Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Sweet Fruit Of A Virtuous Quest

In Canada,
Tim Horton's is the ubiquitous doughnut-shop chain that's gradually forced many of its smaller competitors out of business. Tim Horton's (or Timmie's, as some of its more obnoxiously cutesy supporters call it) hasn't faced any serious competition for many years. When Krispy Kreme announced that it was expanding into Canada, doughnut afficiandos rejoiced, and industry observers predicted trouble for Tim Horton's. Well, Krispy Kreme picked the height of the low-carb craze to open its initial Canadian outlets, and my understanding is their performance hasn't met expecations. Which means we won't be gettiing a Krispy Kreme in our town anytime soon. This is just as well, because a road trip to the closest outlet confirmed that these delicacies are worthy of daily visits. Sweet and light, soft and melt-in-your-mouth, fresh and fully glazed, made with quality ingredients and sprinkled with magical pixie dust that allows you to microwave a day-old one for 6 seconds to achieve that fresh-baked taste. Tim Horton's doughnuts would turn into stone if you tried that with them.

Our next quest? To time our arrival at Krispy Kreme to their "Hot Doughnuts Now" sign being alight. To sample them fresh off the conveyer belt - that would be worth the trip.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Tale of Horror


You people rave so much about the deep-fried Twinkies (you know who you are) that we thought we should give it a try and throw some tasty little cake into the deep fryer. We looked at the world of snack cakes (who knew there were so many out there?) and settled on the King Don as our likeliest candidate. A soft, sweet, spongy little chocolate cupcake with a gooey vanilla centre - how could that be bad? Oh it can be bad. Very very bad. The word we should have taken more notice of was SPONGY. Yep, spongy. As in soaking up BUCKETS of oil the minute it hits the fryer. The finished product was gag-inducing and was literally spit out. You twinkie fanciers say that the twinkie gets "moist" - is this oozy hot fat you're talking about? I'm thinking it is. And if it is we here at Wacky Snacks want no part of it.

We've put the fryer away for awhile. It's on to new adventures.


A Cautionary Tale

Fried Nanaimo Bars

You can deep-fry anything. We fundamentally believe that. Some of the things we fried that were perfectly, decadently delicious include Ruffles (a coconuttty cookie with a lot in common with a Bounty bar), Bounty bars (just to see the difference), Oreo cookies, (a little dry, but a classic none the less), Mars bars (the quintessential deep-fried dessert) and Twix bars. Some things taste great, but are a pain to fry - case in point, the Nanaimo bar. We thought that we'd try a Nanaimo bar (said Nan-eye-moe) for a couple of reasons. 1) Canadian content 2) They're so very delicious 3) One of your Wacky Snacks team hails from the fine city of Nanaimo. So we bought a couple of really good Nanaimo bars (NOT at the supermarket). For those of you not familiar with the Nanaimo bar let me tell you a little about it. Its origins are shrouded in mystery, but they are somehow connected with a mid-sized seaside town on Vancouver Island known for it's wackilly named streets. They started to appear in places like church bake sales mid-century and slowly made their way into the mainstream. These days they are available at most bakeries and supermarkets (be wary) and I've heard they've even made their way to
eastern Canada and the States. They are a three layered bar with a chocolatey/ coconutty/ grahamy bottom crust, a custardy icing middle and a chocolate topping. Yum. The first one didn't make it to the fryer as we had to wait too long and just ate it. In retrospect we should have just ate them both. We froze it hard and followed the procedure for frying an oreo outlined below. Disaster! A tiny hole in the batter totally melted the chocolate layer and it hemmoraged out of said tiny hole, wrecking the oil and making a huge mess to clean up. The finished product was tasty, don't get me wrong. But no better than a regular Nanaimo bar and the massive clean up and wasted oil made it something we will never do again.


Adventures in Frying

Ahhhh, the Mars bar. This is where it all began in Scotland and now I can see why. This very well may be the best of all the things we've dropped in the deep-fryer (and believe me, we've tried a lot of things). Mars Bars aren't that great - admit it - but once they come out of the hot fat they have been transformed into something amazing. A crunchy shell with a soft, sweet and oh-so-gooey centre that runs just a little. Another bonus is that they're easy to fry. Even with a big naked hole in the batter the chocolate did not melt and ooze out into the oil (we'll call this a miracle rather than profoundly disturbing - chocolate should melt, right?) Remember that with Mars bars and other soft treats, an hour or more in the freezer is essential to your success.
For our readers south of the border (that's you Americans) - a Mars bar isn't a Mars bar. For you it's a Milky Way.
Mars or Milky, it WILL give you a stomachache, but it WILL be worth it.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Deep Frying Desserts: An Introduction

I think it was in the mid-to-late 1990’s when I learned that the Scots were deep-frying Mars bars. At the time, I associated deep-frying solely with the namesake product of their ubiquitous fish ‘n chips shops (where these desserts are apparently still as popular as ever). The idea of dropping a chocolate bar into a fryer with a few pieces of cod did not immediately appeal to me. But I’ve since become aware of the versatility of the deep-fryer, and I now understand that just because something is battered, it doesn’t have to be sprinkled with vinegar and dipped in tartar sauce.

Deep-frying desserts is an idea whose time has come. We recommend that you start with Oreos. Because these little suckers are so hard (that’s why I always dunk mine in milk), there’s little chance of them falling apart or oozing out their melty contents while being fried. A deep-fried Oreo is vastly superior to one straight out of the package. With a crisp golden batter yielding a moist chocolately centre, you won’t even think of dunking it in milk. Though I wouldn't think less of you if you did.

Once you’ve mastered the Oreo, you’ll no doubt want to move on to other fried confections. The Mars bar (or a similar bar, like the Milky Way) is perfect. A few minutes in the deep-fryer softens the nougatty interior nicely, seemingly intensifying the flavour and undeniably making for a tongue-tantalizingly pleasing texture. Our detailed documentation of the Mars bar-frying process will follow soon, but for now be advised that most chocolate bars benefit from an hour in your freezer before they’re fried, lest they completely collapse after three minutes in scalding oil.

American carnivals are seeing an upswing in vendors hawking deep-fried Twinkies. Though I’d like to try frying Ding-Dongs or Hostess Cupcakes some time, we skipped the Twinkies in favour of putting a Canadian spin on things by frying a Nanaimo Bar. It just made a good thing better. And once you start deep frying desserts, you'll start making a list of products to pick up the next time you hit the candy or cookie aisle of your nearest grocery.

The below account of deep-frying Oreos, though attributed to me, was written entirely by Lisa.

How to Deep Fry an Oreo - Getting Started

The batter is made out of common household ingredients that you probably already have.

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (yes, salt, even in a dessert)
1 cup milk (we use 1% because that's what we have, but 2% or whole would work too)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar (yes, vinegar, even in a dessert - don't worry, you won't taste it)

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Stir all the wet ingredients together in a separate small bowl. With a whisk (or a spoon or a fork or whatever you've got) mix the wet ingredients into the dry. Stop as soon as everything is moistened. Don't worry about getting the lumps out and definitely don't use a food processor or blender to do this job. Lumps are good. Believe me. Do NOT try and take the easy way out and use pancake mix. Yuck.

The batter should by kind of runny, like very thick cream or crepe batter. If it is too thick add some more milk. If it is too thin add some more flour. If it's just right, move on to the next step. Don't let the batter sit around on the counter - snap on some plastic wrap and put it in the fridge if it has to wait.

Time to prepare the area. Deep frying takes organization and concentration. It should never be undertaken by children or adults who are under the influence of drugs, alcohol or a bad case of the giggles. NEVER leave your hot oil alone and don't let it get too hot. It needs you. Have a fire extinguisher or a lid handy just in case. Read the instructions on your fryer and do what they say. If you are using a pot, make sure that it is deep enough to hold the oil and the desserts with plenty of head room. Use vegetable oil and heat it to 190 degrees celcius (375 fahrenheit). For the best results use a fryer or a thermometer to make sure your oil is at the right temperature. Too low and your dessert will soak up grease and too high and it will burn. You don't want that, do you?

Your fry station consists of some flour, your batter, tongs, a deep fryer or deep pan and thermometer and a sheet pan covered in paper towel with a rack on it.

The Sticky Part

Unlike other fried desserts, Oreos don't need to spend any time in the freezer before cooking, so you can get started as soon as the craving hits. The cookies need to be dipped in a little flour before battering. If you skip this step you are taking the chance that the batter will not stick and will slide off your cookies into the oil, leaving your Oreos naked and greasy. Naked and greasy Oreos are a sad sight indeed.

Shake the flour off well. Just a light dusting is all you need.

Now it's into the batter. Make sure to keep your batter in the fridge between batches. Cold batter makes for crispier treats.

Using your tongs, remove the Oreos from the batter and shake off the excess. You want them light and crispy, not padded with lots of undercooked batter. Unless that's your thing. Then go ahead and try to load as much on as you can.

The Hot Stuff

It's time to fry! Make sure your oil is pre-heated to 190 degrees celcius (375 degrees fahrenheit). Use a thermometer if you're not using a fryer.

Using tongs (not your hands!), carefully plunge your Oreos into the hot oil. Don't overcrowd the pan, it will cause the temperature to go down and you will end up with a greasy ugly dessert (no one wants a greasy ugly dessert). The cookies will want to sink to the bottom of the fryer and stick. Don't let this happen! Coax them off the bottom with your tongs (not your hands!) as soon as you can. After you get their lazy selves up off the bottom they will happily bob along in the oil for the rest of the cooking process. As they fry, flip them over a few times so they will evenly brown. They are ready when they start to get golden. This takes anywhere from 3 - 4 minutes.

Remove the Oreos from the hot oil carefully with your tongs (not your hands!) and place on a rack over top of some paper towels to drain briefly (a few seconds will do). Yes, you can eat them now, but why not take them to the next level?

The Finishing Touches

A simple chocolate sauce (homemade or store-bought) drizzled artistically (or haphazardly, that looks good too) around the edge of a pretty plate begins the presentation.

The pastry chef's secret...now it's yours. Just put a little icing sugar in a strainer and shake it over your dessert. It will make even the most awful looking mess appear as if it came from the kitchen of the finest 5 star restaurant. I promise. Try it.

Whipped cream? Of course! Everything is better with a little whipped cream! Isn't it starting to look fabulous?

Here's the finished product in cross-section so you can admire it's hot and chocolatey goodness. Yum.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Mexico: Land of Kranky!

Mexico is like Canada in many ways. But it's the differences that I appreciated on our second visit to that lovely country to the south. And nowhere are those differences more pronounced than at the grocery store.

Kranky never felt so good.

In the northern part of North America, Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks, but the Mexican cereal industry feels no need to condescendingly rename its creations. Azucaradas: almost one kilogram of pure azúcar!

Write your own caption for this one.