Saturday, August 6, 2011

(App)Led Zeppole

Fried stuff is great, so long as you get it while it's piping hot. Since our place is small, I can get food from the kitchen to Heather in a heartbeat, so I fry stuff all the time. Usually I make little croquettes or other doughy things and fry them, but I thought they might be getting a little heavy after repetition and have laid off the fried things for a bit. Heather and I have been to Hawaii several times, including getting married there, and one of our favorite things from there are local dougnuts called malasadas that are puffy and light but tasty as all hell. I wanted to make something like that for the next fried thing, but savory rather than sweet.

We discovered malasadas at Leonard's Bakery in Honolulu on a tip from Heather's dad, Charles Ellsworth Whinna, USMC ret. When he was stationed in Honolulu in the late 1960s, and then living there at liberty in the early 1970s, he had several regular haunts, and Leonard's was one of them. On our first trip to Honolulu we were delighted to find that virtually all of the favorite spots from his time in the Marines were still going concerns, and all still superlative food experiences. Other Chuck-approved wonders of Honolulu include lau-lau dinner at Ono and shave ice from Waiola Market. Malasadas are apparently of Portuguese origin, and are balls of leavened dough, fried, dusted with sugar and eaten instantly while still in the goddamn parking lot with the box in your lap because fuck me they are delicious. I am a genuine threat to fuck up a whole box of them by myself if there's coffee available. So I always order coffee.

Charles Ellsworth Whinna USMC

Malasadas use yeast, and yeast takes time to work and also is not JP-compliant, so that idea shit the bed before it woke up. In Italy there is another delicious fried thing, the zeppola, and while some zeppole are made of leavened dough, some use beaten egg whites or soda for leavening. I thought I could probably pull that off,* and use the batter to enrobe something savory and delicious. I started the batter by separating two eggs, intending to make the batter with the yolks, then beat the whites and fold them in at the last minute so the batter didn't have time to deflate. To the yolks I added a little sesame oil, yellow curry powder** and salt for flavor and a couple tablespoons of apple juice to provide enough liquid to hydrate the flour. I whisked the yolks until they were lightened somewhat and completely uniform, then added rice flour until the batter was slightly thicker than pancake batter. I expected the batter to thicken slightly as the starch in the flour hydrated, and if I guessed right, when I added the egg whites the composite batter would be thick enough to coat the apples but thin enough to form a nice smooth layer, and aerated enough to puff into an inviting shape when fried.

With that plan, I started on the innards of the zeppole. I cut some apples into thick planks and squared them just enough to get rid of the core and seeds without wasting too much. Each piece ended up being about the size of a matchbox.*** I wrapped each apple chunk with a slice of prosciutto and set them aside. I intended to dunk them in the batter and fry them like pieces of cod, with the light batter forming a puffy orb around them, but for a minute I was baffled by how I would dunk them and transfer them to the oil without marring the coating. Then it occurred to me that I could skewer each piece and use the skewer as a handle to dunk them in the batter and fry them. Bravo me, great idea. Skewers then. I stuck bamboo skewers in all the apple-and-prosciutto hunks. I should probably have soaked the skewers in water for an hour so they wouldn't burn, but I didn't, and ultimately I don't care if they burn. They're little pieces of bamboo, not innocent children. Also, they didn't burn.

With that problem sorted, I started the canola oil heating and returned my attention to the batter. I whipped the egg whites with a drop of rice vinegar until fluffy and folded them into the batter. The rice vinegar acidifies the whites in the manner of cream of tartar, which toughens the protein and stabilizes the foam, but saves me the trouble of having to own a tin of cream of tartar. Other than beating egg whites, what the fuck am I supposed to do with cream of tartar? I could beat the eggs in a copper bowl, which has the same effect, but I'm not a millionaire so I don't own a special egg-white-whipping bowl which sits tarnishing for 360 days a year. A long time ago I saw a thing on TV, maybe Graham Kerr, maybe Julia Child, I don't remember, but the test for when egg whites are properly beaten for inclusion in a batter is to turn the bowl upside-down, and if the whites stay in place then they're done. This is slightly stiffer than "soft peak" stage, but not the completely rigid stiff peak stage. If beaten to stiff peaks, the whites don't incorporate well, and tend to streak or break as they're folded into a batter, defeating their purpose.

The handle-skewer thing worked great. I was able to completely enrobe the apple hunks, move them to the oil and flip them while cooking without marring the coating, and I could even lift them out of the oil to check their color without using tongs. When the zeppole were done, I transferred them to paper towel to drain, and when cool enough to handle, the skewers came out easily. I think I have a kind of awesome thing going with the handle skewer idea. I think I'll call it Moreskewer. I need a patent lawyer right away. Also for Morepencil and Morecupcakes. If you're a patent lawyer and want me to be a millionaire so I can afford a copper egg-white-whipping bowl and a polishing steward to keep the tarnish off it, google up my phone number and give me a tinkle.

The zeppole came out puffy and light just like I had hoped, with a firm exterior skin and a fluffy, soft interior. Traditionally zeppole would be sprinkled with sugar, and I suppose I could have made a mock-icing sugar by grinding salt, white pepper and sesame seeds in a mortar, but I'm lazy, and in service of my laziness I decided that would be tacky. I made a dipping sauce instead. I ran a garlic clove through a microplane to make a puree, then emulsified it with some mustard, sesame oil, rice vinegar, siracha, salt and a little honey. I know, honey isn't JP, but the sauce was a little bitter without it, and it wasn't much.

The apples got warm but stayed firm, making a nice contrast with the puffy dough, and the sweet apple married well with the rich and savory prosciutto. The hint of curry in the dough and the spice in the dipping sauce all made for a multi-layered eating experience in a small package.

Seriously, patent lawyers call me about Moreskewer. It's a goldmine.

*Said the Bishop to the actress.

**I know curry powder is a bastardized version of a masala and unseemly in a proper kitchen. I know using it shows disrespect to the deep and varied cuisine of the Asian subcontinent, and I apologize for that. Regardless, curry powder serves a purpose occasionally and I have some on the shelf. We're not ninjas.

***A box of matches, also a little toy car about the same size. Matches are what people used for fire between the two-sticks-rubbed-together era and the Bic lighter era. Note: the Zippo was a primitive form of Bic.

5 comments:

  1. Had so much fun reading your posts.I followed you from a link from the sun times, and I just had to say that I loved how you write.It was a good thing you didn't soak your skewers in water, or you'll be hiding like a ninja when that skewer hits the hot oil :)

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  2. Thank you. Are you a patent lawyer? Because that's basically the only people I'm talking to until I get this thing off the ground.

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  3. Malasadas are part of my heritage, being from New Bedford, MA. I have many fond memories of attending the annual Portuguese Feast and eating a piping hot malasada cooked fresh on site. Happy to see you've found a way to personalize an old favorite!

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  4. How can you be a champion to indie rockers everywhere AND be a patent-deserving cooking pioneer?! Seriously, I love the apple-prociutto combo idea. Two questions: what equipment did you use to fry the zeppole (mini deep-fryer? big huge deep-fryer? big saute pan?), and what sort of oil did you use?

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  5. Glenn, you're too kind. I just used a little sauce pot and some canola oil on the stove.

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