From today's Wall Street Journal....
At Texas State Fair:
Off the Candy Shelf
And Into the Fryer
Snickers and Twinkies Get
Fish 'n' Chips Treatment;
Many Trials, Lots of Errors
By SUSAN WARREN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
DALLAS -- Butch Benavides's eyes lit up as he grabbed a frozen coconut fruit bar from the cooler, plunged it into a big jar of gooey batter and then dipped it carefully into the sizzling oil of his deep-fryer.
"Let's just try it and see what it does," he said.
While he peered closely at the bubbling blob, customers at the Texas State Fair lined up at his food stand for fried Snickers bars on a stick. Perfecting that delicacy took the better part of the past year. "It's gotta be on a stick," Mr. Benavides explained. "People like to keep moving."
While America is freaking out about carbohydrates and fat, state and county fairs are creating a boom in deep-frying candy bars, cookies and other treats. The trend is presenting food-chemistry challenges to concessionaires, who are devoting elaborate study to such challenges as deep-frying a Twinkie without turning it into a grease-soaked sponge.
Much depends on the batter, which insulates the fried object from direct contact with the oil and becomes a kind of sealed, edible shell. Get the batter wrong, and candy bars wilt and ooze, chocolate coatings liquefy, and marshmallows turn to glop.
Fried candy bars first began to show up at fairs five years ago, imported from the fish-and-chip shops of Scotland, where deep-frying is an art. Fried Twinkies, a hit last year, are still popular. So are fried Oreos.
At the three-week-long Texas fair, which ended on Sunday, visitors eagerly plunked down $3 for a fried Twinkie. Katie Maher, who had the Texas fried-Twinkie concession, sold about 200 a day, she says.
"You come to the state fair for two things: corny dogs and fried Twinkies," said Glen Roya, 59 years old, an oil-field retiree from Lafayette, La., who made a beeline for the Twinkie stand.
Frying a Twinkie outdoors is tougher than it might sound. Last year, Interstate Brands Inc., the maker of Hostess Twinkies, wanted to help spread the fried-Twinkie phenomenon, which is believed to have been invented by the Chip Shop, a Brooklyn, N.Y., fish-and-chips place. Interstate offered to help a concessionaire at the Texas fair with Twinkie-frying skills, and fair officials put a company representative in touch with Ms. Maher, who had been wanting to add a fried dessert to her basic menu of burgers and patty melts. Ms. Maher jumped at the chance to fry Twinkies.
Her early indoor practice sessions went smoothly. Things got rougher, though, when she moved the operation to the stand she had at the fair. Cooking outdoors means contending with humidity and temperature changes, which sometimes make the fish-and-chips-style batter explode in the fryer. When that happens, and part of a Twinkie is exposed directly to fat, the Twinkie will sop it up. To deal with muggy weather, Ms. Maher learned to add more flour and less water to her batter.
Ms. Maher uses a stick to fry the treats but said Hostess didn't want its Twinkies served on a stick. "They wanted a nicer presentation," she explained. So she serves it in a paper boat with powdered sugar and chocolate sauce.
Interstate spokesman Mike Redd, says Hostess reps went around to some of the fairs around the country last year to check things out with people trying the frying. "The main thing we wanted to do was just to make sure our brands were treated as they should be." He says that Twinkies on a stick are fine with Hostess.
A deep-fried Snickers bar
Mr. Benavides, 57, has worked food-concessions sales at the fair for 15 years, breaking into the business with a Mexican apple pie, a deep-fried apple-filled tortilla dessert. Back then, customers weren't very interested in fried sweets, and Mr. Benavides shifted into more-typical fair foods. But last year, the retired restaurateur started to experiment.
He figured a fried candy bar on a stick might win some fans. He whipped up some of his funnel-cake batter, a mix of flour, sugar, eggs, milk, baking powder and soda. But even with a cake armor, Three Musketeers couldn't handle the heat. The candy's airy insides liquefied in the frying oil and slid right off a stick.
Frozen Snickers worked fine on a stick, but a bar at room temperature turned to goo in the fryer.
Getting the batter right was the next trick. Too thin, and it didn't cover the bar properly, allowing chocolate to melt into the oil. Too thick, and the bar puffed up more like a fried pie on a stick. A timer set to 2½ minutes ensures his concession employees don't overcook the candy bars -- any longer and the candy bars melt and fall off the stick. Peanut oil works better than vegetable oil, he says.
This year Mr. Benavides set up his stand in the X-treme ride part of the Midway, where thrill seekers could snack on fried candy bars for $3.50 each after plunging 180 feet in a giant swing.
Mike and Lisa Nault, of Dallas, and their two daughters sought out Mr. Benavides's stand after asking at the information booth for the newest thing at this year's fair. When their fried Milky Way -- looking remarkably like an ordinary corny dog -- was delivered, Ms. Nault took a quick look and handed it to her husband. "Let Daddy have the first bite," she told her daughters, ages 3 and 6. Mr. Nault wasn't too impressed, but 6-year-old Olivia grabbed the stick after one bite and wouldn't let go. "It's so good I can't tell you," she said, licking chocolate from the corner of her mouth.
The Texas fair was coming to an end, and already Mr. Benavides was looking toward next year's menu. He peered closely at the sizzling clump of battered coconut bar and looked concerned. A thin lava-like thread of white liquid began streaming from a tiny hole in the batter at the top of the bar. "It shouldn't do that," he muttered. He pulled the golden-fried bar from the fryer and dropped it into a stainless-steel pan. The bread-like coating broke into pieces and liquid coconut juice poured out, pooling beneath the broken shell.
"I'm going to have to trial-and-error on this a little bit more," he said, mulling the possibilities out loud: Thinner batter? Shorter cook time? Chocolate coating? Or maybe just switch to ice-cream sandwiches. How about a fried Klondike Bar? He liked the sound of that.
On the other hand, Mr. Benavides wondered whether he shouldn't just go in a whole new direction. He thought a fried biscuit on a stick might work.
"There's a lot of fried food out here," he admitted. "But next year I'll be out here with something new."