Gluten-free Cider Donuts & Donut Holes

My favorite recipes are easy to spot. They're stained and splattered, dog-eared and tabbed. Sometimes, if I'm having a particularly organized day, they're pinned to board on Pinterest or tagged and filed on my iMac. But those days exist more in my head than in my actual life. Opening a cookbook is a veritable treasure hunt, stuck between the pork roast and the next recipe is that cider donut recipe you'd been looking for. Only it's really a muffin recipe which is why you couldn't find it searching for "donut hole'. 

Sometimes, the universe provides, just in time. You may have heard me talk about embracing incompetence, I wrote a piece on it here. There are many ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Recently, I decided that saying yes to a request to teach Gluten-free Baking was just such an opportunity.

Just to be clear, I'm all good with gluten. But, I know many people have issues or make choices to avoid it. So, when my contact at Boston Center for Adult Ed proposed I teach a class on GF Baking, my first instinct was "No, I'm not GF and not primarily a baker". The quickness of my reaction was a signal to me, time to learn something new.

Since I already understand quite a bit about gluten and gluten intolerance (have to, conducting allergen safety training for restos) it wasn't a huge leap, but a leap nonetheless. This is where that baking thing comes in. It's all about precision and and science. 

Do one thing each day that scares you, right?

So I said yes. And my lost recipe magically re-appeared. And now, it's been modified to be gluten-free, and dairy-free, too. Of course you may feel free to use AP flour and real dairy milk if you like. But serve these at the next brunch or picnic when your GF friend is along and don't feel compelled to announce to anyone else the modifications until after they're swooning.


GF Cider Donuts

Cider Donuts/Donut Holes

I love making these in a mini muffin tin, not filled too high, so they dome gently but don't crest the top of the cup. Then, when you roll them in cinnamon sugar they look more like a donut hole than a mini muffin. Pro-tip: eat the evidence. Save the perfect donut hole impersonators for others and eat the mini muffins yourself.

I also recently became obsessed with donut baking pans. Another mystery since I prefer yeasted donuts to cake style, but all these things came together in this recipe. This is just slightly adapted from Amy Traverso's Cider Doughnut Muffins. Yankee Magazine, 2014. 


  • 3/4 C buttermilk*
  • 1/4 C boiled cider (I get mine at King Arthur)
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 C vanilla sugar** or granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temp.
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 C AP flour or GF flour blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp table salt


*Make a buttermilk substitute with any milk or non dairy milk and a tablespoon or two of cider vinegar. I use soy milk (with its higher protein level it works best for baking and browning) place 1 1/2 - 2 TBSP of cider vinegar in a one cup measure then fill with soy milk. Instant "buttermilk" and no worries about what to do with that half used carton of buttermilk.

**When a recipe calls for you to scrape the seeds from a pod of vanilla, don't throw away the pod! Simply place in a large wide-mouth mason jar with granulated sugar. The sugar becomes infused with vanilla scent. Perfect for baking when you want a little boost of flavor.

Preheat oven to 375 and set rack in the middle position. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin or donut tin. 

Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugar, in a large bowl of medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend. 

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat just to combine. Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the cider/buttermilk, then the remaining flour mixture. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, or donut pan. (to make the mini muffins look more like donut holes, do not over-fill) Bake until tops are firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cook 10 minutes.

For the topping


  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 3 TBSP ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 TBSP salted butter, melted

Mix the sugar and spices. Brush the donut holes or donuts with melted butter as soon as they're cool enough to handle. Roll in spiced sugar. 




Tuscan Garlic & Herb Salt 

Herbs and Spices enliven your cooking without added fat. Simple herb salts like this one can play well with lamb, beef, chicken and pork. It's also terrific on roasted potatoes. Mix it into softened butter or olive oil to roast a chicken or sprinkle over barley. You're getting the picture, right? True utility player.

One of the best ways to perk up your cooking is with fresh herbs and spices. But what about dried? We always worry they’ve been kicking around the spice cabinet too long. Often, we are correct.

Tuscan salt 1.jpg

Here’s a post with tips on various spice blends as well as links to some great resources. One of my new favorites, is inspired by Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s Splendid Table.

I call it Tuscan Garlic & Herb Salt. I use quite a bit less salt than her recipe calls for and it’s heavenly on a roast chicken (place a little with butter under the skin), with pork, or potatoes. It’s so simple to make, and your hands and house will smell divine in the process. Try it with these proportions and adjust to your own tastes.

The technique could not be simpler:

  • Take one bunch of fresh rosemary, one of fresh sage, about 4-5 good sized cloves of garlic and about 1/4 C of Kosher salt.
  • Peel the garlic cloves, removing any green sprouts (they indicate the garlic is a bit old and they’ll add bitterness.)
  • Pick the sage leaves from their stems, zip the rosemary leaves off their woody stems by pinching and dragging in the opposite direction from how the grow (tip backwards).
  • Give your garlic a few rough chops and begin adding herbs and salt. Chop, chop, chop with a good sharp knife, holding the tip down with one hand and bringing the handle of the knife up and down — much like one of those old school paper cutters.
  • Dry out on the counter on a cookie sheet for a couple of days or overnight in the oven with the light on/or if you have a dehydrating function set to low.

It’s done when it’s no longer moist. This time will vary depending on the method you use and where you live.

Store in a pretty little jar, or any old jar, but just try it. I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

Sparkling Cranberries, AKA "Thanksgiving Vitamins"

This is a fun and delicious holiday treat. They look beautiful around a large roast or cake, alongside cookies in a gift box or plate, and the only problem is how fast they go.

I got the basic recipe from Heidi Swanson, she of 101 Cookbooks. In the old IACP days, years ago when blogging was still new and a thing, I was introduced to Heidi. At that time, she was already a demi-god in the Pantheon of star bloggers. She greeted me so warmly, I'll never forget it. Just lovely. As are her cranberries. 

  • 2 C fresh whole cranberries
  • 2 C cider (love to use fancy stuff, or even mix of apple cider and water)
  • 2 C sugar

Rinse, stem cranberries. Place in heatproof glass container or bowl.

In a medium saucepan bring cider and sugar to simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. I add a few broken bits of cinnamon stick, a couple cloves. When syrup is smooth, remove from heat. 

When syrup has cooled a bit, pour over cranberries, cover and refrigerate over night.

To sugar them:
Get out two shallow bowls, place 1 C raw or large grained sugar in one. Place finely grained sugar in the other.

With a small strainer, dip into your cranberries, shaking off as much excess syrup as you can. Toss a small bit, maybe 1/3 C or so at a time into the large grained sugar. Shake bowl about to ensure they're covered. Place on lined baking sheet to air-dry.

After a couple of hours, return to the second shallow bowl and roll cranberries in the finer grained sugar. Return to the baking sheet to air dry again.

Reserve that spiced cider simple syrup. 

Use in cocktails (pairs well with Mezcal) or in a hot toddy. Use in quick brining chops.

Chinese Five Spice Nuts 


  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2 TBSP + 1 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 4 tsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp 5 spice powder (use my DIY version: How to Make Chinese 5 Spice Powder here, includes coriander)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 C pecan halves
  • 1/2 C walnut halves
  • 1/2 C pepitas


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. Combine all ingredients but nuts in a medium saucepan. When sugar dissolves and begins to bubble, add nuts and stir until the nuts are thickly coated.
  3. Spread coated nuts on lined baking sheet.
  4. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp kosher or a large flake sea salt - bake for 8-10 minutes until crisp.

These nuts are perfect for cocktails, for back-to-school care packages, for holiday gifts. They also make an excellent topping for this Blueberry Wheat Berry Salad.


Homemade Tonkatsu Sauce 

Tonkatsu is a Japanese fried cutlet, usually made from pork, dredged in panko and deep fried, it gets served with a sauce that is widely called "bulldog sauce" after the popular brand of tonkatsu sauce. Bulldog sauce or tonkatsu sauce is drizzled over the cutlets and the shredded cabbage that typically accompanies katsu. Think of American fried chicken and coleslaw as a rough analog. 


It's the winter-without-end here in Boston this year and one of the best things about winter is cabbage. I'm sure you hear that all the time. Seriously though, this time of year you can get some of the tastiest, sweetest, crunchiest cabbages. I can't get enough. Purple, napa, green, savoy...bring on the brassicas! Cabbages are loaded with Vitamin C, they're probiotic (which means they help your gut generate the good bacteria that supports immune health) and they're satisfyingly crispy crunchy with a bittersweet flavor that is a perfect foil to many of our winter braises. 

Coming off the Seafood Expo I brought home a salmon skin from a whole side of salmon we were sampling. Today's lunch was rice, miso soup, roasted crispy salmon skin with grated daikon, shredded cabbage and homemade tonkatsu sauce. 


This sweet and savory sauce is perfect for fried cutlets or something roasted or broiled. It would also be fantastic on a hamburger. Drizzle over cabbage and tomato slices for a Japanese "sarado" (salad). 

If A1 sauce and ketchup had a beautiful baby, it would be this sauce. With a tomato base, some fruit, some fish sauce, it's packed with umami. It's sometimes described as Japanese barbecue sauce but I've never seen it used that way here. Now that I think of it, though, could be great.

With any simple dish, the quality of the ingredients is paramount. Here I include the brands I like for reference. This has so much umami, I'm sure it would be great with regular supermarket brands, too. 


  • 1/2 C organic ketchup
  • 3 TBSP apple butter
  • 2 TBSP worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBSP Mirin (go with the best you can find)
  • 1 tsp Red Boat fish sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce (Kishibori is fantastic, check Dean & Deluca)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp horseradish (Bookbinders)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder


  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk to blend thoroughly. 
  2. Store in jar for a month or so, if it lasts that long.

Drizzle over cabbage, fried cutlets, serve on burgers. Maybe bake some chicken legs with this as a basting sauce.