until the oil reaches 370ºF on a candy thermometer. Gently roll the chilled dough out onto a generously floured board or piece of parchment paper into a circle about 1/2-inch thick and about 8 inches wide. This never takes as much rolling out as you think, so go easy. Cut as many donuts and holes as possible, stopping to flour the cutters before each cut. Gently reroll the scraps and cut more donuts. If the dough becomes too soft to handle, pop it into the fridge for a few minutes.

Place the cut donuts on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes so they firm up slightly and are easier to handle. Meanwhile, stir together the cinnamon and sugar for the topping in a shallow, wide bowl. Brush off any excess flour and fry the donuts for about 1 minute per side. Do not overcrowd the pan. When the donuts are deep golden brown on each side, use tongs to remove them from the oil. Gently blot off excess oil and toss immediately in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Repeat with the rest of the donuts and serve.

(Recipe from Yossy Arefi via Food52.)

apple cider cocktail

A good cocktail doesn’t need to be complicated, and after a long day it needs to be good and it needs to be easy. Apple cider + bourbon, here. That’s it really.

Makes 1 drink.

2 ounces bourbon
Apple cider
Cinnamon stick, for garnish and stirring

Fill a small tumbler with ice. Pour bourbon into the glass. Top off with apple cider. Stir. Add a cinnamon stick for garnish.

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