Why Deep-Fried Butter Is the Perfect Breakfast Food
It's the most gluttonous time of the year: State (and county) fair season is back with a vengeance, and with that comes the manifold of wild fried-food innovations and handheld turkey legs that have come to define fair-food culture. In his new cookbook, Fair Foods, veteran author and television producer George Geary pays homage to the recipes of this wonderfully weird slice of Americana, inspired by his 28 years as an LA County Fair food judge and culinary coordinator.
Over nearly three decades, Geary has been a firsthand witness of the evolution of fairs from a central location for eating a large variety of foods to the battleground for deep-fried one-upmanship. "You didn't have food courts like we do today, in certain places," he says. "The fair allowed you to get any type of food, and only that time of year, too. Now, every year the fairs want to have the strangest crazy food ever."
You've definitely heard about the absurd deep-fried foods he's talking about: Coca-Cola, chicken noodle soup, Twinkies, Oreos, and even Froot Loops. But perhaps the one contrivance that's drawn the most ire: fried butter. "There is no dignified way to eat deep-fried butter on a stick," began a New York Times story in 2012. Its precise origins, however, are a bit nebulous, says Geary. "I just know one booth had it, and then the next year a lot of booths had it, and then Oprah ate it at the Dallas fair" -- by Geary's suggestion, no less -- and made it a national phenomenon.
"You do visualize a whole stick of butter being fried and sitting on a stick like a hot dog on a stick," he says. But in reality, deep-fried butter isn't as over-the-top as it seems. It's simply melon ball-sized bites of fried dough dusted in powdered sugar with a melted core. "They create almost an inside-out pancake. The butter is just a dip." It's essentially just a more fun way to eat breakfast.
Geary acknowledges the heart-stopping indulgence of the recipe, but he points to the significance of this and other deep-fried media monstrosities as the kinds of things that just don't exist anywhere else. It might stereotype Americans as health-unconscious lardons, but these aren't food items making their way onto everyday dinner plates -- at least yet. For now, it's relegated to a once-a-year collection of absurd excess. No one goes to the fair to be healthy, he says, and recalls British friends of his visiting his home turf's fair for the first time. What was supposed to be a one-day excursion turned into three.
"They thought it was the most interesting, American type of thing you could do," he says. "To this day they still talk about it. They're like, 'We've never seen anything like that.' Not many people have," Geary adds, laughing.
Get the recipe for Fried Butter below:
1⁄2 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1⁄4 tsp sea salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup confectioners sugar
Spring-loaded melon baller
Candy/deep fry thermometer
Skewers baking sheet paper towels
2. In a small bowl, combine light brown sugar and 1 1⁄2 tsp cinnamon. Roll each butter ball in the mixture and place back into freezer. Freeze for 2 hours.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining cinnamon. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and sugar. Stir buttermilk mixture into dry mixture. It should have the consistency of thick pancake batter that will adhere to the butter balls. Add additional flour if needed.
5. Pour 1 1⁄2 to 2 inches of canola oil into a stockpot. Heat to 375°F.
6. Take butter balls out of the freezer and insert a skewer into each one. Dip in the batter to coat completely, then drop into the hot oil and cook, turning periodically, until golden brown and puffy, about 2 minutes.
7. Place on paper towels to drain. Dust with confectioners sugar.
Fair Foods: The Most Popular and Offbeat Recipes from America's State and County Fairs is now available for purchase.