Monday, October 17, 2011

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Special Apple Cider and Doughnuts Edition

Let's be clear. My sister and I are not twins, and we were not separated at birth.  Therefore, it is not possible for us to conclusively determine whether it is nature or nurture that makes us do eerily similar things all the time.

But we did both go to Julian every year when we were kids.
I'm just sayin'.

Cider Mill Wars
A guest post from my sister (aka FG4)

It doesn’t feel like “fall” until you’ve been to a cider mill…

We are back in Michigan for the weekend, and next to bringing home our new family kitten, visiting a cider mill was at the top of our list for the trip.  We’ve made going to the local area cider mills such a seasonal family tradition, that it hadn’t quite felt like fall…until today.

Me:  “Hey Amanda, are you willing to do a little research for your aunt?”
Amanda: “Sure, I’ll do anything for her.”
Me:  “We could help her out with her blog and go sample donuts from the cider mills we like.”
Amanda: “Sure, no problem…if you think it will help her, I’m willing to do it.”
Me:  “How about we try for three in a day?”
Amanda: “Really?!”
Me:  “Yep!  Just be really hungry for donuts.”
Amanda: “I’d do anything for my aunt!”*

Three competitors: Franklin Cider Mill; Parmenter’s Cider Mill; Erwin’s Cider Mill
The challenge: best donuts and best apple cider
The judges:  Me and Amanda (we are a pretty tough pair to please!)

First up: Franklin Cider Mill  

This is a historic mill nestled in a Bloomfield Hills neighborhood.  They boast quite a selection of homemade jams, jellies, sauces, salsas, and every kind of fruit butter you can think of (e.g. apple butter, pear butter, cherry butter, pumpkin butter, apricot butter, etc.).  When you first enter the building, you see the press used to make the apple cider, and tables of fresh baked pies, cookies, and breads.  We ordered cider and donuts only (although they have a selection ranging from hot cider to cider slushes and hot dogs to ice cream sundaes).  We were handed a cold container of cider, and a brown bag full of hot, fresh donuts.  We went to the car to do our sampling due to the sheer number of bees that hang out here.  Bees love apple cider, so this problem is not unique to Franklin Cider Mill.

It had been a mystery how they produce these bags of hot donuts while at the registers with no bakery in sight.  Then, as I was paying, I spotted it – a donut dumbwaiter!  Not kidding!!!  Apparently the bakery is below the main floor of the mill, and they just crank out the hot donuts and lift them to the main floor to be sold hot.  Genius!

Cider:  Today’s blend of cider was pleasantly tart with a deep, rich flavor and a solid finish.  Two thumbs up from the judges.

Donuts:  They only offer one type of donut: plain. We noted the all-important grease marks on the paper bag that indicated these donuts had, in fact, just been cooked.  They were warm and not too sweet, slightly crunchy on the outside while light and airy on the inside.  They smush easily since they are hot out of the fryer, and after they cooled, they weren’t quite as tasty…except for Maya the dog, who really liked these donuts, hot or cold.

Bonus points:  The “corn truck” that had just pulled up as we were leaving.  Fresh picked corn that morning and a large portable grill meant one tasty (and more healthy) snack was in store for people coming during the lunch hour.

Next Up:  Parmenter’s Cider Mill  

Family owned and operated since 1873, Parmenter’s Cider Mill is tucked away in a Northville neighborhood and attracts quite a few local artists to set up booths on the property so you can eat and browse.  They have both plain and spice donuts, so we got an assortment of both and made our way to a nearby picnic table.  In an attempt to deal with the bee problem this season, each table had a fly swatter on it.  We still went to the car.

Cider:  Refreshing and cold, also deliciously tart with full body flavor and solid finish.  Both judges approved.

Donuts:  Both plain and spice donuts are room temperature or colder.  They are clearly fresh, but not the same “melt in your mouth” grease delights from the Franklin Cider Mill.  However, what they lack in temperature, they made up for in flavor.  These donuts were soft through and through, with a more cake-like density.  The spice donuts were simply the plain donuts dusted with fine powdered sugar mixed with seasonal spices.  Both Amanda and I preferred the spice donuts to the plain ones, but it was nice to have a choice.

Bonus points:  They also have a winery so while you send your partner for cider and donuts, you can go to the wine bar across the room and have free samples of some decent wine.  They also have a big screen TV mounted on a wall that always has a key sports event on, so the sports fan(s) in the household won’t mind standing in line.  Also, it is a little known perk that you can request “duck donuts” at the counter.  They will give you a free small bag with 3 or 4 donuts that did not meet their quality standards, and you can use them to feed the ducks that take up residence at their on-property stream during the “cider mill season.”  These ducks are so tame they will eat the donuts right out of your hand.

Last up: Erwin Orchards  
The cider mill at Erwin Orchards is only part of a much larger operation.  They have multiple u-pick orchards and contract with an inflatables company to set up a massive array of bouncy everything each weekend.  They also have a petting zoo and haunted barn and corn maze attraction at night.  They were voted best cider mill in the area for a number of years, and wait times can easily pass 45 minutes every weekend.  They open at 6am but I have no idea who needs cider that badly on a Saturday morning.

Cider: Sweet and cold, with a light brown color and smooth finish.  Both judges approved, and we realized then we’d need to do a blind side-by-side taste test to determine a winner.

Donuts:  To avoid the greasy bag issue, your donuts are placed into a carton and then handed over.  They had four donut flavors: plain apple spice, cinnamon apple spice, pumpkin glazed, and pumpkin with icing and sprinkles.  The bakery is behind the registers so you see the donuts first-hand before they go into the boxes.  We went for an assortment, minus the pumpkin with sprinkles.  Our box contained warm, fresh donuts that were slightly crispy on the outside and light and airy on the inside.  They were actually the best of both Franklin Cider Mill (hot and fresh) and Parmenter’s (dusted with tasty spiced sugar, although here it was granular sugar versus the powdered sugar).  They were not too sweet with both the donut and sugar coating nicely spiced.

Bonus points:  The u-pick options are a big hit, and their orchards are great.  You’ll take a tractor-pulled ride to different orchards depending on what kind of apples you want.  Many apple varieties are available to pick, as well as pumpkins and (coming soon) asparagus!  Lots for kids to do while you wait in line (beware the cost for petting zoo and inflatables adds up quickly) and ample parking.

The winners:

Apple cider:  After a head-to-head blind taste test, Parmenter’s cider was the favorite.  It had that nice tartness to it, but had a slightly sweeter, smoother finish than the others.  Franklin Cider Mill was a close second, and Erwin’s Cider Mill was a distant third, with a more bland overall flavor and not the same level of body to the cider itself.

Donuts:  Hands down, Erwin Orchard’s apple spice donuts!

Me:  “Hey Amanda, you did a great job today eating all those donuts.”
Amanda: “I can’t eat another thing, I’m so stuffed.”
Me:  “It was for a good cause.”
Amanda: “Yeah…”

* Right back at ya, sweetie!


  1. Great Job! Amanda & D.(FG4) or tasting all those donuts and cider for the sake of research. Special thanks for helping aunt with her blog!

  2. I agree...I am indeed fortunate to have such selfless helpers out there!

  3. I love apple picking season! It looks like a fun day. thanks for checking out my blog, yours is great!

  4. If you ever need a reseracher for bread pudding in New Orleans or rice pudding in New York, I might have to oblige...