As a kid, I had a long list of foods that made me take notice and instantly salivate, luring me away from whatever game I had imagined lately. I often played “shopping” with whoever would have me, turning my parent’s house into a store where everything had a price tag and I had a huge wad of fake Monopoly money with which to buy it all up. I’d push around a tiny plastic cart, pile things into it and, after a very long wait in line, my imaginary friend Michael would finally ring me up. My parents, responsibly, would force me to put it all back together. It must have been tedious for them and me. In fact, I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And hungry!
There were just a few foods that would make it worthwhile to stop my cart in its tracks. In fact, I can count them all on six fingers: fried plantains with parmesan cheese, whole milk mozzarella, homemade milk candy made by mi abuelita, snail-shaped anise cookies topped with icing and sprinkles made by my grandma, fried bologna sandwiches and, my favorite, fried dough.
Fried dough is not fancy, often associated with passing festivals or carnivals, and thus not an acquired taste. Everyone came running when the raw pizza dough hit the bubbling hot oil. My family couldn’t be bothered making the dough from scratch, especially when we lived around the corner from one of the best pizzerias in northern New Jersey – and I’m willing to fight you on that one. It was called Danny’s Pizzeria and I miss that slice.
I dream of that dough, just like I dream about the annual Feast of San Gennaro in Manhattan’s Little Italy. My parents used to take me to the feast for the fried dough and I still make regular pilgrimages. In fact, I moved to Mott Street shortly after college, probably due to my association with the feast and the good memories. Little Italy has shrunk in size over the years, but the fried dough still delivers – crispy, greasy, airy and sweet.
When I was scheming up my favorite sort of recipe for fried dough, I knew I wanted it to be a bit more substantial, not something that evaporated once it hit my belly, but something that could take me through to lunch or even an early dinner. My favorite version is solid and flat, a canvas for whatever topping tempts me. I prefer piling on some freshly made ricotta cheese and maple syrup or honey. But powdered sugar works just as well. It’s not exactly like the fried dough from my childhood – I don’t believe my parents used Italian sparkling water in the batter – but it’s enough of a throwback to make me smile.
Fried Dough at Home
Adapted from the King Arthur Flour recipe
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup sparkling water (Pellegrino or Perrier works well)
- Vegetable oil
Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bow.
With hands, work butter into dry ingredients until no large chunks are noticeable. It will look like small breadcrumbs.
Warm the sparkling water in pot over medium heat for 1 minute (or do it for 20-30 seconds in a microwave). Add the warmed sparkling water to the flour mixture and work into a loose dough. Cover with a tea towel and let sit for 15 minutes.
Cut the dough into 8 even pieces. Roll each piece out until very thin.
In a frying pan with tallish sides, add enough oil to go about 1/4 inch up side of pan. Turn on medium heat. When drop of water sizzles in oil, add 1 piece of dough. Cook 1-2 minutes until golden colored. Turn over and cook another minute. Place on paper towel and cook remaining dough one by one.
Serve immediately or keep warm in 150 degree oven. Top with your favorite topping like powdered sugar, maple syrup, jam, and/or ricotta cheese.