Bennigton’s Apple Barn shares the craft
By Charles Xu
For Lia Diamond, the process of making apple cider doughnuts begins with a forecast check, a well-mixed batter and, of course, a smile on her face.
“The [doughnut] machines reacted on your mood, as crazy as that may sound,” the owner of The Apple Barn & Country Bake Shop said. “If I was having a bad day, my doughnuts always came out bad and then I would throw out the batter. So, it became a happy place here. I came in with a happy smile, and I’d make my doughnuts and [I’d say to myself] ‘Oh, my God, they’re fluffy and they’re delicious.’”
While the desserts of Apple Barn are well-known around the country, featured on “Good Morning America” and Food Network’s “$40 A Day with Rachael Ray,” its top-selling product, by far, is the apple cider doughnut.
Diamond’s family, fourth-generation apple growers, has owned the Apple Barn and Southern Vermont Orchards since 1973. Their sprawling orchard was once the largest private-owned orchard in the United States and now boasts a little less than 200,000 apple trees.
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and working in New York City, Diamond never expected to take over the family business, but when “opportunity knocked,” the self-described “farmer’s daughter” left the urban sprawl for rural Vermont.
Upon inheriting the Apple Barn, Diamond knew she had to expand the baked goods market to take full advantage of the mammoth apple harvests.
So, about 17 years ago, she ventured out to Kansas during the winter, attending classes at the American Institute of Baking (AIB). And from there, Diamond learned to perfect the art — but most importantly, the science — of doughnut-making.
“Making apple cider doughnuts actually is a science,” she explained. “It’s the temperature of the doughnut mix versus the temperature of the water and, of course, [the] temperatures of the oils.”
The day starts with a mixture of cider, water and a proprietary doughnut mix. Eventually, the batter makes its way to the Belshaw Doughnut Robot, where the doughnuts are molded and dropped into the fryer.
At the height of the fall season, the Apple Barn has up to three doughnut machines running to keep up with the demand.
Despite the mass quantity of doughnuts produced daily, every detail is considered, even the properties of the cider that goes into the batter.
“The cider also plays a big role in apple cider doughnuts,” she explained. “Some people like it really, really crusty. I like it big and fluffy. Sometimes the cider in the beginning of the season can be watery, so you have to measure and kind of know the consistency of the cider versus water for the ratio. Later on in the season, when the cider is first pressed, it has a tendency to be a little sweeter. It could be a little heavier, which would mean you want to put in less [cider], even if it gives you a sweet taste.”
Armed with new knowledge from AIB, Diamond found herself experimenting with not only larger cider doughnuts, but also smaller doughnuts that could be shipped nationwide.
“How do I expand and perfect my apple cider doughnuts?” she asked herself one day. “And that’s when I created the mini-cider doughnuts.”
The mini-doughnuts, which Diamond markets for children and the “calorie-conscious woman,” rode the seasonal taste buds of America when Talbot’s clothing stores around the country featured Apple Barn’s mini-cider doughnuts for their fall foliage customer appreciation breakfasts.
But today, Diamond shifts her attention to the business and managerial side of the family business, passing her doughnut-making knowledge to Denee Facto at the Apple Barn.
“I grew up under the roof of apple growers and my father would say to me, ‘So, could you ever see yourself moving to Vermont?’ “ Diamond recalled of her childhood. “And I said to myself, ‘Vermont? That’s like the sticks.’ Well, I’ve been here now 26 years.”
Local doughnut lovers are glad she stayed.
If you go …
The Apple Barn & Country Bake Shop
604 U.S. Route 7S, Bennington, Vt.
Hours: Open seasonally, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Charles Xu is a junior at Williams College studying history and how to conceal his anti-Patriots sentiment in the Berkshires. He enjoys cycling and is originally from California.