Fall's fruit fritters taste better when there's beer in the batter
We clustered by the doorway to the high school’s Home Economics kitchen, excited whispers passing from one girl to the next. “There’s BEER in the kitchen because we’re gonna make APPLE FRITTERS!” It was October in Michigan, and apples were cheap (so was the beer).
Our home ec teacher was born in France, and in France, she explained, a proper batter for fritters is made with amber ale. Here, we’d make do with lager. Glowering sternly at our giggling faces, she said, “Don’t be silly, you girls cannot get drunk from this tiny bit of beer in the batter.” Yet she alone poured the measured brew into our mixing bowls, and watched as we mixed the bubbly beer into the sifted flour and sugar, followed by a golden stream of melted butter.
Those first fritters came out greasy, until we learned the rhythm of dropping apple rings into the batter and quickly sliding them into the hot oil. Thanks to a frying thermometer, I learned to let the oil reheat to the proper temperature between batches, and at last fished a fritter out of the pot that was golden and crisp. Dusted with powdered sugar, crunchy and sweet on my tongue, all I could taste of the beer was a slight bitterness that brought out the sweetness of the apple.
Every fall, I make fritters. Apples are good, but I’ve also fried up batches of beer-battered wedges of pear, or diced pumpkin, or slivered sweet potato, or sweet Vidalia onion rings. Here are tips to help you batter up to the fry pan, adapted from The Fearless Frying Cookbook by John Martin Taylor (August 1997, Workman Publishing Company):
- Use clean oil at the right temperature - Many people fry at too-high temperatures that leads to an overly browned crust and semi-cooked interior, not to mention all those nasty chemicals. For apple fritters, which are small and tender, fry at 360°F - as you add the fritters, the temperature of the oil will drop a bit so you’ll be frying at the ideal 350°F.
- Leave room for the fritters to float - Don’t crowd the pan or the fritters won’t cook evenly, and you’ll wind up with greasy, heavy globs of dough. A deep 9-inch pan can hold 4 small fritters with room for a pair of tongs to turn them.
- Clean the oil when bits of batter break off - No matter how carefully you slide your batter-clad food into the hot oil, little bits of it will break off. As these bits get darker and burn, they turn the flavor of the oil bitter, so use a metal slotted spatula or mesh strainer to filter the oil. Asian cooking marts are a good source for inexpensive mesh strainers with long handles that are perfect for frying fritters and dumplings.
- Let fritters drain and cool a bit before eating - Not only will this cut some of the fat, but it will also save the roof of your mouth from blistering as you bite down into a juicy fritter filled with hot oil.
12 ounces amber ale
1 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 cups canola oil
8 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/3-inch thick rings (Granny Smith, Macoun and Rome Beauty will hold their shape)
Platter lined with 2 layers of paper towel or clean brown paper
Powdered sugar and ground cinnamon
1. In a large bowl, whisk together ale, flours, sugar, vanilla and melted butter. Set aside. Prepare apples by peeling, coring and slicing into thick rings.
2. Blend the oils. Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a deep Dutch oven, or deep, large cast-iron frying pan. Place pan over medium-high heat and bring to 360°F.
3. Blot apple rings on paper towel, then dip in batter to coat evenly. Dip and fry apple rings in small batches. Turn once to cook evenly. Skim oil and add more as needed, being sure to bring to 350°F after each addition.
4. Remove fritters from oil and drain 2-3 minutes on platter lined with paper. Dust with ground cinnamon and powdered sugar and serve warm.
Safety tip: Keep a large baking sheet and a fire extinguisher nearby. Use the baking sheet to smother a small fire and the fire extinguisher if needed. For safety’s sake, don’t drink and fry at the same time - savor your beer after the frying is finished.