Who has the best apple cider doughnut in the Berkshires?
96 doughnuts, eight Eagle staffers and one big (doughnut) hole in our plan ...
It seemed like a simple task: Pick the best apple cider doughnut in the Berkshires.
Surely, a room full of hungry journalists armed with years of digging through the communal box of cider doughnuts that shows up mysteriously every Friday is training enough. All we would have to do is recreate a battle that most families have over the breakfast table every time fall comes around: "Who makes the best apple cider doughnuts?"
You know what they say about opinions, and yes, everyone has one about these golden brown treats that leave a tell-tale oily slick behind on paper bags. Lines are drawn countywide, like the singing gangs of "West Side Story" — Bartlett's, Jaeschke's, Hilltop Orchards or Whitney's, oh my.
The features department approached the task like scientists, picking eight local favorites — Bartlett's Orchard, Hilltop Orchard and Furnace Brook Winery, Home Sweet Home Doughnut Shoppe, Jaeschke's Orchards, Lakeview Orchard, Taft Farms, Whitney's Farm Market and Garden Center, and for the sake of our Vermont readers, The Apple Barn and Country Bake Shop in Bennington, Vt. — and dispatched a coordinated effort across the county to get a dozen fresh cider doughnuts from each place Tuesday morning.
But first, a few crumbles in the plan: Jaeschke's only makes cider doughnuts certain days of the week; the Doughnut Shoppe owners went on a well-deserved (yet, badly timed for us!) week-long vacation; and Lakeview isn't open on Tuesdays. We zigged, zagged and bagged — buying the doughnuts as fresh as we could and employed the use of Ziploc bags when needed to keep everything fresh by Tuesday.
A panel of eight Berkshire Eagle employees — including one new hire, who had never had a cider doughnut before (gasp!) — tasted a quarter of a doughnut from each place, including plain and sugared if the bakers offered it. The doughnuts origins were kept secret from the tasters, only labeling each doughnut with a letter: A,B,C ...
Taste, texture, smell and "appleness" were the criteria for most of the tasters. Some doughnuts were considered "too oily" or "too heavy." Spice mix mattered on the sugared batches, with even some tasters commenting on there being "too much nutmeg."
In between palate-cleansing sips of coffee, tasters took notes on each doughnut and then were asked at the end to pick their overall favorite. The response was a mixed bag of doughnuts, but five out of the eight picked C — the sugared doughnut from Taft Farms in Great Barrington.
"Excellent flavor and a nice texture," said Managing Editor Tom Tripicco of the Taft Farms doughnut.
"Nice crunch to the outside, but soft and moist inside," said Margaret Button, associate features editor and food columnist.
But like any good apple cider doughnut debate, there was some controversy.
Instead of asking "Where's the beef?" Taft Farms doughnuts had some at the table asking, "Where's the apple cider?"
"I don't taste any apple," said Peter Greenberg, senior systems technician, after giving the doughnut a few significant sniffs to see if he could smell the apple. While some dismissed Greenberg's claims — he, by the way, stayed loyal and blindly chose Bartlett's doughnut, where he says he stops every weekend — he was actually on to something.
Upon calling Martha Tawczynski, baker and part-owner of Taft Farms with her husband, we learned that, in fact, Eagle staffers couldn't have picked her apple cider doughnuts as the best on Tuesday, since they aren't making them until this weekend.
This editor, who personally called Taft Farms that morning and asked if they had apple cider doughnuts before driving the 30 minutes to pick them up — a dozen she specifically reserved under "Lindsey" — was stunned.
It appears in a blind taste-testing, our crew picked the placebo. Instead of egg on our face, we had sugared doughnut.
Tawczynski was immediately apologetic (she wasn't at the farm that Tuesday morning and apologized profusely for the mix up) but assured us there was no way the doughnut we tried had any apple cider in it. Our "best apple cider doughnut of Berkshire County" was in fact, the best cinnamon-and-sugar doughnut in Berkshire County.
What do we do?
There was talk of going with the second pick — Hilltop Orchards, which was picked best by two testers — but the margin seemed so wide between the top choices and, despite what some might think, we don't do fake news at The Berkshire Eagle. Not even in the features department, where we take our food features seriously.
As an editor, I faced my biggest ethical dilemma yet. But for the sake of transparency, we've shared our #AppleCiderDoughnutGate saga in the hopes you'll find our cautionary tale slightly amusing (this editor can finally crack a smile over it after the doughnut crumbles settled) and make you really think the next time you bite into an apple cider doughnut: Can I taste the apple?
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